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Three Ways to Effect “Future Tense” in English

English has several ways of expressing future events, of which the two most common are the modal future and the going-to future. The “present” tense (which in this use shows really the non-past tense) is also used often with future reference.

  • The modal future uses a modal auxiliary (usually will/would, but sometimes shall/should) and a to-infinitive. For example: I will stop.

  • The going-to future is a progressive construct that uses a finite form of to be inflected normally for person and number, followed by going and a to-infinitive. For example: I am going to stop.

  • The futurive non-past may be used in either simple constructions inflected normally for person and number, or progressive contructions using a normally inflected form of to be followed by the -ing form (present participle); future reference must be supplied by context or by a temporal adverb or adverb phrase. For example: I stop tomorrow. I am stopping tomorrow.

Both these varieties of future tense in English are subject to normal contraction, and in casual spoken registers, going to often contracts to gonna.1

The following simple examples show the modal, the going-to, and the non-past forms of the future, with and without contractions, and the corresponding negated forms. The entire verb is set in italic, and the “futureness” part of it is further set in bold as well. When the verb form is not marked for futurity, the time-related adverb is set in bold italic.


Simple Forms

  • He will finish tomorrow. [modal future]
  • He’ll finish tomorrow. [modal future]
  • He is going to finish tomorrow. [going-to future]
  • He’s going to finish tomorrow. [going-to future]
  • He’s gonna finish tomorrow. [casual going-to future]
  • I shall talk to you about it later. [modal future]
  • I’ll talk to you about it later. [modal future]
  • I’m going to talk to you about it later. [going-to future]
  • I’m gonna talk to you about it later. [casual going-to future]
  • He finishes tomorrow. [futurive non-past]
  • He is finishing tomorrow. [futurive non-past progressive]
  • He’s finishing tomorrow. [futurive non-past progressive]

Negated Forms

  • They will not tell us anything before Monday. [modal future]
  • They won’t tell us anything before Monday. [modal future]
  • They are not going to tell us anything before Monday. [going-to future]
  • They aren’t going to tell us anything before Monday. [going-to future]
  • They aren’t gonna tell us anything before Monday. [casual going-to future]
  • I shall never speak to you again. [modal future]
  • I’ll never speak to you again. [modal future]
  • I am never going to speak to you again. [going-to future]
  • I’m never going to speak to you again. [going-to future]
  • I’m never gonna speak to you again. [casual going-to future]
  • He doesn’t finish tomorrow. [futurive non-past]
  • He is not finishing tomorrow. [futurive non-past progressive]
  • He isn’t finishing tomorrow. [futurive non-past progressive]
  • He’s not finishing tomorrow. [futurive non-past progressive]
  • He ain’t finishing tomorrow. [casual futurive non-past progressive]

The So-called “Future in the Past”

  • He said he would finish tomorrow. [modal future]
  • He said he’d finish tomorrow. [modal future]
  • He said he was going to finish tomorrow. [going-to future]

Although the modal future, the going-to future, and the futurive non-past sometimes mean the same thing, these ways of indicating the future are not always fully interchangeable. Sometimes this is related to register, to aspect, or to any of many other subtle nuances that can be difficult for non-native speakers to master.


  1. Note that although nearly ubiquitous in actual spoken English, in writing gonna is usually limited to related speech, as it is considered extremely casual to the point of being vulgar. The OED says of it:

    gonna /ˈgɒnə/, colloq. (esp. U.S.) or vulgar pronunciation of going to

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