When we have trouble with starting a car we say "Oh no, the car won't start." Why do we use future tense here?

  • 1
    It’s not future tense it’s volition. The car refuses to (will not => won’t) start.
    – Jim
    Nov 9, 2015 at 6:07
  • It's the middle construction. You can use the active "I can't start the car", the passive "the car cannot be started", or the middle "the car won't start". All are equally grammatical. They just mean entirely different things, see the linked question for an explanation. Oh, and as a side remark: English does not have a future tense. Only present and past.
    – RegDwigнt
    Dec 9, 2015 at 12:12

1 Answer 1


You use Future Simple in the negative form, to express unwillingness:


The baby won't eat his soup.

I won't leave until I've seen the manager!

The car won't start.


As Jim pointed out in his comment, you can replace "won't" with "refuses to" with no change in meaning.

Note that you can only use "will", not "shall" to denote unwillingness with Future Simple. "The car shall not start" won't work.

  • 1
    "Shall" works fine if you're a fortune teller.
    – Hot Licks
    Nov 9, 2015 at 6:58
  • 1
    @HotLicks: You missed the point, though I guess it was intentional. Just for clarity: To will was once a full verb roughly synonymous with to want. (Hence last will and testament, willing someone to do something etc.) To shall was once a full verb roughly synonymous with to be obliged. Fortune tellers use shall in order to stress that it's not a matter of volition. The car "won't" start because it's stubborn.
    – user86291
    Nov 9, 2015 at 7:10

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