Have you ever struggled with understanding why English does not have a specific verb tense for the future? It is a common source of confusion for learners, given the present and past tenses are two of the foundational tenses in English. In short, English does not have a future tense because it lacks any verb morphology specifically dedicated to the future tense.
All the marks of “futurity” in English are modal verbs that themselves include present and past tenses as well. The modal verb ‘will,’ for example, does not consistently mark for futurity, and thus the future is not consistently marked by ‘will.’ This can be seen in the two examples below:
Present time: That is the officer. / That will be the officer.
Future time: We do this tomorrow morning. / We will do this tomorrow morning.
As illustrated in the examples, English language linguistics lacks a dedicated form for expressing the future. Instead, we use modal verbs such as “will” or “going to” alongside other markers like “is coming” or “are to come into force.” However, these markers function more as modality or aspect rather than a strictly temporal category of the future.
Furthermore, the absence of a dedicated verb tense for the future has significant implications for the evolution and growth of the English language. English’s history of borrowing languages and structures from other linguistic families and grammars has contributed to its complexity and nuance. This history of adaptation has allowed the language to evolve and change along its autonomous structure.
In conclusion, the absence of a verb tense dedicated to the future illustrates the complexity of English and highlights its own internal structure that is not directly reducible to the world around us. While it may present a key source of confusion for learners, understanding this structure can help learners to better appreciate and utilise the language in both written and conversational contexts.