Even though most novels are written in the simple past, the future tense often features in them. You need to be able to use it properly to convey exactly what you think is going to happen. Have a quick read of The Past and The Present if you missed them.
The Future Tense
There are four future tenses:
- The simple future
- The future continuous/progressive
- The future perfect simple
- The future perfect continuous/progressive
- a future action is predicted (using will or [be] going to)
- a future action is planned/intended (using [be] going to)
- an action is spontaneous (using will)
- an action is offered/promised/threatened (using will), either given/made or talked about
- an action is offered in a question (using shall…)
- a future action is questioned (using what/where/how/why shall…)
- the action is an order (using you will)
- the action is an invitation
Shall is mainly used with ‘I’ and ‘we,’ use will for all other objects of the sentence.
Note: The simple future is used when the action in the future is not 100% certain to happen (it is predicted/planned/offered/promised, but not written in stone).
Note: Sentences beginning with time indications about arranged events together with others at a later date don’t use the present tense. In these cases, use the present continuous.
Example: When I’m attending this workshop tonight with my friend, I am going to learn a lot.
Form: will/shall + verb root or [be] + going to + verb root
Note that future tenses always use an auxiliary verb (will/shall or am/is/are + going to). These are verbs that help to convey the tense/aspect/mood of another verb.
Example: She is going to catch the train to get there in time.
Example: I will pick her up from the station.
Example: She will come every Wednesday to help us.
Example: Shall we pick her up from the station together?
Example: What shall we give her for helping?
Example: You will give her something!
Example: Will you accept our gift?
Example: I would like to, but I can’t.
Signal or Key words:
There are no specific signal or key words for future tenses. The future is indicated when:
- Using certain verbs (would like, plan, want, mean, hope, expect, etc.)
- Using modals like may, might, and could if the future isn’t certain
- Using should to indicate you want something to happen or something is likely to happen
- An action is going to start at an unspecific time in the future and will still be happening at a specific time in the future (often accompanied by a future time indication)
- An action is certain to happen
- An action is being questioned
- Two actions will be happening at the same time in the future
The future continuous stresses an action in the future that is/can/will/should be interrupted by another future action.
Form: will + [be] + present participle (= verb root + -ing)
[be] + going to be + present participle (= verb root + -ing)
Example: I will be addressing the media at noon tomorrow when I need to take my anti-stress pills.
Example: I am going to be working on the final chapter next week.
Example: Will you be helping me with my grammar?
Example: I will be writing and he will be reading.
Future Perfect Simple
- An action at a certain point in the future will have finished
Form: will + have + past participle (= verb root + -ed)
Example: I will have learned all tenses by the time I get to the end of this article.
Signal or Key words:
Future Perfect Continuous/Progressive
- An action has already happened at a certain time in the future and is unfinished in a more distant future, often used with a time indication
Note: When using the future perfect continuous, you are stressing the duration of the action.
It is not a very often used tense in the English language.
Form: will + have + been + present participle (= verb root + -ing)
Example: My novel will have been praised by many this time next year.
[be] + going to have been + present participle (= verb root + -ing)
Example: My novel is going to have been praised by many this time next year.
Beside the four future tenses, you can also talk about the future without a future verb tense by:
- Using the simple present when an action is in the immediate future
Example: I throw the ball, you catch it.
- Using the simple present when an action is a scheduled event
Example: You arrive on Thursday evening for the meeting Friday morning.
- Using the present continuous when an action is a future arrangement
Example: She is working the night shift.
- Using the verb going to
Example: We are going to do this!
- Using future obligations
Example: She is to be wed to the old man.
I am aware that this explanation of tenses is far from complete/perfect, but I hope it will get the beginner writer a long way.
Here is a timeline graph that I made that I hope puts things into perspective.