Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

My boss is not a native speaker of English, so he often asks me to correct his writing. The problem is, he wants me to explain why I make changes, and doesn't accept "it just sounds better that way" as an answer. Usually, I come up with some likely-sounding nonsense reasoning, but this afternoon, I just couldn't articulate why I corrected his

We might be able to figure this out from the schedules you will send us.

to

We might be able to figure this out from the schedules you send us.

I know that the version with "will" is perfectly understandable, and I don't think it is ungrammatical per se; but it just sounds better without "will", and I'd like to know why.

Edit: the current highest-voted answer answers the question "why did my boss write it with a future tense". I don't care about that. That's not my question. I want to know why the present tense sounds more natural. Is there a "rule" about this? If it's not the subjunctive (since people keep downvoting the answer which says it is), what is it?

share|improve this question
    
your boss is French? –  Louis Rhys Sep 7 '11 at 3:35
    
@Louis: no, he's Hungarian. –  Marthaª Sep 7 '11 at 13:40
2  
From your comments and edit, it's not clear to me exactly what type of answer you're looking for in saying "why it sounds better". As I've tried to show in my answer, there's no inherent logic behind the choice, and it basically just "sounds better" because that's how native speakers usually form this type of sentence. Are you looking for a different answer than if you'd asked "Why does it sound better to say 'the cat sat' than 'sat the cat'"? –  Neil Coffey Sep 7 '11 at 15:01
    
@Neil: I want an answer that I can cite for my boss. As I said, "it sounds better that way" (or other variations on "that's just the way it is") won't satisfy him. –  Marthaª Sep 9 '11 at 0:13
1  
Well, apparently a bounty is a good way to go from "a few answers, none of which seem correct" to "a dizzying array of plausibly-correct answers" in a jiffy. :-) –  Marthaª Nov 26 '11 at 17:17
show 5 more comments

13 Answers 13

up vote 15 down vote accepted
+100

In your sentence as amended, send is without a doubt in the present indicative tense (and it is not a conditional sentence). In English, however, the present tense does rather more than express what’s going on in the present. To talk about something that’s going on right now, we generally use be + the –ing form of the verb which describes the action or state. We use the present tense, on the other hand, to refer to:

(1) a fact that is always or generally true (Water boils at 100 degrees centigrade);

(2) a repeated action (I go to church every Sunday);

(3) an event that occurs at the moment we are speaking (I promise); and

(4) fixed or planned events taking place in the future (My flight leaves early tomorrow morning).

In your example, send could express either (2) or (4), depending on the context. In either case, it is understood that the schedules are or will be sent according to a pre-arranged plan. If that were not to be the case, you would have to say We might be able to figure this out from the schedules you’ll be sending us. Perhaps that was what your boss meant. If so, he was half right, but we express the future by using will + the plain form of the verb only when we are making a prediction or when we are expressing a decision, often made at the time of speaking, about the immediate future. Neither of those cases seems likely given the first half of the sentence.

share|improve this answer
    
I think you are right. Without clarification from OP we can't rule out (2), which can still be logically valid even though the particular schedules which might resolve the problem haven't yet been sent (we only know that anyway because the boss originally used "will"). But if it's not (2), the justification centres on (4). Which OP would prefer because this superficially innocent "standard usage" politely/obliquely reminds the clients of their (presumably, pre-arranged) commitment to actually send the schedules. –  FumbleFingers Nov 24 '11 at 16:58
1  
+1 I think number (4) and the consequent analysis is right on the spot –  Unreason Nov 25 '11 at 13:15
add comment

In trying to come up with some "reasoning" for your boss, I think you're likely to hit upon either a dead end or a an invented logic that is essentially a red herring. As in many cases, what you're dealing with is simply an arbitrary choice in how the language encodes something which indeed different languages arbitrarily encode in different ways.

English speakers don't tend to use "will" in subordinate clause in this cases (and so to a native English speaker it sounds unnatural to do so) whereas, say, French speakers would have a strong tendency to use a future tense in this case. Another example:

English: As soon as you arrive, I will help you.

French: Dès que vous arriverez, je vous aiderai. (Literally: As soon as you will arrive, I will help you.)

Other languages may encode this differently again. Spanish speakers, for example, would tend to use a present subjunctive in the subordinate clause:

Spanish: En cuanto llegues, te ayudo. ("In as-much you-arrive-SUBJUNCTIVE, you I-help")

So you're trying to come up with some reasoning or logic for the arbitrary choice made in English. Does this mean that French is more or less "logical" to use a future tense? Is English more "logical" to use a simple present tense? Is Spanish more "logical" to use a present subjunctive?

Well, not really. Remember that names such as "present" and "future" are just arbitrary made-up labels. If we label as "present" a form actually used to denote a future action, then that's a fault of our labelling, not the language. Just because we've labelled a particular form as "present" doesn't then magically mean that the language will suddenly obey some expectation implied by our label.

What you're seeing are just arbitrary differences, of which you'll find all sorts of other examples if you cross-compare languages. And while you're struggling to invent some spurious reasoning as to why "will" is not used in future-oriented subordinate clauses in English, your French counterpart will be inventing some spurious reasoning as to why the future tense is absolutely necessary...

share|improve this answer
3  
+1 for the relevant examples in your already good answer. –  tdhsmith Sep 7 '11 at 2:08
3  
I think you're answering "why does my boss want to put a 'will' in there" rather than what I actually asked. –  Marthaª Sep 7 '11 at 3:11
    
I don't think my boss' problem stems from a direct-translation error, because the way to say this in Hungarian would not necessarily use a future tense. And besides, I don't care why the boss wrote it his way; I want to know why I think my way sounds better. –  Marthaª Sep 7 '11 at 13:42
4  
Martha -- as I say in my answer, yours "sounds better" because you're more used to hearing subordinate clauses without the "will". My point of the comparison with other languages is to show that this is just an arbitrary accident of the language you happened to be born with: if you were a French speaker you'd be thinking that it "sounded better" to use a future tense etc. –  Neil Coffey Sep 7 '11 at 14:49
    
It's hard to identify a cause for such arbitrary historical changes in language. Often there isn't one; simply repeated reinforcement of an option that was selected by chance. Of course if you really really want a reason we could probably "craft" one for you. (Though the SE community might frown on knowingly incorrect responses...) –  tdhsmith Sep 8 '11 at 16:49
add comment

She'll be riding six white horses when she comes.

See Wikipedia on Present Tense

There is a rule, namely

If the future event is in a dependant clause then it's rendered in the present tense.

Your correction 'sounds better' because it obeys this rule of grammar. You can break this rule without loss of sense, but your boss's version is ungrammatical. It's a general fact about dependant clauses that they obey different rules in relation to verbs than apply in main clauses.

I would be interested in counter-examples to this rule, if anyone can come up with one.


First counter examaple (simplified version of @Peter Shor's example below)

There is a good chance that it will rain.

Is this really about a future event, or are we talking about the current forecast? I'm not sure.

share|improve this answer
1  
Dr. Seuss book title: Oh the places you'll go. Here, you need to use the future tense to avoid ambiguity, and sure enough, you use it, and I think most native English speakers would agree with this usage. I can't articulate the exact rules, though. A more complicated example from inside the book: And when you’re alone, there’s a very good chance you’ll meet things that scare you right out of your pants. Here, there are two dependent clauses with you'll meet (future) and scare you (present). The second one could be future, though, without sounding strange. –  Peter Shor Nov 24 '11 at 16:28
    
@cindy: It's a dependent clause; there is a very good chance is the main clause. Expanding the contractions and adding the elided words, you get When you are alone, there is a very good chance that you will meet things that scare you right out of your pants. But the final clause that scare you is back in the present, even though it's clearly happening in the future. –  Peter Shor Nov 24 '11 at 17:10
    
Tense in relative clauses is not deranked. The sentence in the original post uses a relative clause; therefore, future tense is expressed using...future tense! You're wrong. You're wrong. You're wrong. –  Anicul Nov 26 '11 at 1:24
    
I think this might not be 100% right, but it's not wrong wrong wrong. On the other hand, That will depend on whether it will rain, for example - that's wrong. –  FumbleFingers Nov 30 '11 at 3:59
add comment

You sometimes do need to use the future tense in dependent clauses.

We need to review the sites you will visit in Venice.
*We need to review the sites you visit in Venice.

But you don't do it if the future is already implied by another verb in the sentence.

Write to me and tell me all about the sites you visit in Venice.
*Write to me and tell me all about the sites you will visit in Venice.

(Actually, the last sentence sounds fine if you will be writing before you visit Venice.)

What I think is going on is that you use the future in the dependent clause only if the action in the dependent clause takes place considerably farther in the future than the action in the main clause. That is, you judge whether the tense in the dependent clause should be the present or the future by looking at the time of action relative to the action in the main clause. Consider:

We will teach you everything you will ever need for your job.
*We will teach you everything you ever need for your job.

Here, you need to put the dependent clause in the future because it takes place in the indefinite future after being taught.

In your sentence,

We might be able to figure this out from the schedules you send us,

the dependent clause clearly has to happen before the action in the main clause. Thus, you cannot put this dependent clause in the future.

For some additional examples, consider the following sentences:

Go to Union Station, figure out which train will leave for New York at 4pm, and watch it to see whether Dr. X boards it.

The verb in first dependent clause (will leave) takes the future, because the train leaves after you find it. The verb in second dependent clause (boards) takes the present and cannot take the future, because he will be boarding it while you're watching it. You could instead say "which train leaves for New York at 4pm", but only because it's a habitual action—a train leaves for New York every day at 4pm. To see this, consider the sentence:

Go to the garage, ask the attendant which car Dr. X will drive to New York, and leave this note on it.

Here, if you said "which car Dr. X drives to New York", you would be implying that he always drives the same car to New York.

You sometimes even have to use the past tense for dependent clauses that are set in the future, if they are in the past relative to the action in the main clause:

Next Tuesday, go to the Grand Hotel, figure out which room Dr. X slept in on Monday night, and ransack its wastebaskets.

Dr. X sleeps before the action in the main clause, so you have to use the past tense.

The first conditional is a special case of this rule

If his train comes on time, we will miss Dr. X at the station.

In a conditional sentence, the dependent clause almost always takes place at the same time or before the action in the main clause, so you cannot use the future in the dependent clause.

share|improve this answer
add comment

The present tense sounds more 'natural' to you in this case because you know in your heart of hearts that the English language has no future tense.

(Don't argue with me; argue with linguists like Geoff Pullum.)

As this article notes:

We talk about the future all the time – how is that possible if there is no tense for it? Well, we get around it by using one of several standard ways of speaking about future events, each one with its own particular meaning.

  1. WILL. Do you think John will visit us this summer?
  2. GOING TO. I’m going to resign from my job.
  3. PRESENT CONTINUOUS. Manchester United are playing at Wembley tonight.
  4. SIMPLE PRESENT. My flight leaves at 7.00 tonight.

The article makes these recommendations for when to use what:

  • For predicting — talking about what I think will happen in the future, without any reference to the present, we use will or going to, but not the present continuous.
  • When we talk about future plans — things that have already been decided, we use going to or present continuous, but not will.
  • When we talk about a future action at the moment when we decide to do it, we use will.
  • When we have present evidence that something is going to happen (that is, we can see it coming) we use going to.
  • When we talk about future events that are already on a programme, such as a timetable, we can use simple present.

This little summary doesn’t say everything there is to say about the future, as there are some other forms that we can also use:

  1. WILL BE + ING. Fred will be having dinner with us tomorrow.
  2. TO BE TO. The President is to visit Florida later this month.
  3. WILL HAVE + past participle (future perfect). The workmen will have replaced all the windows by next Tuesday.

In the original sentence

We might be able to figure this out from the schedules you will send us.

the word will fits none of these usage cases particularly well:

  • It's a certainty that you'll be sent the schedules, so will or going to don't fit in a predictive sense — although, see next point.
  • You (or your boss) could argue for the correctness of "...the schedules you are going to send us" since their sending has already been decided.
  • Sending the schedules wasn't decided at that moment, so will doesn't fit this case, either.
  • Again, present evidence (you know the schedules are on their way) argues for the use of going to.
  • Sending the schedules is already on the agenda, so your use of the simple present send is appropriate.

The last point explains why the present tense sounds more 'natural' — it's because it's correct.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Could it simply be that "We might be able to figure this out from the schedules you will send us." sounds as if you are giving an order?

After all, you would be more likely to write something like "Please send us the schedules" than "You will send us the schedules", which would be unnecessarily blunt even for business correspondence.

share|improve this answer
add comment

I think omitting the will possibly implies general politeness. In a business context direct answers are preferred but learned speech and writing patterns convey conventions of nuance that imply different meanings to the recipient. If will is included then the recipient receives an ever so slightly stand-offish or authoritarian personality quality. If its not included its more polite and approachable.

With the many combinations of stress, intonation, tone, and context several semantic nuances can be conveyed. But of course this is a written document so the writing style should attempt to put any questions of tone and ulterior meaning to rest with the most polite yet direct way of communicating.

share|improve this answer
add comment

I think you're working from a false premise: 'the schedules you send us' is not present tense, though it looks like it. There are many ways to indicate the future in English besdies 'will'; for example "I am going to do it, but not until the cheque arrives", where both going and arrives look like present. This 'send' is similarly future, as indicated by might, so adding 'will' sounds odd because it is tautologous (I think).

It may also matter whether the modal verb is 'may' or 'might'. Your example sounds as if it should be "We may be able to figure it out... (but there are no guarantees)" rather than "We might be able to figure it out... (but unfortunately the computer crashed yesterday)"; which did you (or he) intend?

share|improve this answer
add comment

I believe that the examples on this page (scroll down to "Various Tenses in the Conditional) answer your question. Your scenario seems to mirror this example:

True as one-time future event

If + subject + present tense || subject + future tense

If Judita hands in her paper early tomorrow, || she'll probably get an A.

In other words:

If you send us your schedules || we will probably be able to figure this out.

I know you worded it a little differently but I think the example still holds up, and explains why you'd use the present tense 'you send' rather than the future 'you will send'.

share|improve this answer
    
I don’t think conditional sentences are a good analogy here. A conditional sentence (the ‘First conditional’, as it happens) would be something like ‘If you send us the schedules, we might be able to figure this out from them.’ However, it could also be ‘If you will send us the schedules, we might be able to figure this out from them’ where ‘will’ indicates volition: ‘If you would be good enough . . .’ –  Barrie England Nov 24 '11 at 18:46
add comment

You aren't able to figure anything out from something someone will send you since you don't have them yet. Putting the last part in the future tense requires you to make the first part conditional. You can do that, but it gets very awkward and verbose.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Now that everyone's more or less knocked out the mechanics side of our conditioning in the English language, I think I'll throw my two cents in.

Your question was "Why it sounds more natural, yes?

Mark Twain could not stress the value of word economy and how much more effectively it preserves the clarity of the message. Cluttering it with a twisting maze of tenses will start to fog up and the message stops being clear and concise...which is paramount in business.

All of these answers are dealing with rules on clauses and tenses, something of a nightmare to teach even natural English speakers at times...let alone someone learning it as a second language.

If your boss doesn't bite when you tell him that less is more when it comes to English then it might save everyone a lot of grief.

If he wants the rule then go ahead and refer to some of these other answers. Hope I at least got the wheels turning

share|improve this answer
    
There's aesthetic appeal in brevity, sure. But English has plenty of redundancy too. You can't "explain" the usage by saying it's concise, so it must be good. Nobody except a non-native speaker doubts the prefered phrasing, but there's debate about exactly why we'd all use the present tense. –  FumbleFingers Nov 27 '11 at 3:47
    
I was just thinking we should answer the question –  Rant Nov 27 '11 at 4:25
add comment

In English, future more vivid conditionals are formed using this formula:

"if" (or "when") + present indicative, (optional: "then" +) future indicative.

Although it seems logically odd, English forms this type conditional using the present indicative. All indicative conditionals in English follow a pattern except the future more vivid.

Indicative Conditionals:

Future More Vivid: "if" + present indicative, (optional: "then" +) future indicative.
Present General: "if" + present indicative, (optional: "then" +) present indicative.
Past General: "if" + past indicative, (optional: "then" +) past indicative.

You could rephrase the sentence written by your boss in this way, demonstrating more clearly the pieces of the conditional statement:

When you send us the schedules, we might be able to figure this out

If you were to invert the sentence, its meaning would still be conveyed, but its tense and mood pattern would need to remain the same as such:

We might be able to figure this out when you send us the schedules.


Additional (and Very Important) Information Regarding Your Sentence:

The sentence that you provided implies more connection between the schedules and the ability to figure this (whatever "this" may be) out, so the way that you phrased it works better, but you actually need to reevaluate your corrections. Since the sentence is not a conditional but uses a relative clause, your boss is actually correct in this instance.

We might be able to figure this out from the schedules you will (or "are going to") send us.

You also might consider adding a relative pronoun to improve the sentence.

We might be able to figure this out from the schedules that you are going to send us.

"That you will send us" is a relative clause acting as an adjective describing "schedules". Using relative pronouns is useful when introducing relative clauses.

Additional Examples Clarifying Tense in Relative Clauses:

Primary Sequence (present or future tense verb in the main clause):

Simultaneous: The verb in the relative clause will be in the present indicative.
i.e. I give the book to a person who enjoys reading.

Completed: The verb in the relative clause will be in the perfect or imperfect indicative.
i.e. I give the book to a person who read another from the series.

Subsequent: The verb in the relative clause will be in the future indicative.
i.e. I give the book to a person who will read it.

Secondary Sequence (past tense in the main clause):

Simultaneous: The verb in the relative clause will be in the perfect or imperfect indicative.
i.e. I gave the book to a person who enjoyed reading.

Completed: The verb in the relative clause will be in the pluperfect indicative.
i.e. I gave the book to a person who had read another from the series.

Subsequent: The verb in the relative clause will use the simple conditional.
i.e. I gave the book to a person who would read it.

The answer to your question is that it possibly sounds more natural to use the present indicative in place of the future indicative because this is how English would form it if it were a conditional, and this particular sentence can easily be rephrased as a conditional statement rather than a simple sentence containing an adjectival relative clause.

share|improve this answer
    
I believe the rules for conditionals in English are a special case of the rules for relative clauses, which require the use of the present in this sentence. –  Peter Shor Nov 26 '11 at 13:55
    
PeterShor, The rules for sequence of tenses in conditionals in English are not "a special case of the rules for relative clauses" as conditional statements are not a type of relative clause. I see that you have voted my answer down, and I suggest that you research the topic more thoroughly before making wild and incorrect statements the next time you do this. I often see people who get caught up in the fun of being a grammar nazi but fail to learn the rules or concepts of these things about which they are so pedantic. I have provided additional examples in my post in an attempt to clarify. –  Anicul Nov 28 '11 at 3:45
    
The fact remains that most native English speakers would not use the future in the sentence. We have around 10 answers to this question, all of which give different reasons why the future tense is incorrect (and I have to admit that I can't be sure my reason is the right one), but yours is the only one that actually says that the future tense is correct. It isn't, which is why I voted you down. –  Peter Shor Nov 29 '11 at 1:20
add comment

I find the existing responses a little odd and missing a rather obvious point that the implied meaning is quite different in the two sentences (they use highfalutin language to ultimately suggest "because it sounds better that way" which is tosh and piffle).

  • The former example ("from the schedules you will send us") implies a reference to schedules that have not yet been sent, and presumably when you get them you may be able to figure out a solution to whatever the problem is.

  • The latter example ("from the schedules you send us") implies that you already receive schedules from them (e.g. on a regular basis) and that you would already have the information that may be required to figure out the solution.

If you already receive schedules, and intend to use them to figure out a solution, the latter seems more appropriate. It would be reasonable for a recipient to then infer from this that you will then proceed to figure out a solution from the data you have already.

If you don't have the schedules yet, I'd use the former for clarity (the difference being in this case that the onus is clearly then on the recipient to take action and send you them, before you can proceed).

share|improve this answer
6  
-1 That is not how a native speaker forms the conditional. English is not a series of logical propositions it is a natural language. –  z7sg Ѫ Sep 7 '11 at 9:59
3  
"from the schedules you send us" does not imply they have already sent the schedules. (They have not, in fact.) To imply that, the sentence would have to be "...figure this out from the schedules you sent us". –  Marthaª Sep 7 '11 at 13:37
3  
Also, it's not encouraged to call other people's answers "tosh and piffle". Even if you think it is wrong, you should show some respect in saying so. –  Daniel Sep 7 '11 at 23:21
1  
@z7sg I am a native English speaker; I am British, as one might reasonably assume from my name, particularly my first name which uses a form uncommon in other countries. I have more than just a working command of my native language and dispute both your assertions. –  Iain Collins Sep 9 '11 at 15:03
    
@Martha, "send" in the above context does imply it's that it is a verb in the past tense it does not have to be "sent", which has another implied meaning again. In common parlance "sent" in that context could be reasonably inferred as schedules that been been sent in the past (but are no longer sent). –  Iain Collins Sep 9 '11 at 15:04
show 1 more comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.