I'm leaving next week.

As shown here, the present progressive can represent an event that will happen in the future. I'm wondering what's the reasoning behind this feature.

The one I can think of is that in English the act of "leaving" can start when you've decided in your mind that you will leave or when you've arranged for your leaving, either of which can be some time (e.g., a week) before your actual leaving.

I'd like to know if native speakers agree with this reasoning. If not, please articulate what you think is the reasoning.


Both the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (CGEL) by Pullum and Oxford Modern English Grammar (OMEG) by Aarts clearly say that the progressive futurate (i.e., the present progressive indicating a future event as in I'm leaving next week) does not have a progressive meaning to it.

OMEG on page 270 says:

It is important to be aware of the fact that [the progressive futurate] is not aspectual, that is, the situation is not regarded as unfolding over time.

I'd like the answers to be in accordance with this analysis that the progressive futurate is not aspectual.

  • @Clare Of course, you can. But I think you shouldn't simply ignore what these grammars suggest but should be able to distinguish your own view from those of these grammars. – JK2 May 19 '17 at 2:23
  • @Clare I'm not sure I agree with you that "Tomorrow I'm going to work" differs from "Tomorrow I will go to work" in this way; but I also doubt that the point is perfectly responsive. The question was (wasn't it?) why we use the progressive as a future tense when we do not mean to suggest progressive activity. Are you disagreeing that we can do that? – Chaim May 19 '17 at 14:39
  • What is your actual question? Don't CGEL and OMEG explain the "reasoning" (meaning/subtle meaning) of using the present progressive to refer to the future, as compared with the many other ways that speakers refer to the future? There is no actual reasoning going on in a native speaker's mind, he just codifies his meaning in one of the many ways to refer to the future, based on how he learned these verbal codes and their meanings from childhood... – AmE speaker May 19 '17 at 15:21
  • @Clare All CGEL and OMEG explain regarding the "progressive futurate" is to say that it is not aspectual, i.e., it does not denote a progressive meaning, which explanation is actually contrary to your and sumelic's instinct about it. – JK2 May 19 '17 at 19:27
  • First, let me change course agree that the progressive futurate does refer to an ongoing process. The way researchers have handled this is to say that there are two progressive morphemes in English, one that indicates an event in progress and one that doesn't. However, what is meant by "in progress" has been the subject of much research and scholarly debate For instance: He was crossing the street when he got hit by a truck (and thus did not actually cross the street) does not refer to the ongoing process of crossing the street, since he never crossed the street. Also... – AmE speaker May 21 '17 at 19:58

I disagree. I see it as the same of the use of the simple present for the future ("I leave next week" is also valid). "I'm leaving next week" in no way implies that "I'm leaving today" in some sense; in fact, it has the opposite implication.

To me, what it seems is that the use of phrase specifying the time, such as "next week," establishes the reference frame of the sentence, and the present interpretation takes place relative to that reference frame. It's like "Imagine that it is next week. At that time, the following statement will be true: "I'm leaving.'" Kind of like the use of the "narrative present" with a time label attached, like in a script or something

Next week: I'm leaving.

This explanation also has its problems. We don't usually say things "I'm leaving last week", even though it's possible to imagine narrating an event in the past. I think this may be because narrative past exists and is naturally used often with past-tense markers.

I did find an example of present + "last week", though, which is maybe similar:

Funny how I say I'm leaving last week to come back and find this place gone to hell and not just my name being used but your and Gregg making endless false accusations that I'm guilty for it all.

ulTRAX reply to Modavations • 5 years ago - comment on "Small Biz Owners On Job Creation", http://onpoint.legacy.wbur.org/2011/12/07/small-biz-owners

How I would explain this is, narrative present can be used to describe past events as well, but it requires more context (a longer passage of narration) since by default people assume narrative in the present tense is non-past, since it could be but isn't marked for past tense.

Probably, there are a number of people who would find problems with my explanation, and there might be evidence against it that I don't know of. The fact is, native speakers don't really know this kind of thing automatically. People just use the present tense in these contexts because it sounds natural.

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    The simplest explanation is that English has a two-tense system, past and non-past (do, did); all other "tenses" are periphrastic (will do, be doing, have done) and are often forgone for their simpler alternatives. – Anonym May 17 '17 at 3:58
  • I understand that you think that the present tense am in I'm leaving next week isn't quite restricted to the present time but actually is timeless as in leave in I leave next week, right? If so, why do you think native speakers bother ever using the more complex am leaving instead of the simpler leave to denote the same timeless meaning? – JK2 May 17 '17 at 4:06
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    Native speakers also say "I will be leaving (e.g.,) in August", especially when leaving from a place where they have not yet gone. Or perhaps just a more distant future. – Xanne May 17 '17 at 6:41
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    Much of Funny how I say I'm leaving last week… appears not to have been penned by a literate native, making the rest at best dubious. Is it not true that the meaning is Funny how last week I say I'm leaving… and aren't they as different as chalk and cheese? – Robbie Goodwin May 21 '17 at 20:59
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    "Hooray! I'm going to Harvard!" <--- There's no indexing temporal adjunct there. We don't necessarily use one at all - so it's pretty hard to imagine that we're using the progressive because of some kind of simultaneity. – Araucaria May 25 '17 at 11:15

CGEL and OMEG argue, as I understand it, that the, uh, “progressive futurate” is not aspectual, by which is meant this verbal expression is not referring to an ongoing action. I agree with this.

There are many ways in which I can express the idea that next Friday I will be going to Europe, including "I am leaving for Europe on Friday."

If a friend wants to call me on the phone on Friday, I say I can't do that because I'm leaving for Europe on Friday.

I can't go to the ball game on Thursday because I'm baking a pie for the bake sale and I'm going to the doctor on Thursday. To say "I will bake a pie on Thursday" doesn't convey the same meaning at all.

A friend wants to get some of those nice textiles from Italy, and I say I'm going to Italy in August.

What all of these examples have in common is that at the time when I am being requested to do something else, I will be in a state or condition of leaving for Europe, baking a pie, going to the doctor, which at that time will be an ongoing (progressive) action, or, more simply an action underway.

There's a subtle difference beween saying: I leave for Europe Friday, I will leave for Europe Friday, I am leaving for Europe Friday.

It seems to me there's a desperate effort to make things fit into prior patterns with all this stuff about people not really being in the process of crossing a street or baking a pumpkin pie, which in fact they are. But "I am going to Europe on Friday" expresses something that will happen in the future that will be at that time on ongoing activity. I agree that the activity has not yet begun--it's not the "plan" that's important, it's what the verb says about what I will be doing in the future.

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