This lesson is in two parts. Part 1 introduces the various forms English uses to indicate the future. Part 2 examines the similarities and differences between the two primary forms: WILL and the present progressive. Before you continue, review these lessons:

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Many languages have a present tense, a past tense, and a future tense which are indicated by a specific set of verb conjugations. English, however, has no future tense, no special future verb conjugation.

In English, one way to indicate the future is to use the modal auxiliary verb WILL + a main verb in its base form. For example.

He will eat pizza
You will find your keys.

Another way to talk about the future in English (and many other languages) is with the verb GO. In English, this is done with a conjugated form of the verb BE followed by the present participle of the verb GO (going) as a sort of auxiliary verb and then an infinitive: BE + going + infinitive.

subj. aux.
  BE going infinitive  
He is going to eat pizza.
You are going to find your keys.
They are going to take the train.
I am going to read my book.

A third way to indicate the future is with the use of temporal adverbs (tomorrow, two weeks, next month, etc) in one of these four constructions:

WILL + base form
+ temporal adverb
He will leave tomorrow.
They will travel to Bogotá on Friday.
I will visit my sister next week.
BE + going + infinitive
+ temporal adverb
He is going to leave tomorrow.
They are going to travel to Bogotá on Friday.
I am going to visit my sister next week.
simple present +
temporal adverb
He leaves tomorrow.
They travel to Bogotá on Friday.
I visit my sister next week.
present progressive
+ temporal adverb
He is leaving tomorrow.
They are traveling to Bogotá on Friday.
I am visiting my sister next week.

Warning: without a temporal adverb or the present participle going, it is not possible to use the present progressive to talk about a future action, because the present progressive on its own would create an ambiguous sentence. There would be no way to determine if the action is occurring now or if it will occur in the future. For example:

Tom is taking the train to work.

Without context, it is impossible to know whether Tom is on the train at the moment of speaking or if Tom will take the train in the future. If we want to use the present progressive without the present participle going and we want our listener to know the action will take place in the future, a temporal adverb must be used.

Tom is taking the train to work tomorrow.

Here, we know it is a future event because of the adverb tomorrow. The alternative to using a temporal adverb to indicate a future action with the present progressive is to use the formula BE + going + infinitive.

Tom is going to take the train to work.

To learn more about the differences and similarities between WILL and the present progressive when describing the future in English, go to page 2 of this lesson.

Related lessons:

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