A common misconception is that English has many tenses. In fact, it only has two: the present tense and the past tense. There is no future tense in English.
When we speak of tenses, we are referring to the form of verbs and the way we change them to express a sense of connection to a particular time or time period. For example,
I have meetings nearly every day
uses the present form of the verb “have’’. This shows that having meetings is something I do in the present time. Perhaps not right now, but often enough (nearly every day) for us to say it’s something I do in the present.
In this example,
I had a meeting yesterday
we change the form of the verb to show that the particular action of having the meeting has now finished (just as yesterday has finished). Other examples of these changes include:
play to played
dictate to dictated
speak to spoke
think to thought
For those of you who want to believe in a future tense, tell me, what are the future tenses of any of these verbs? They do not exist. You won’t find them in any dictionary.
In English, we get round the problem by having several different ways of talking about the future. These include:
The present simple:
I fly to Singapore next week
This form is used when the action has been time-tabled. It sounds a little formal when used in the first person.
The present continuous:
I’m flying to Singapore next week
Adding “next week’’ anchors the concept to the future. This form is used when the action has already been arranged (with an airline and a client, in this case).
I’m going to fly to Singapore
This is used to talk about personal plans that perhaps haven’t been arranged with anyone else.
Finally, we have “will”. I’m sure some readers have been told that “will” is the definitive future form but in fact, “will” has many uses. In future contexts, it is used to talk about spontaneous decisions:
A: “I can’t find my car keys.’’
B: “I’ll give you a hand.’’
“I think we will lose earnings in the next quarter.’’
Or as part of an “if” clause:
“If we don’t cut overheads, we’ll slip into the red next quarter.’’
The future tense doesn’t exist – so don’t believe in it!
Tom Hayton is a Business Trainer with the Professional Development Unit (PDU), at the British Council Malaysia. The PDU offers a wide range of learning opportunities from management and communication skills training to developing English skills. Visit its website at www.britishcouncil.org.my or e-mail email@example.com