Easy English Grammar

Future Tenses in English – 10 Alternatives to ‘Will’

Future tenses in English - 10 alternatives to "will"

You’re about to learn 10 different ways to talk about the future in English. Also check out 17 Free English Lessons: Best of Clark and Miller 2017.

There are two main ways that we talk about the future: intentions and predictions.

What does this mean?

intention

An intention is the “you-type future.” It comes from you. It’s something that you decide to do. It could be something big (like buying a house), or it could be something small (like answering the phone).

prediction

A prediction is the “outside-world type future.” It’s not about you. It’s about what you see around you. When you make a prediction, you usually have no control over the situation. You’re just watching.

First, let’s look at how intentions work.

1. Intentions

An intention can be a big plan or a spontaneous decision.

There are three main ways we talk about intentions. It depends on how strong the plan is:

Future tenses

When we make a spontaneous decision, we use will.

          I’ll answer the phone.

          I’ll have the soup of the day, please.

When speaking, always contract:
I’ll = I will
I won’t = I will not

When we’re talking about a plan, we use am/is/are + going to.

          I’m going to get some soy milk.

          We’re going to have a picnic this weekend.

          He’s gonna do some concerts next year.

gonna = going to
in informal spoken English

When our plan is especially strong, we use the present continuous tense.

          I’m doing yoga with Stefan tomorrow at 7.

          I’m travelling to New York via Chicago.

Wait! What’s the difference between a plan and a “strong” plan?

Sometimes both going to and continuous can be used. But if there are other people in the plan, we usually use continuous.

Compare these examples:

I'm going to visit Iceland.

I'm visiting Iceland next month.

Other phrases for talking about intentions

Here are some other ways we can talk about intentions:

Future tenses

2. Predictions

There are two main types of predictions: beliefs and facts.

Let’s look at two situations:

Future tenses

Why did the professor use will and Elon Musk use going to?

The professor can’t see anything that supports his prediction. He can only say what he believes.

Elon Musk can see the future: the cars are right behind him!

It’s not always so easy to decide whether to use will or going to. But don’t worry. Just ask yourself:

What helps you make your prediction: belief or fact?

will and going to

Other phrases for talking about predictions

Here are other ways of talking about predictions.

This time it’s good to think about how sure you are about the prediction:

might / may / likely to / will / going to / certain to / bound to

As you can see, English is much more dynamic than what you can put in a simple grammar table.

For each tense we learn in English, we need to know how to use it and the alternative phrases.

When you can do this, you’re on the way to mastering English grammar.

intentions and predictions - all forms

I’ll be covering more English grammar tenses in future posts. If you haven’t signed up already, click here to get email updates (and a free eBook, too!).

50 thoughts on “Future Tenses in English – 10 Alternatives to ‘Will’

  1. Mr. Clark,
    Thank you very much for both the detailed explanation and table of Future Tenses. I’ve never seen or encountered anything better than this one.

  2. To be honest, you make simple things complicated. There’s nothing wrong with the grammar table you’ve given. Why do you use such a word as “wrong”? What do you mean by “It’s pure grammar”? Instead of introducing such terms as “you-type future” and “outside-world-type future”, you could have explained that there are several other ways to express some future activities – intentions and predictions. And this is also grammar! Please don’t blame grammar! Grammar is the core of any language.

    1. Hi Melita,

      First of all, thanks for commenting and expressing your views.

      I think you might have missed the point I was trying to make in the post: that there’s often too much focus on the “form” of the language and not enough on the “function”. What’s more, that form is often taught first. I believe that most learners learn better when the starting point is meaaning, then the grammar can follow. I also believe in “lexical” learning: that we learn the language best through phrases than through individual components. Yes, grammar exists, but it’s so mixed up in the world of vocabulary, that you simply can’t isolate it. And that was the point I was trying to make with the table.
      Although, yes, the word “wrong” might have been a little strong!

      I would love to hear what you think about these ideas (they are just my opinions, not the ultimate truth!)

      Best,

      Gabriel

      1. I really loved terms as “you-type future” and “outside-world-type future”. It helped me alot.

        1. Thanks a lot Amanda.

          They’re useful terms, and can help students a lot, I think. But the more I’ve been around the more I believe we must always be careful with terminology — nothing’s watertight! But can be great to guide the learners to fuller understanding.

    1. I love this comment. You make a good point.

      We can still use going to for other people’s plans. It shows that we believe what they say.

      Here’s an example.

      Your childhood friend joins a band and within a few months, the band is doing awesomely. He tells you about the concerts that they’ve booked for their national tour.

      Then you call your brother to tell him the news (I’m guessing you have a brother 🙂 ). This is when you would use “going to” for someone else’s plan. You have no reason to believe your childhood friend is lying. It’s his plan.

      It’s true the speaker doesn’t have control, but it’s still a plan.

      I’m glad you saw this. I included this example to show that it isn’t always “I’m going to”.

      I hope that helps!

  3. I m really thankful for your tips! Could you explain the difference between NO and NOT and how and when to use them?! I m not really confident with them!! Thanks!!

    1. Hi Guilia,

      Thanks for the feedback!

      We’re actually thinking about doing a post soon with suggestions from our readers. We’ll include the difference between “no” and “not” and we’ll let you know when we publish it.

      Gabriel

  4. Great indeed! There is something else. In spite of these alternatives we also notice that in formal English we see only “will” whether there is a plan or a intention involved. For example, CNN will most likely write “President Trump will visit Brazil next Friday” although it is a strong plan.
    I loved your explanations and I’m looking forward to see your views as far as Present Perfect X Past is concerned

  5. I’ve just found this by chance and I can say nothing but THANK YOU! I’ve been teaching this lately and I was thinking of doing something like the combined certainty /uncertainty line you’ve posted last but I just couldn’t figure out how to do it clearly. I’m going to have a look at the present perfect-x past post, as it is the next thing I’m teaching. Thanks!

    1. Hi Brenda,

      So glad you’ve found this useful. We’ve noticed that our posts can be just as useful for teachers as for students.

      Are there any other topics that you find tricky to get across? We’d be happy to consider writing a post on that.

      Cheers!

      Gabriel

  6. I am very grateful for your clear and logical explanation. in fact, your visual aids make these concepts easy to understand. Thank you very much for all you valuable help.

    1. Thanks M.C.! So glad you enjoyed the explanations. We aim to make everything easy to understand.

      Meanwhile, is there a topic that you’re having difficulty with that you’d like us to write about?

    1. Hi Andrey.

      Sure! So, you’ve decided to go to Berlin for a long weekend. Just you. And a good book of course (for the flight — you won’t need it in Berlin).

      At this stage, if I asked you about your weekend plans, you’d say “I’m going to check out Berlin.”

      Once you buy your tickets and book your hostel, then the plan “gets real,” right?

      That’s when you can say “I’m checking out Berlin this weekend.”

      There are now lots of people involved in your plan.

      It’s kind of a little philosophical in a way. Like, “if a plan only only exists in my head, does it really exist?”

      1. Hi, Gabriel.

        Thanks for your answer.
        However, in my humble-non-native opinion, the key here isn’t “the other people”, but a plain ticket – likewise at the picture above. After all, I’m not like Robinson Crusoe on his desert island, you know; and sometimes other people are hell, alas.

        My guess is: “I’m buying a cottage.” (Janine Hawkins in ‘His Last Vow’), e.g. the estate agents and/or the owner(s) and a pots of money, of course. Am I right?

        As for your question, the answer is obvious and it’s forty-two.

        with best regards,
        Andrey.

        1. The answer’s always “42!”

          But yeah — though think about what the ticket. Someone made that ticket and it represents the organisation of hundreds of people. It’s something that’s gone beyond your own control.

          And yes — it’s the same with the cottage.

          1. Well, yes, but all those people, (or even one,) are wage-earners and gain from the price of my ticket, right?
            Nevermind.
            And ‘IF’ also has got loyal comrades in future tenses. There are: while, until, before, after, when(ever), only if, in case (of), as long as, whether…
            Ocean is nervously smoking in the corner 😉

          2. Absolutely. The words you mention are great “comrades” of the future. As long as they’re not in the same room: we can’t say “As soon as I will come…” or “After he will make the elephant cake, …” Like a weird, dysfunctional relationship.

  7. So… “shall” is not an alternative to “will”, quite interesting… and I fully agree with you, Gabriel, on that. But why? Is it too formal? Old-fashioned, posh, pompous or theatrical? (not in tag for “Let’s”, of course); and I even don’t mention “shan’t”! In spite of the fact that that was written in all the best Soviet textbook and, yes, alas, even in latest school-books. Funny, huh?

    And what about “Tomorrow is Tuesday”? (not “will be”) Or it’s all about “fate/destiny”?

    1. Yeah — well, that’s an excellent point.

      Some coursebooks (though mercifully, not so many) still teach these archaic (theatrical, posh and pompous) words and phrases, it’s true.

      I’d say yes — it’s just super old-fashioned to use them these days. I hear it a little. But not much. And even less these days.

      1. Thanks. I feel I owe you some sort of a gift. Ok?
        Here’s a revealing example of “the best educational system in the world”, as they brainwashed us.
        Look at 46:54 — Tom Sawyer writes “Take is please. I have come co”, but the Russian subtitles are correct: “Please take it — I got more.”
        1981 — “the developed socialism”.

        Wha’d’u think?

        1. Wow. That’s pretty fascinating — the video generally.

          With the mistake, I think it’s just a kid getting it wrong. Funny that they chose that one for the vid, but I guess the camera guy didn’t know that the English was incorrect.

          Why did they translate the bad English for the subtitles, though? That’s kinda weird….

          1. Glad you liked it.
            Well, I can only assume — there’s no mention of this fact in the Russian Wikipedia (what a nice surprise). The boy, certainly, copied it from the screenplay, that had passed the censorship. I think it’s just a backside of The Iron Curtain, actually.

          2. Fair enough.

            I’m sure you know first-hand what the quality of the education was like, and therefore what was most likely to have been the case. In this case.

            So case made.

            The video was really interesting, though, so thanks again for sharing it!

    1. Good point. And one that Andrey addresses here, too.

      You can use will after if, but it’s not so common (“If it’ll help, I’ll sing a song.”) — so I didn’t include it here.

      I’m thinking about doing another post just on this weird “will after if” phenomenon.

      Thanks for pointing it out, though!

  8. Hi Gabriel,
    I have a question about this post.
    Did you explain “Wait! What’s the difference between a plan and a “strong” plan?” Or the pictures provided have explained it? I don’t really see the question answered in the post. I’ve read the post 2 times and all the comments, and I think my doubts have all gone except for ” what makes a plan a strong one.” If I missed the part, could you please clarify a bit more here?

    Besides, will there be an exclusive post on Past Perfect Simple & Past Perfect Continuous? Or it has all been covered in “Stories and Goals in English”?

    Thank you very much.

    1. I read the post the third. Is a strong plan the one with a lot of people involved as in the example sentence “I’m visiting Iceland next month (with a booked ticket).” ? Thank you.

        1. Thank you!
          Sorry one more question:
          Is there any difference in terms of how certain the plan is between “I’m visiting Iceland” & ” I’ll be visiting Iceland”?

          1. Hi You,

            Good question.

            Before I give my answer, it’s important to remember that with language, nothing is mathematical. The situation might contribute to something being certain more than the grammar.

            With the present continuous vs. future continuous with will, I’d say that they’re more or less the same in terms of certainty. What changes is the tone. “I’m visiting Iceland” has a more personal feeling to it, while “I’ll be visiting Iceland” feels a little more formal to me.

            But again, the context is important. You might find the usually more formal future continuous in an informal situation and vice versa for the continuous sentence.

            Language is very complex! 🙂

            I hope that makes sense!

          2. Thank you! I like that you give us answers with the human touch – the changes in tone. That’s crucial for non-native speakers to understand and like the foreign language more because it is not just hard cold grammar. It’s something I can’t get from any grammar books. Really appreciate your work and responses to all the comments here. You Shan

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