My English teacher taught us that there is no such thing called "future tense" in existence.

Instead we were asked to use present indefinite tense.

He said that we should use "I am to go to London" instead of "I will/shall go to London".

In that case, how should this sentence be rejuvenated:

"Freedom is my birthright and I shall have it"...?

I consider it worthy sharing another side of the story which started the above mentioned discussion in the classroom. My teacher said that if some action is confirmed to occur in future then it 'must' be stated using Present tense. For example,

"The school reopens in July".

After this discussion he said that nowadays books are being published wherein the authors state that there are only two tenses namely,The Present and The Past tense. He reiterated that the use of 'will' is only confined to express the conditional statements of the future happenings. For example,

** If is rains today, the match will be cancelled. **

So is the usage of "will" confined only to express a conditional meaning...???

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    Your English teacher is wrong. In the U.S., the future tense with "shall" is not used very much, but the future tense with "will" is used all the time. Apr 21, 2014 at 11:15
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    Normally one would say "I'm going to London" to indicate that activity in the future. But "I will go to London" is fine. No one but an ESL student or a stuffy barrister likely says "I am to go to London," however. See this question and its accepted answer, and be mindful of the fact that certain purist academics take exception to calling something a "tense" just because it happens to be a way of indicating a temporal relationship.
    – Robusto
    Apr 21, 2014 at 11:28
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    There seems to be a disagreement amongst contributors over whether constructions used to indicate the future using shall / will + infinitive should be labelled 'future tense'. Apr 21, 2014 at 11:57
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    I am to go to says to me that you are required by someone (or something) else to make the trip, not simply that you are going there at some point in the future.
    – Phil Perry
    Apr 21, 2014 at 17:25
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    Canadian here: we never say "I am to (verb)".
    – SimonT
    Apr 22, 2014 at 1:47

6 Answers 6


In the old days, shall was used with the first person and will was used with the second and third persons. This is no longer the case. Neither word is becoming extinct. In fact they are not even endangered.

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    There's a case for saying "shall" is becoming obsolete in positive sentences. While it's still used for making offers or suggestions. I shall go out (old fashioned/quasi obsolete) Shall we go out? (common) Shall I get you something? (polite but less common)
    – Mari-Lou A
    Apr 21, 2014 at 12:49
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    Will and shall in usage as I have seen mean subtly different things, will tends to indicate something someone plans to do and usually wants to do while shall is more of a literal statement of fact. For example I could say "If I take my keys I shall lose them somewhere" to simply warn what will happen while I would say "I will go out in a moment" more to state intent than state fact. The third form, "I am to..." is more of a mystery to me, I have only ever seen it in very old books and am unsure how it would be used in natural language.
    – Vality
    Apr 21, 2014 at 16:58
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    @Vality I agree with your first statement. Shall can also imply serious intent. Many years ago my third grade teacher stared at me and declared: "You shall not pass!" Decades later, Gandalf said the same thing to the Balrog...........this seems to be the context of Maroof's "Freedom...." example. Apr 21, 2014 at 17:12
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    If I recall correctly, Strunk & White discussed shall vs. will. Shall is rare in the US, with will taking both uses (shall: this is going to happen to me, will: it is my intent to...). "Help me, or I shall drown." "I will make my own way."
    – Phil Perry
    Apr 21, 2014 at 17:27
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    "This is no long the case". Is it no longer the case that we need to use longer instead of long?
    – Justin
    Apr 22, 2014 at 4:16

I am to go to London

has a special meaning, or range of meanings, which go beyond stating a simple future tense. Usually it means this:

A decision was made by someone else for me to go to London.

It is an example of the "to be" + infinitive construction, exemplified by clauss like "you are to be quiet" (to be + to be) or "you are to take your medicine twice a day" (to be + to take).

It indicates the requirement for someone to comply passively with some requirement that comes from source which is not given in that clause (but can be given in other clauses, for instance: "according to your doctor's prescription, you are to take this medicine twice a day".)

It can be used in conditional constructions:

If I am to go to London this time of year, I better pack a raincoat.

The helping verb "will" for indicating future actions is not falling out of use at all.

Your teacher is feeding you severe misinformation about the English language; find another.

  • The verb many of us learnt as 'to be' is usually called 'be' nowadays. This enables, for instance, "you are to take your medicine twice a day" (be + to take). Apr 21, 2014 at 23:15

In place of a future tense, English can express the future in the following ways:

will (sometimes shall) + verb

be + going to + verb

present tense

present progressive construction

will + be + -ing form of the verb

be + infinitive, as your teacher suggested, normally occurs only when it is necessry to convey a degree of obligation.

Your sentence ‘Freedom is my birthright and I shall have it’ is perfectly grammatical, but, as others have said, shall is no longer very much used.

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    In my opinion, the rarity of "shall" makes it all the stronger when it is used. Apr 21, 2014 at 16:33

Perhaps your teacher means "there is no such thing as an inflected form for the future tense". This is true for English, whereas many latinate languages have an inflected form for the future (Spanish: 'comer', to eat, 'comeré', I will eat [future]).

"There is most certainly a method of referring to actions which will (future) occur in the future; I have just used it."

Our only requirement is that we use an auxiliary/modal verb to accomplish this (combining tense+aspect). Just a few searches about the history/etymology of English have helped me to guess at what your teacher might have meant--perhaps if it is for a class the whole purpose of the task at hand is to utilize the Present Indefinite. I am to [verb] + [action], sounds like circumlocution--it might be able to logically replace 'shall' in the sentence you described but it will leave the reader asking "why on Earth has this idiot not simply used shall or will?". I use will every day and will continue to do so until the day I die, whether it be a true future tense or no.


Your question conflates at least two issues:

(1) is will (and shall) going out of use in English?

(2) either way, does English have such a thing as a "future tense", and if so, is this what is represented by will/shall?

In answer to (1), will and shall are very much in use, but, like other options for expressing "futurity", they don't simply express that notion and nothing else, and so aren't always the most idiomatic option. For example, in the 1st person, they typically express a more instant decision, whereas "is/will be ...ing" expresses a planned action. In all persons, they can also often express a formal, planned action as part of a timetable, as opposed to a more informal arrangement that might be expressed with "is ...ing" etc.

Now, as to whether English has a "future tense", this really depends on your model/analysis. If you see "tense" as being any construction that grammaticalises time, then you may well decide that will/shall can be a grammaticalisation of time, and that they should be included in the category "tense". Will/shall are also surely grammaticalisations of other notions, but on the other hand, so are the things that we often label as "future tense" in languages generally.

On the other hand, if you take the view that takes~took is what constitutes "tense" in English, there is an argument that this opposition clearly operates on a different "dimension", or belongs to a different system, compared to the opposition will/shall and other modals.

As usual, which is the "right" answer is more a question of the purpose of your analysis. If it's essentially a labelling/stamp-collecting issue, then whether to apply the label "tense" or not is largely arbitrary...


It's true, strictly speaking, that there is no specific future tense for English verbs. Take the verb "play." I played (past), I am/will be playing (gerund). Every other form is "play" (the exception is third-person singular, present tense: "plays"). I will play We all are going to play Play now! They will play tomorrow She will play tomorrow We will play forever.... Do they play?

"I am to go" would be understandable, but very stilted sounding, to most modern English speakers in the United States.

The most common "future" syntax is to use "going" with an infinitive: "I am going to go college, where I'm going to study medicine, and if I'm lucky, I'm going to become a surgeon."

It's not a future "tense," but it's the wording we use for future actions.

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