Simple Future: Teaching the Three Forms

How will you teach the future tense to your students?

The simple future is a bit more complicated than the other simple tenses in English. We have more than one way of making a future sentence. We can use will + base verbbe going to + base verb, or be + -ing verb (the present progressive form). What’s the difference between these forms? How can we teach them to our students? In this post you’ll find information on the three future forms, fun activities using the future (for warm-ups or fillers), and links to exercises for practice.

Will + Base Verb

1. Form: The future modal will is used with the base form of the verb.

2. Use: This form is used when you are deciding future plans at the moment. For example, if someone invited you to go to a party next Friday, you could answer, “Sure, I’ll go.” Will + base verb is generally considered to be a more formal way of forming the future.

3. Examples:

  • A: Do you want to go to the movies later? B: Sure, I’ll go!
  • She will do whatever her mother tells her to do.
  • When you enter the room on Monday, you’ll see a sign-up sheet on the table.

Be Going To + Base Verb

1. Form: The modal expression be going to is used with the base form of the verb. The be verb is conjugated according to the subject (am, are, is).

Pronunciation Note: It’s important to tell students that going to is often reduced to gonna. Remind them that while the reduced form is very common in speaking, it’s not often used in writing (except in casual writing such as a text message to a friend). Most students think it’s fun to practice reduced forms, so encourage them to use gonna in speech.

2. Use: This form is used when plans have already been made in advance. For example, if you have plans to go camping next weekend and someone asks you what you are going to do, you could answer, “I’m going to go camping next weekend.Be going to + base verb is considered to be a bit more casual than will + base verb.

3. Examples:

  • He’s going to study all night for his test.
  • They’re going to go to Disneyland next spring.
  • I am definitely going to call you tomorrow.

Be + -Ing Verb (Present Progressive)

1. Form: The present progressive (be and the -ing form of the verb) can also be used to indicate a future time. The be verb is conjugated according to the subject (am, are, is).

2. Use: Occasionally, English speakers use the present progressive as a future form. It is used the same way as be going to—when plans are already made. For example, if you have plans to go camping next weekend and someone asks you what you are going to do, you could answer, “I’m going camping next weekend.” The present progressive is a casual way of forming the future (slightly more casual than be going to + base verb, in my opinion).

3. Examples:

  • My roommate is going to Hawaii in November.
  • We’re planning to discuss this in the next meeting.
  • I’m calling him back tomorrow after class.

What happens when we use two future verbs in the same sentence?

Something important to remind students of is that unlike the other simple tenses, English does NOT use a future form twice in most sentences. The future form is used in the independent clause and the simple present is used in the dependent clause. Make sure students realize that the order of the clauses can change in a sentence with no difference in meaning, so the best way to know which clause is dependent (and therefore requires a present verb) is to look for the adverb of time (when, while, etc.). Also, remind students that because the form in the dependent clause is the simple present, third person singular subjects take a verb ending in -s.

Examples:

  • I will call you when I arrive in Las Vegas tomorrow.
  • She is going to apply to university when she graduates.
  • When my friend comes over next weekend, we’re going to study for the final exam.

Fun Activities:

1. Goals: Goal-setting is a great activity to practice the future. Have students interview each other about their future goals and plans. Make sure they use be going to + base verb and/or the be + -ing verb. Have them practice saying “gonna”.

2. Fortunes: Get students to practice using will + base verb by telling each other’s fortunes. They can write fortunes on pieces of paper, pass them around, and read out their fortunes to each other. Or you could find a simple palm-reading task online (such as Wiki’s guide) and have partners read each other’s life lines, head lines, and heart lines.

3. Travel Plans: Put students into small groups and have them plan an imaginary trip. They can decide where to go, how long they’ll stay, what they’ll bring, what they’ll do, etc. During their planning as they make decisions, have them use will + base verb. Later, when they report their trips to the class, they can use be going to + base verb or be + -ing verb to describe the plans they’ve already made.

Practice:

Get some future practice with our Future lesson (Grammar Practice Worksheets), our Future (going to) lesson (Grammar Stories), and our Future – What are you going to do? and Future – Where are you going to go? lessons (Easy Grammar Sentences).

I hope your students will find these reminders useful,

Tanya

7 comments

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  1. walquiria.c.oliveira@hotmail.com'

    Walquiria says:

    Jun 07, 2017 at 7:16 am

    Tanya, I really like the lessons. It has been a great tool to make the students understand and practice.

    Reply

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Jun 07, 2017 at 12:35 pm

      Great to hear! Thanks for your comment.

      Reply

  2. nely_tomilas@yahoo.com'

    Mely says:

    Dec 05, 2013 at 3:46 am

    Hi Tanya,
    Thanks for posting. Indeed, it is a great help especially to all teachers around the world. Great job!
    Mel

    Reply

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Dec 05, 2013 at 6:30 pm

      Thanks, Mel! I appreciate you taking the time to comment! :)

      Reply

  3. ESL Library Staff says:

    Sep 06, 2013 at 7:00 pm

    “No two wills!” That’s a fantastic way of explaining the will rule to students! I knew you’d have something good up your sleeve. I’m always a bit hesitant when students want a specific answer to “Is it incorrect?”. I typically say it’s “grammatically incorrect”, but often catch a friend, my own child, or even myself using the “incorrect” construction. I think usually when students ask, “Is it incorrect” they want to know if they would get it marked wrong on a test, rather than, “Do you understand what I mean”?

    Anyway, thanks for your example of making this rule stick with students!

    Reply

  4. tanya@tbtk.net'

    Tanya says:

    Sep 06, 2013 at 5:27 pm

    The future can be so confusing for students, especially since it’s okay to use two present verbs or two past verbs in the same sentence! While the meaning of your student’s example is correct in that both actions are future actions, the grammar is incorrect–we can’t use “will” twice in a conditional sentence (even for emphasis, in my opinion). The only time it’s correct is with a conjunction. (E.g., He will work hard, and/so he will pass.)

    I used to repeat the mantra “No two wills!” to my students to remind them not to use a future form twice. Whenever someone would say an incorrect future sentence, another student would shout out, “No two wills!” and we’d all have a laugh. Seemed to work well! :)

    Reply

  5. ESL Library Staff says:

    Sep 06, 2013 at 5:01 pm

    Great post! Just today a student asked me a question about using two forms of future tense in the same sentence. She wanted to know if it was incorrect to say:

    If he will work hard, he will pass.

    Of course, I gave her the proper form using if, “If he works hard, he will pass.” But to call her example “incorrect” seemed wrong to me, since it still makes sense, and in spoken English it does add emphasis when you use will more than once. Thoughts on handling a question like this?

    Reply

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