When teaching Future Continuous vs Future Perfect the other day, a student stumped me with an observation of the following question taken from the 4th Edition of English File by Oxford:

  • Sonia is usually at the gym between 6:30 and 7:30. There's no point phoning Sonia **now **. It's 7:00 and she _______ at the gym (work out)

I would've instinctively answered using the Future Continuous (will be working out). Indeed, the answer listed in the Teacher's Book is precisely that. However, my student asked why in the first place we would think to use the Future Continuous here if this statement was being said now? Shouldn't it instead be 'is working out'?

A fellow teacher proposed that perhaps the statement was part of a dialogue which happened yesterday but that didn't quite make sense to me. I'd like to know if and why the Future Continuous would be appropriate if we assume that the dialogue between 2 people talking about Sonia and Sonia working out at the gym are happening simultaneously.

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    It's the same basic issue as When do you answer a question with "would be" instead of "is/are"?. Using will be or would be instead of is conveys "formal deference" and/or tentativeness on the part of the speaker (even if he's not actually unsure, he might wish to avoid sounding too dogmatic about anything). Feb 25, 2022 at 11:42
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    It's the use described in this page as "predictions about the present" - situations where we haven't directly observed that something has happened, but can predict/deduce it based on indirect evidence, usual habit/routine etc. The first sentence saying "usually at the gym" is the signpost for this usage.
    – psmears
    Feb 25, 2022 at 11:49
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    @FF '"formal deference" and/or tentativeness' Wish me say that. Feb 25, 2022 at 12:01
  • Alas, this is the reason why the answer in the teacher's book is wrong. There is no future tense in English; will is just another modal auxiliary. It's too bad that's such a well-kept secret in English classes. May 27, 2023 at 22:39

1 Answer 1


As Huddleston & Pullum (2002) state, will can also be used to express epistemic modality; more precisely, it can be used to indicate that something is known or strongly expected to be true. This particularly applies when there is the possibility of future confirmation of the statement's truth.

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    Indeed, like all modals will can have an epistemic reading. This is one of the reasons why it is such unhelpful nonsense to describe it as "the future tense".
    – Colin Fine
    May 27, 2023 at 21:59
  • @ColinFine While any native speaker will have learned this in their childhood, foreign learners may never do so. Unfortunately.
    – tchrist
    May 28, 2023 at 17:11

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