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I had an idea for a trilogy of novels with the first written in the past tense, the second in the present tense, and the third in the future tense. Why hasn't anyone done this before? I thought. Then I realised what you wouldn't be able to do in the third book. In the first, you could say:

He walked along the street. He had just left his house, and later it would be burgled.

In the second:

He walks along the street. He has just left his house, and later it will be burgled.

But in the third:

He will walk along the street. He will have just left his house, and later it what? burgled.

Without a 'future in the future' tense, this idea can't work! Has there ever been any such tense in the English language, or is there some sort of substitute for one? The closest I've come up with is:

He will walk along the street. He will have just left his house, and later it will be going to be burgled.

... which is cumbersome to say the least!

Edit: my example was badly chosen, because of the adverb 'later'. Since I'm toying with the idea of a whole book written in the future tense (or 'tense' if you don't count periphrastic tenses as tenses :-) ), I'm looking for something that works in general, not just for this sentence. A better example is:

He left his house, but he would return / He leaves his house, but he will return.

Now 'He will leave his house, but he will return' doesn't really work.

  • ... and after that, it will be burgled. – bib Aug 9 '14 at 18:06
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    There is no future in the future because English has no future tense at all. English looks at time from two perspectives: before now (past), now and after now (present/nonpast). We resort to periphrastic constructions to form future aspects. So, we get future in the present (I will do it after I get home) and future in the past (I would do it after I got home), but no future in the future, since no hard-coded future exists at all. – Anonym Aug 9 '14 at 19:02
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    @Anonym - Thanks! Why not turn this into an answer? I won't even cavil about whether the periphrastic future tense is even a tense :-) – Rand al'Thor Aug 11 '14 at 10:49
  • What is wrong with: "He will leave his house, but he is going to return"? I can't think of anything else it could mean. – Peter Shor Nov 4 '14 at 20:36
  • A full novel like this (for the future part) would sound difficult to pull off. Present case is already a bit of a struggle (and not that common). The usual strategy to deal with 'non-existing' grammar is to imply it or speak around it. (suppose your restriction is to not use the letter 'd'. Then the past tense is almost impossible. But people have written such things. If anybody has already done this kind of thing, search for the term 'oulipo', a literary trend that does lots of style restrictions. – Mitch Dec 14 '15 at 14:06
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English has no future in the future because English has no future tense at all. English verbs approach tense from two perspectives: before now (past), now and after now (present/nonpast). As such, we can conjugate the verb to eat as follows:

I eat.

I ate.

But there is no way to conjugate the verb for the future, and so we resort to periphrastic constructions to form future aspects, which, for better or for worse, usually infuse other meaning into the sentence:

I will eat (volition).

I shall eat (obligation).

I may eat (possibility/permission).

These all imply future time (and thus form the future aspect), but may infuse undesired meaning into the sentence. Nevertheless, we also have less meaning-rich, albeit more verbose, ways of expressing future time:

I am going to eat.

I am about to eat.

So, although there is no future in the future tense, we can form a future in the future aspect by combining the foregoing constructions:

I will be going to eat.

I will be about to eat.

Both of which sound fine on occasion, but may grate on the ears (eyes) if heard (read) too often, especially in the passive voice: the food will be going to be eaten.

It is also worth noting that the present tense is often used for both present and future time, often making the future aspect seem too verbose where it is still grammatical. Consider the following pairs:

I am going home tomorrow. / I will be going home tomorrow.

He heads out in an hour. / He will head out in an hour.

In each pair, both sentences mean about the same thing and, at least where I live, the average Joe is more likely to say the first. This is merely something to consider, however, and it is not meant to discourage your idea at all.

  • Probably not an appropriate question for this StackExchange, but I wonder in what languages it might be conceivable to have a book written in the future tense, and whether any have been written? – Rand al'Thor Aug 12 '14 at 18:50
  • @randal'thor I could not say so with any authority, but I would guess not. Even languages with a three-tense system (past, present, future) have not really been built with the future as the main point of reference. Being in the present, we tend use the present as the main point of reference, and so using the future in its stead can become rather laborious. – Anonym Aug 12 '14 at 19:25
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It would still be "will be burgled." If I say in the future I will be going to the store and then after I will be mugged. There is no need to say "I will be going to be mugged" You are right it is cumbersome and unnecessary.

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By using later, you've already established a later timeframe. "Tomorrow I go home after I do my homework" — both are present tense, but the adverbs indicate the time.

But it's an akward sentence because you establish one time frame, use the perfect (past) of it, and then wish to establish a time frame posterior to the original, rather than the perfect frame, I think. Based on this timeline, which are you wanting to have happen?

       Leaves house
            |
            +--->will be burgled?
            |
            |      /-----walks-----\
            |      |               |
            |      |               +---> will be burgled?
            |      |               |
<-past------+------+-------now-----+------------------future->
  • Maybe my example is a bad one. I'm wondering if it would be possible to write a whole book, including every sentence further in the future than the main timeframe, in the future tense. But to answer your question, my timeline is supposed to be the lower one in your diagram. – Rand al'Thor Aug 9 '14 at 22:39
  • Dude, please contact me. Email works great. Check out my profile. I need to tell you something regarding the other question and I don't want to make that public there. :) – Konrad Viltersten Aug 10 '14 at 20:47
  • @KonradViltersten - are you talking to me or guifa? – Rand al'Thor Aug 11 '14 at 10:50
  • Guifa. Sorry - I couldn't give him name explicitly as @guifa for some reason. – Konrad Viltersten Aug 11 '14 at 14:24
  • @KonradViltersten - Probably because it's a comment to his answer, so he gets notified automatically anyway. – Rand al'Thor Aug 12 '14 at 9:53

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