A thread on ELL makes me reconsider how I might naturally misuse other tenses when the future progressive is intended.

For example, I might pass out work assignments in the following ways:

  1. "John, you will be running the tests tomorrow." (future progressive)
  2. "John, you will run the tests tomorrow." (simple future)
  3. "John, you are going to run the tests tomorrow." (simple future)
  4. "John, you run the tests tomorrow." (improper expression)
  5. "John, you are running the tests tomorrow." (improper expression)

With the ELL example, the intent might be similarly stated by:

  1. "We will be discussing X at the meeting tomorrow." (future progressive)
  2. "We will discuss X at the meeting tomorrow." (simple future)
  3. "We are going to discuss X at the meeting tomorrow." (simple future)
  4. "We discuss X at the meeting tomorrow." (improper expression)
  5. "We are discussing X at the meeting tomorrow." (improper expression)

I think the fourth and fifth cases in both examples are probably improper, but I believe they would sound natural among the business leaders I associate with.

Are they improper? If so, are these forms of expressing future progressive common or at least acceptable in casual conversation (in either AE or BE)? If not improper, is there a formal description for these forms?

  • You'll do better if you stop thinking (and talking) about sentences as being "proper" or "improper", and stop characterizing this as "the future progressive". As has been pointed out, there is not "future" in English; and propriety is a moral concept and has nothing to do with language. Grammar is not really like what you may have learned in grammar school. Apr 3 '13 at 14:56
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    Thanks, John. It's always nice to receive a proper drubbing when visiting here. Apr 3 '13 at 16:23
  • If you're worried about propriety, consult a proprietor. I only drub about facts. Apr 3 '13 at 18:01

I don't see any reason to label any of those examples as "improper". They're no different to...

I leave for London tonight
He arrives tomorrow
We finish next week
She is coming soon
etc., etc.

Strictly speaking, there are only two tenses in English: present and past. From that same link, the future can be referenced using the modal auxiliary will, or the semi-auxiliary be going to. But that's not essential; anything except past will work/works.

Nor is there any reason to restrict use of perfective / progressive "aspect" in future references...

John, you will have been running the tests for over a week by tomorrow. When do we get the results?

  • +1 Thank you. All good, recognizable examples. I suppose the same holds for the fifth case that I added? Your reference states "Reference to other times -- the future, for instance -- can be made in a number of ways". So if there is no future tense in English, the inclusion of "tomorrow" this way is sufficient to properly form the future reference. Apr 3 '13 at 5:53
  • @Jim: Yes, your #5 examples are just more of the same, but using progressive aspect. I added She's coming soon to mine after seeing you'd added those examples. Context (and clues like the word "tomorrow") tell you whether it's present or future. Mostly, "I'm getting bored" means "I'm bored right now", whereas "He's getting married" is probably more often said at some point before he marries, rather than during the actual ceremony. Apr 3 '13 at 6:10
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    +1 Even more strictly speaking - and particularly relevant in this case - "There are only two tenses in English: past and non-past. See also this Apr 3 '13 at 12:02
  • @StoneyB: I'd probably have put it like that myself if it hadn't been for the fact that the first sentence in my second paragraph was just cut&pasted direct from the UCL link. To be honest, if this same question had been asked on ELL I'd probably find the time to expand/re-word my answer and try to cover that additional perspective, because I can see how it might be particularly tricky for those non-native speakers who do have a dedicated future tense to get their heads around the fact that English doesn't. But ELL users should "know" that, whether intuitively or by dedicated study. Apr 3 '13 at 16:17

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