Future Tenses and Time Conjunctions

Welcome to this week’s blog on how to use future tenses with a variety of time words (time conjunctions). This post continues on from the post on Past Tenses. If you haven’t read the Past Tenses post, or the Grammar section yet, it might be a good idea to start there.

I am covering Future Tenses in this post, because I want this blog to be something that will help you to study for the Use of English part of the exam, in a structured way. With that in mind, studying future tenses means that we will have covered (future perfect tense) the 12 tenses by the end of this blog. From there, other grammar topics are going to be covered (future simple tense, but passive) that build on the 12 tenses. For example, it would be no good trying to teach passive voice before 12 tenses, as passive can be used in a variety of tenses.

So here we go with this week’s topic – Future Tenses and Time Conjunctions. You should notice fairly quickly, that future tenses in English work in a very similar way to past tenses.

The following sentences are designed to show you how to use each of the 4 future tenses with a range of time conjunctions (such as when, as, while, by the time, before, after etc.) Each sentence starts the same way, but finishes with a different tense.

  • When you look at the following sentences, you should decide which action is going to happen first, and which one will occur second.
  • In addition, each sentence uses the time conjunction “when”. When is a versatile time conjunction which can mean different things in different sentences. For each of the following sentences you should also find an alternative for the word “when”. For example, you might need to use before, after, by the time or as.

1. When I arrive at the cinema, the movie will (is going to) start.

2. When I arrive at the cinema the movie will be playing.

3. When I arrive at the cinema, the movie will have started.

4. When I arrive at the cinema, the movie will have been running for 15 minutes.

  • Notice that in all 4 sentences, the first clause uses when with present simple tense.
  • The second clause in each sentence uses a different future tense. Future Simple in sentence 1, Future Continuous in sentence 2, Future Perfect in the 3rd sentence and finally Future Perfect Continuous in the 4th sentence.
  • We generally use “will” in future tenses, to avoid making the sentences even longer, with “be going to”. For example, the 4th sentence would be a real mouthful if I said “the movie is going to have been running”.

So, which action is going to happen first and which one will happen second? What does “when“ mean in each case?

Sentence 1. When I arrive at the cinema, the movie will start.

In this sentence the second clause is in the future simple. In this case, 1st I will arrive at the cinema and 2nd the movie will start. In this sentence, the word “when” could be replaced with AFTER.

  • “After” is used with the first action/event.

Sentence 2. When I arrive at the cinema the movie will be playing.

In this sentence there are 2 actions which overlap. The movie starting is the longer action which will be interrupted by me arriving (and continued after I arrive). Although they overlap, the movie will start just before I arrive, so the movie starts 1st, and 2nd I arrive. However, as both events overlap, I could use the word AS instead of when.

  • “As” is used when 2 actions overlap or happen at the same time. As is used with the shorter action.

Sentence 3. When I arrive at the cinema, the movie will have started.

In this sentence, The movie will start 1st and I will arrive 2nd. However, in this sentence I begin with the second action. In this example, I talk about arriving at the cinema in the future, and then talk about something which will happen before that (the movie will start before I arrive) . This is why Future Perfect Simple Tense is used to describe what you are going to do in the future, then look back in time from there.

  • Future Perfect Simple Tense is a lot like Past Perfect Simple Tense. Past Perfect Tense is used when you talk about something in the past, and then mention something that happened before that (past before the past). Future Perfect Simple Tense talks about something in the future, and then goes back in time.
  • Future Perfect Simple Tense is used to when the focus is a completed action (or you are using a state verb which cannot be used in the continuous form e.g. feel, think, know etc.)
  • In this sentence when can be replaced by BY THE TIME
  • “By the time” is usually used with either Future Perfect Tense or Future Perfect Continuous when talking about the future.
  • It also means the same as “before”.

Sentence 4. When I arrive at the cinema, the movie will have been running for 15 minutes.

This sentence is very similar to sentence 3. The only difference is that Future Perfect Continuous Tense is used with an action that will not be complete. Therefore, When I arrive at the cinema will happen 2nd and the movie will have been running for 15 minutes before that (1st). The movie will continue to run, after I arrive (in this sentence).

  • Future Perfect Continuous Tense is used when the first action will not be complete when/ until the second action occurs.
  • It is used to focus on the length of time (for 15 minutes) rather than on the completed action.
  • Depending on the circumstances, the first action may or may not continue after the second action occurs.
Phew! Finished.

In this post, you can hopefully see that the way you use future tenses is very similar to how you use past tenses in English. I did not go into the differences between “will” and “going to” here, as this will be another topic for another week.

If there is something that you think I have missed, or you would like to suggest another topic for a future blog, please send me a message from the Contact page.

In the meantime, you can try this kahoot quiz to test your knowledge of the 12 tenses. You can also join the ready for FCE Quizlet class to get lots of practice materials for free!

Thank you for reading and I will see you next time.