Which is better:

  1. "I am not having lunch tomorrow unless I am really hungry."
  2. "I am not having lunch tomorrow unless I will be really hungry."
  3. Something else

I am not having lunch tomorrow, unless I'm really hungry.

Is the correct answer. Present tense in the second sentence, because it's obvious you are not talking about the present, because you already know whether you are hungry now or not.

Also, try swapping them and you'll see it right away:

Unless I'm really hungry, I am not having lunch tomorrow.

With the similar:

If I'm not really hungry, I am not having lunch tomorrow.

You would never say either of those:

Unless I will be really hungry, I am not having a lunch tomorrow.
If I won't be really hungry, I am not having lunch tomorrow.

Another examples to prove that present tense really expresses future condition:

If I don't get the money, I'll be really angry.
If you fail the school exam, I won't give you your allowance!

  • Thanks for the detailed explanation. In spoken English, most people seem to use "lunch" instead of "a lunch", is the "a" for written English only ?
    – Stanley
    May 22 '11 at 19:39
  • Uhm, I think you should better start another topic with this question. Not because I can't answer it here, but I really am not sure what's the difference between them, but I think I agree with what you said that they are both correct.
    – Frantisek
    May 22 '11 at 19:43
  • Thanks for your kind assistance, I'll follow your suggestion...
    – Stanley
    May 22 '11 at 19:49
  • "having lunch" would be normal in UK English. Maybe a UK-US distinction? May 22 '11 at 20:19
  • @Neil Coffey thanks for your comment. It's good to know that the usage without "a" is common in UK. Thank you both for teaching me a lot today.
    – Stanley
    May 22 '11 at 20:54

Neither of OP's suggestions are correct. Nor does @RiMMER's answer improve things by inserting the word a.

There are probably several better ways to phrase the statement, one of which is

I will not [or won't] have lunch tomorrow unless I get really hungry.

I'm not sure exactly how to explain what's wrong with the alternatives, but it's to do with using I am (present tense) when talking about something in the future. This is fine if that future is unquestionably expected to take place. But in this case the rest of the sentence casts serious doubt on whether it will in fact come to pass. It's inappropriate to use the present tense here because it implies that at the time of speaking the future being talked about is fully expected to arrive in due course.

  • @FumbleFinger, thanks for your comment. Your explanation has helped to clarify the discussion even more. Thanks!
    – Stanley
    May 22 '11 at 22:32
  • +1: As FumbleFingers says, you don't put unless or if clauses in the future tense in English. If you want to express the future in such a clause, there are other ways of doing that. For example: I won't be having lunch tomorrow unless I get really hungry. For this sentence, the intended tense is clear, so you don't need to do that, but I'm sure you can come up with other examples which are more ambiguous. May 23 '11 at 0:19
  • @Peter Shor: Thanks for that. I only switched the first I am. I still didn't really like it, but I left the second one in because at least it wasn't totally wrong like OP's alternative I will be. Which is a common error, but sticks out like a sore thumb to native speakers. Become, and your much better get are more suited to talking about 'future' hunger. I will edit my answer accordingly. May 23 '11 at 1:26
  • To clarify, the only truly ungrammatical part of the original question was unless I will be really hungry, which used the future tense in an unless clause. But a native English speaker would be quite a bit more likely to use FumbleFingers' improvement than the original. May 23 '11 at 1:54
  • Agreed. But we should tend to promote what the natives actually say, rather than what they don't say, but can't rule out on grammatical grounds. May 23 '11 at 2:04

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