In our first Business English grammar lesson, I will be giving you a brief overview of the most common future tenses.
Many of our Business English students will be familiar with the rules I have set out below but nonetheless, should read them again anyway, to reinforce the knowledge. For those who haven’t learnt the rules yet or have forgotten some of them, this is essential reading. London School students can print off a copy of the rules to keep in their folders using the .pdf file provided.
At the end of the article, you can test yourself with our interactive test!
Which one of these sentences is correct:
1) “Tomorrow, I will fly to Brazil.” 2) “Tomorrow, I am flying to Brazil.” 3) “Tomorrow, I am going to fly to Brazil.”
If you are unsure of the answer, this article is most definitely for you. (2 is correct)
The “Future” can be a major source of confusion for English learners. Many people are surprised to learn that in English we don’t simply use ‘will’ whenever we want to express the future.
In fact, ‘will’ is only used approximately 50% of the time.
We also use Present Continuous (the -ing form), Simple Present and Going to future as the basis for expressing future actions.
When native speakers meet non-native speakers who have mastered this topic, it always leaves a very positive impression, which in business is very important!
So what is the difference?
We use ‘will’ for the following situations.
A few Business English examples: “I’ll send you the documents tomorrow.” “I’ll confirm that with our suppliers and get back to you ASAP.”
- Offers of help:
A few Business English examples: “No problem. I’ll ask them to speed up the delivery time.” “I’ll phone Mike for you and ask about the project status.”
- Spontaneous decisions:
A few Business English examples: “Ok, I understand. I’ll be in charge of phase two of the project and Frank will be in charge of the last part.”
Tip: It’s also used in restaurants when you order: “I’ll have the hamburger and fries, please”. (Note: Even if the decision on what you are going to eat is made in the car on the way to the restaurant – we still ‘act’ as if it is spontaneous!
Tip: Spontaneous decisions often begin with the phrase “I think…” so chances are, if you use this, you should be using “will”.
- Predictions without evidence
A few Business English examples: “I think this year will be a good year” (Just a feeling) “I think in ten year’s time everyone in Germany will have a mobile phone.”
Tip: Predictions using ‘will’ often express personal beliefs and/or opinions. For example: “I’m sure you will understand the assignment”.
- Official announcements
“The agreement will terminate upon the closing of XYZ”.
Tip: Used a lot in contracts (see above) or official announcements from management. “There will be a company-wide meeting for all employees next Wednesday.”
Present continuous (-ing) form + timeframe (e.g. Monday, tomorrow, next week).
- We use present continuous for fixed plans in the future – i.e plans where we are 95-100% certain will take place.
Let’s look at two of our example sentences again from earlier. 1) “Tomorrow, I will fly to Brazil.” 2) “Tomorrow, I am flying to Brazil.”
We now know that ‘will’ is used, amongst other things, for spontaneous decisions and present continuous is used for fixed plans. In the above example, it is unlikely that you suddenly decide to fly to Brazil the next day. It will most likely have been planned in advance. Therefore we need present continuous (Subject + verb to be + verb+ing)
A few Business English examples: “I’m having lunch with the supplier on Tuesday.” “On Monday, I’m meeting the corporate team.” ” We’re moving on to the next stage of the project next Monday.”
Tip: When asking questions about somebody’s future plans, native speakers always use the present continuous. e.g “What are you doing at the weekend?” is a very common phrase.
Tip: If we are not sure about our plans, we would use the will future. I.e. if we start our sentence with “probably, maybe…” or another indicator of doubt.
e.g. “I’ll probably watch a movie with friends this weekend.”
Rather confusingly for English learners, we also use another ‘present tense’ for the future!
- We use the simple present for events in the future that have been scheduled (like in a diary or a timetable)
A few Business English examples: “The meeting starts at 5pm.” “The train leaves at 9am.” “The next presentation begins at 2pm.”
Tip: Most of the time we use Present Simple for the future when we talk about: Meetings, conference calls, presentations, any sort of public transport (trains, planes etc) films at the cinema, sporting events.
Compare with the present continuous: “I’m starting my job next week” (fixed plan relating to me) and “My job starts next week” (A scheduled event).
- Going to + infinitive is used to signal an intention. The plan may not be 100% fixed like present continuous but it is probably 80% fixed.
For example: “This Summer I’m going to visit my parents in England.” (I haven’t bought the flight tickets yet, I haven’t arranged a specific date but the intention is there.)
It is also used for predictions but with evidence (“will” if you remember is used for predictions without evidence)
Imagine this situation: It’s the World Cup and England are playing Germany in the semi-final. It’s 0-0 after extra time and the referee signals penalties.
“Oh no” I say, “England are going to lose to Germany to at football again!” Why not ‘will’? Because there is evidence in the form of history to suggest that England are going to lose. Sadly for England fans such as myself, too much evidence as this article illustrates!
Tip: We often use ‘going to’ to discuss England’s favourite topic of conversation – the weather. If you looked up at the sky and saw that it was grey. “It’s going to rain.” (The sky provides evidence for your predictions).
In some situations ‘going to’ and present continuous are used interchangeably in the English language, depending on the context. There are only a few cases where it would sound unnatural to use one instead of the other. That said, how fixed something is, is often a subjective point.
However, the difference between ‘will’ and ‘going to’ and ‘present continuous’ is big and English learners should concentrate on getting that right with plenty of practice. After a while you will development a feel for it, but before that happens, it is important to always test your answers against the rules outlined above.
So, now you’ve learnt, or been reminded of the grammar rules, it’s time to test your knowledge using with the London School of Business Englisch München Future Quiz.
Good luck and don’t forget to share your questions/ comments in the box below!