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Simple Future Vs. Future Progressive

September 19, 2013

Students learn more quickly when they can visualize a concept…

Chart comparing the simple future and future progressive

The simple future can be tricky for English students to learn because there are so many ways to express the future in English. Unlike the simple past, which has one basic form, the simple future can be expressed by using will + base verb, be going to + base verb, or be + ‑ing verb. (See Simple Future: Teaching the Three Forms for complete explanations, practice lessons, and fun activities to do with your students.)

Even though it’s a bit tricky, all three uses are common, so students quickly become familiar with the simple future as they learn English.

But what about the future progressive (also known as the future continuous)? This structure is not commonly used in English, so students don’t come across it very often. However, higher‑level textbooks deal with this form, as do tests like the TOEIC. It is also used occasionally in English writing and speaking, so high‑intermediate and advanced students need to learn it at some point.

Although it is rarely used and thus harder to grasp, presenting the future progressive using the method outlined below will make it easier for your students. Section 6, Tricks, could be especially helpful!

Simple Future

See detailed explanations of the three future forms, examples, practice lessons, and fun activities in my blog post Simple Future: Teaching the Three Forms.

Future Progressive

1. Form

will + be + ‑ing verb

The future progressive is formed by taking the modal will, the base form of the verb Be, and an action verb + ‑ing. Luckily, students don’t have to worry about subject–verb agreement because the Be verb doesn’t change forms after a modal.

What about the other two future forms? We can never use be + ‑ing verb instead of will (She is being eating dinner is clearly incorrect), but it is possible to use be going to instead of will (She is going to be eating dinner). Most people would agree that it’s a bit of a mouthful—sticking to will is best (She will be eating dinner).

2. Use

The function of the future progressive is to show a continuing (long) action getting interrupted by a short future action. Using the words long and short helps students understand this use better. The reason the future progressive isn’t used that often is because it’s a little strange to try to predict what will happen exactly at a given moment in the future. Unlike the past, where we know what happened already, we don’t usually know for certain what will happen in the future.

3. Time Marker

The time marker when is common for this case.

4. Examples

  • I will be sleeping when you arrive home from work next Friday night.
  • They will be doing presentations in class when the practice fire alarm rings at 2:00 pm.
  • The mayor will be finishing up her work when the power goes out at the scheduled time tomorrow.

5. Notes

Note #1

Don’t forget to remind students that you can start the sentences with either the independent clause (a Subject-Verb[-Object] structure that can stand alone) OR the dependent clause (that begins with the adverb "when" and can’t stand alone) with no difference in meaning. Students shouldn’t memorize the future progressive as always occurring first in the sentence because this isn’t always the case. Also, remind students that a comma must be used when a dependent clause begins a sentence.

  • When you arrive home from work next Friday night, I will be sleeping.
  • When the power goes out at the scheduled time tomorrow, the mayor will be finishing up her work.
  • They will be doing presentations in class when the practice fire alarm rings at 2:00 pm.

Note #2

Be sure to include some examples with a third person singular subject so that students realize that the regular simple present subject–verb agreement rules must be followed for the verb in the dependent clause. (I.e., the third person singular pronouns he/she/it, singular count nouns, and non‑count nouns all take -s on the end of the verb.)

Note #3

It’s also possible to use the future progressive when a clock time is mentioned instead of a dependent clause.

  • What will you be doing at 8:00 pm tonight? (The meaning is: What will you be doing when it is 8:00 pm tonight?)
  • I will be studying at 8:00 pm tonight. (The meaning is: I will be studying when it is 8:00 pm tonight.)

Note #4

Another less common use of the future progressive is to emphasize two long actions. The time marker while, followed by a simple present verb, can be used. Likewise, two future progressive verbs can be joined by a conjunction such as "and." Note that all four sentences below have the same meaning.

  • He will be cleaning while she cooks.
  • While she cooks, he will be cleaning.
  • He will be cleaning and she will be cooking.
  • She will be cooking and he will be cleaning.

6. Tricks

Trick #1

Use the expression “NO 2 WILLS” to remind students that they will never see two future forms used in the same sentence (if it contains one independent and one dependent clause). Chant it like a mantra in your class—it really sticks in students’ heads and helps them remember to almost always use a future form in the independent clause and a present form in the dependent clause. (See an exception in Note #4 above.)

Remind students that even though the verb in the dependent clause has a simple present structure, both clauses have a future meaning. Point to the diagram at the beginning of this blog post as an example. This is true for all future tenses!

Trick #2

Have students memorize common “short” action verbs so they’ll easily recognize when the future progressive is needed. Short action verbs include: start, begin, call, arrive, ring, come, land, hit, and go out (as in the power goes out or the lights go out).

Trick #3

If students have learned the past progressive before (and they do usually learn the past progressive before the future progressive since it’s more common), remind them that the future progressive has the same function as the past progressive. For more information or as a comparison, see Simple Past Vs. Past Progressive.

7. Practice Lessons

Get some simple future practice with our Simple Future lesson (Grammar Practice Worksheets), our Simple Future Stories lesson (Grammar Stories), and our Future – What are you going to do tonight? and Future - Where are you going to go? lessons (Basic Grammar Sentences).

Practice the future progressive in our Future Progressive lesson (Grammar Practice Worksheets) and compare it with the simple future in our Verb Tense Review 1 – The Simple Tenses lesson.

How will your students be feeling when they finally understand the future progressive? Pretty darn good, I’m guessing!

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Comments (35)

Farah Tabsh(Guest)

Very helpful, thnx.

Reply to Comment

Farah Tabsh(Guest)

Hi...how does the future progressive have the same function as the past progressive?

Leanna Pohevitz(Guest)

On a different website (http://www.englishtenses.com/tenses/future_continuous) I found the statement:
'Like any of the Future Tenses, Future Continuous cannot be used in sentences beginning with: while, when, before, by the time, if, etc.'

I'm very confused and have never heard that before.

Is this sentence incorrect?: 'When I am 45, I will be living in a mansion.'

If it is, is that entire statement wrong? If it is not correct, how can I correct it.

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

Hi Leanna,

Your sentence 'When I am 45, I will be living in a mansion' is correct. I've had a look at the other website, and I think they meant to say that we cannot use the future progressive in the CLAUSE that begins with the adverb of time (while, when). Example:
- When her friend will be calling her tonight, she will be eating dinner. (incorrect)
- When her friend calls her tonight, she will be eating dinner. (correct)

The future progressive verb is in the main clause, not the adverb clause that begins with when or while. The adverb clause takes a simple present verb.

Also note that the most common time markers are when and while. Other time markers, such as by the time and before, are more common with the future perfect and future perfect progressive. See more here: https://blog.esllibrary.com/2014/04/10/future-perfect-vs-future-perfect-progressive/

Hope that helps! :)

danka (Guest)

wow useful. thanks for that grammar.
cheer up

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

Thanks, Danka!

Will (Guest)

Great examples, thanks for sharing

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

My pleasure! Thanks for your comment.

Shubhranshu Pandey(Guest)

Hi Tanya,

Please clarify for the below case:

> Sandy will play soccer tomorrow
>Sandy will be playing soccer tomorrow

What tense shall be used to express the thought.

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

Great question! The short answer is both are correct, with the simple future (first example) being more common than the future progressive (second example).

Without more context, there isn't really a need to use the future progressive. For example, if you had context that included a second, shorter time, you would use the future progressive naturally (e.g., 'Sandy will be playing soccer by the time I leave the office.').

If you do use the future progressive without any other context, it could be that you want to emphasize it for some reason. Maybe her coach insisted that everyone play even if they feel sick. Then 'Sandy will be playing soccer tomorrow' gives more emphasis ('no matter what') and sounds natural.

If you just want to indicate Sandy's activities or schedule for the next day, it is far more common to use the simple future (so 'Sandy will play soccer tomorrow' sounds the most natural).

Hope that helps!

Aliaa Ebrahem(Guest)

Hello.

Could you tell me the difference between these sentences :
1) Don't get impatient, she will come soon
2) Don't get impatient, she will be coming soon
I read in a book called 'understanding and using English grammar' that they have no difference because the time is indefinite, but I think the first one means that she will arrive soon, but the second means that she will start coming soon.
I am not a native English speaker so I hope I did not describe my question in a wrong way.
Thank you! :)

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

Hi Aliaa,

If you use the future progressive alone in a sentence, without a separate simple future verb to distinguish a long action from a short one, then yes, they basically mean the same thing. In your examples, the second (she will be coming soon) just emphasizes the continuing nature of the action a bit. See the next comment for another example (will play soccer vs. will be playing soccer).

Sanya (Guest)

Can u please tell which of the following sentences is correct
He will meet us tomorrow
He will be meeting us tomorrow.

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

Hi Sanya, they are both correct! See my next two comments below for further explanation. :)

Kiran (Guest)

Rehman will perform in a concert in hyderabad next month
Rehman will be performing in a concert in hyderabad next month
Which is correct ¿¿¿

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

Hi Kiran, they are both correct. Scroll down to Aliaa's and Shubhranshu's comments for a complete explanation. Also, don't forget to capitalize place names like 'Hyderabad.' :)

Chetankumar (Guest)

Namaste....
Much helpful and handy information given...
Recently I came across one sentence :
'He will be studying in the library tonight, so he will not see Lata (Name of a Indian girl) when she arrives.'

Here there are two dependent clauses
First in future tense :: so he will not see Lata....
Second in present tense :: when she arrives

What is your take on this
Referring to Trick A in Section 6, here we have two 'will' that is two clauses in Future tense in whole sentence. Is it correct ???

Hoping for your kind response

By the way I am very much thankful for this informative and easy to understand blog

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

Thanks for the kind words! Your sentence actually contains two independent clauses and one dependent clause. Conjunctions like and, but, or, so, etc. are commonly used to join two independent clauses. It is possible to use 'will' in two independent clauses, though if you're using the same tense, the second 'will' can be dropped if you choose.

Examples:
She will study and she will watch TV after dinner.
She will study and watch TV after dinner.
(two independent clauses; same simple future tense; she/will can be dropped from the second independent clause if you want)

He will be studying in the library tonight, so he will not see Lata.
X He will be studying in the library tonight, so not see Lata.
(two independent clauses; different tenses [future progressive/simple future] so he/will can't be dropped)

He will not see Lata when she arrives.
X He will not see Lata when she will arrive.
(one independent clause and one dependent clause; no two wills; simple present must be used in the dependent clause)

He will be studying in the library tonight, so he will not see Lata when she arrives.
(two independent clauses and one dependent clause)

Hope that helps!

Shwetha (Guest)

Hey it's really informative ..I will be learning by this site...thank you for getting me know that how to explain the students...thanks

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

You're welcome, Shwetha. Glad it's helpful for you and your students!

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