My time for the marathon next year will certainly be worse than it is tomorrow.
(The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language)

Is is being present tense saying is is the same tense of future as will (simultaneity); or is is anterior to will?

  • 1
    This is just a complicated use of prolepsis.
    – Robusto
    Sep 15, 2013 at 14:15
  • 2
    I'm retired. But a simple example of prolepsis would be: If the ship doesn't get here by next Tuesday, we're all dead. (Instead of we will all be dead.)
    – Robusto
    Sep 15, 2013 at 22:00
  • 3
    This may not be satisfying as an answer, but in everyday usage, the reality is that you can play a little fast and loose with relative tenses when you already have explicit time markers like "next year" and "tomorrow." We know that "tomorrow" is in the future by definition, so fudging the near-future as present doesn't add any significant confusion.
    – jfmatt
    Sep 16, 2013 at 18:55
  • 4
    You're mixing up future tense, which English lacks, and future time, which English is able to express. One of the ways English can express future time is via modals, such as will. That doesn't make it a tense, periphrastic or otherwise. See CGEL, pages 105-107 and 209-210.
    – user28567
    Sep 24, 2013 at 21:09
  • 1
    Is and will both be used to express future time, and neither is necessarily anterior to the other.
    – Colin Fine
    Sep 24, 2013 at 21:29

4 Answers 4


You have had a lot of excellent explanation here, more than enough to understand how these words are doing their work. I merely want to add a direct, explicit answer to your specific question, which, as far as I can tell, has not yet appeared in this discussion.

You are wondering if there is a temporal connection between will and is in your original example, and the simple answer is no. The way these words are used here does not establish a time, tense, modal, nor any other relative kind of connection between them. I see that you are reading is as if it is meant to imply the events are occurring at the same time, but it puzzles you because normally is comes before will.

From the answers you already have, you now can see that the timing of the events is established by "next year" and "tomorrow," so there is no question of which occurs when. You then also can see that the usual relationship between "is" and "will," in the way you are regarding their tenses (or modality), is not operative here, because "is" is being used in an unusual, but still acceptable, way. The relationship between "is" and "will" cannot, in this case, override the defining "time definition" that the reader is required to understand from "next year" and "tomorrow."


I hate to disagree with “The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language”, but the “it” looks to me as though it refers to, not merely “my time”, but, “my time for the marathon next year”. Thus, I would say, “that of tomorrow”… or just “tomorrow’s”.

As for loose use of tense… [not that I actually would do this, but] I would go for “than it was tomorrow”, since looking back from next year seems to fit better than viewing tomorrow as the present. Not being dogmatic.

(It looks to me as though noone has actually explicitly answered your question (including myself), but that it is probably fairly clear now anyway.)

  • 2
    You can't use was when you are referring to something in the future like this.
    – Andrew Leach
    Sep 17, 2013 at 13:40
  • 1
    Begging your pardon, but surely the same logic would apply to using “is”?
    – Carsogrin
    Sep 18, 2013 at 9:01
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    No, because "is" can be understood to mean "is going to be". Tense in speech (and often in writing) is rather fluid. However was is firmly rooted in the past.
    – Andrew Leach
    Sep 18, 2013 at 9:05
  • My time for the marathon will certainly be worse next year than it is tomorrow. I guess what I am trying to say is that — noting that I know rather less about English, explicitly, than others here, including you — I think it is only reasonable to use “is” to refer to something in the future if it is certain. [I am getting tired of sometimes being allowed to use CR, and sometimes not.] My objection is to this particular sentence. What is certain, according to the sentence, is that next year’s time will be compromised in some way. Conversely, then, the “is” would be misused, as tomorrow’s
    – Carsogrin
    Sep 25, 2013 at 12:22
  • time will be whatever it will be, without being systematically compromised.
    – Carsogrin
    Sep 25, 2013 at 12:26

The guide is giving an example of commonly used phrasing; that is, you can use "is" that way, and it has been used that way, and you will be understood. Best to avoid it in formal writing, though.


You normally don't use is by itself for the future tense.

Is can be "anterior" to be, but only if it's followed by "going to." You can create the simple future tense with either be (e.g. am/is/are) going to or will.

I think "is" is awkward in your sentence. I like to keep the subjects/verbs in a parallel structure when comparing like events. Here's what I mean:

My time for the marathon next year is certainly going to be worse than it's going to be tomorrow.

Be (bare infinitive) is still your main verb, not is.

Will works too though:

My time for the marathon next year will certainly be worse than it is will be tomorrow.

You have two independent clauses that are being joined by than (than is functioning as a conjunction). I can break those clauses down like this:

My time for the marathon next year will be worse.

It (or My time) will be worse tomorrow.

Because the subject of both clauses is the same (time), and since you can use the same verb for both clauses, you can even truncate it further:

My time for the marathon next year will certainly be worse than it will be tomorrow.

EDIT: It's not at all incorrect. I'd be more concerned that my reader would think I made a grammatical error the way that it is constructed though. It just sounds off, which is why many, including me, misread it. Upon re-reading (several times over), it does work. I'd say that going to is implied whether you include it or not.

I recommend that when comparing like events, that you stay consistent with your modals. I was wrong, however, to state that is can never be used for the future. See below.

  • 2
    Certainly is can have future meaning. When is the doctor in? He's in on Tuesday, Wednesday, and all next week. I believe that it is a myth that English has a future tense: the modal will often conveys future meaning, but it does not always do so, and there are other ways of conveying future meaning.
    – Colin Fine
    Sep 24, 2013 at 21:27
  • I stand corrected. I hadn't thought of it in that way. That's a slightly different situation. I suppose that what's bothering me is that will is used in the first clause and then the tense shifts during the comparison in the second clause. With the subject being the same, it seems out of place. I'll fix my answer though. Sep 24, 2013 at 22:11
  • 1
    Two independent clauses? I don’t think so. “My time will be worse tomorrow.”? Definitely not. “It [my time] will be tomorrow” is short for “what my time will be tomorrow.” This is a dependent clause, like “that ate my homework” in the context, “Fido is the dog that ate my homework” (in contrast to “The dog ate my homework.”) Dec 11, 2013 at 20:35
  • My time for the marathon next year will be worse than it is in tomorrow's marathon What my time will be tomorrow is fine if you prefer, but since what is a pronoun, what my time will be tomorrow is the subject (and incidentally, is conveniently synonymous with my original my time/it). It's a noun clause. And it can be written as two separate sentences. Dec 11, 2013 at 21:04

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