Saturday, March 28, 2009

No future tense in English!

Having studied English for almost 21 years, it shocked me when I read an article claiming, “There is no future tense in English!”… I felt like, “What nonsense! If English does not have a future tense where does the words, “will”, “to be” or “going to” fit in? I know that Japanese does not have a future tense but English??

That is how my search started two days ago & I finally am convinced with the fact! Let me try to explain it in the way how I understood…

ESL Team (English as a Second Language) defines verb to be

The tense of a verb is a form that (usually) defines whether you are describing an action of the past, the present or the future.

The reason English does not "have" a future tense is that there is no future form of the verb itself that would describe the future.

Let me quote an example,

Present tense – Eat, walk, rise
Past tense – ate, walked, rose
Now what is the future tense - ?? Don’t tell me “will eat” or “going to eat”. That is NOT the future tense of the word “eat”. Don’t you agree? Okay, I don’t know anything about French but for the basics which I learnt over the online free French tutorials. In French, there is a direct word for “I will go”. That is J'irai.

Let’s consider Tamil…
Present tense – saapidugiren (eat), nadakkindren (walk), ezhugiradhu (rise)
Past tense – saapittuvitten or saapitten, nadandhen, ezhundhadhu
Future tense – saapiduven, nadappen, ezhum or ezhapogindradhu
Let’s do the same again for Hindi now…
Present tense – jaana or jaa rahi hoon (going or go)
Past tense – gayi
Future tense – jaayengay
Did you see? French, Tamil and Hindi have an appropriate verb for future tense where as English does not.

So, what are the WILL, TO BE called as? They are the Modal Auxiliary Verbs in English. See English Modal Auxiliary Verb for more.

English just uses these modal auxiliary verbs to phrase a sentence to refer ac action that might happen in the future. This is not always true though… Let’s consider the example…
I will play guitar tomorrow
I'm going to play guitar tomorrow
My guitar class starts at 9:00
I'm going to play the guitar (i.e. I will play Guitar very sooner may be in a minute or two)
Let’s see one more example
Person A: What’s up?
Person B: Nothing much. I am watching Tv.
Person A: Crap! Let’s go out, dude.
Person B: Sure, but what if it rains?
Did you notice the last sentence? There the word ‘rains’ itself implicitly denotes something that might/ expected to happen in the future!

As we saw, all of the above sentences describe something that is to happen in the future! We at times are also using the words to denote the action that will happen in the future.
  • about to,
  • want to
  • have to
  • need to
  • be supposed to
  • intend to
  • plan to
I would like to conclude this saying, “English can express future events. The above examples show how. It is just that English simply don't have a special tense for doing that”.