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Natives & Tenses: Chapter 11. Future 4: Time Expressions

[All information copyrighted to EnglishAdam.com]

Time Expressions in the Future
We often refer to the FUTURE with expressions such as 'WHEN'.
For example: When I am 60, I will....

What Time Expressions for Future can you think of?

The most common ones include:
- When
- As soon as
- Before
- After
- Until
- Once

Click me!

There are also expressions about Future which express possiblity or conditions, namely...

The most common ones being:
- If
- Unless

Click me!

In terms of sentence structure what is probably the most common sentence logic with such expressions?

- When X, Y.
- As soon as X, Y.
- Before X, Y.
- After X, Y.
- Until X, Y.
- Once X, Y.
- If X, Y.
- Unless X, Y.
Where X indicates an event,time,condition,
And Y states the resultant action,event.

Click me!

What TENSE is MOST COMMONLY used for X?
[Probably true even for 'conditional' time expressions for the FUTURE]

The PRESENT SIMPLE, is the most common for all of these...
- When I arrive home, Y.
- As soon as I arrive home, Y.
- Before I arrive home, Y.
- After I arrive home, Y.
- Until I arrive home, Y.
- Once I arrive home, Y.
- If I arrive home, Y.
- Unless I arrive home, Y.
In fact for some of these the PRESENT SIMPLE is the ONLY commonly used tense.
See USES OF THE PRESENT SIMPLE for more examples.

Click me!

Why do we most commonly use the PRESENT SIMPLE though?
I mean... are these Time Expressions...
Which type that we have met until now is CLOSEST to these expressions?

If he invites me...
After I do this...
Once the match starts...

Click me!

...Well are they ACTIONS anyway????
Maybe they are all just SITUATIONS....also called...


Click me!

And how do WE FEEL about these SITUATIONS, in terms of TIME?
Are they completely separate from the PAST?
Separate from BEFORE (like WILL)?

Not really.
They include the Previous.
If he invites me (it is not impossibe, I am his friend now)...
[Compared to: If he invited me (it is not probable, we are not friends)...]
After I do this, and I MUST do it, maybe I have even started!...
Once the match starts, it has been planned for months!,...
So simply put we use the Present Simple with Time Expressions to simply communicate this as a real future event, tied to the PAST and PRESENT.

Click me!

And in the form "expression X->Y",
What TENSES can be used for 'Y'?

Any tense for the FUTURE really!!

- When I arrive home, I will call you.
- When I arrive home, I am going to turn the TV on straight away.
- When I arrive home, that's WHEN the evening begins.
- When I arrive home, the match starts.
- When I arrive home, she will be studying.
- When I arrive home, I am cooking dinner as we agreed.

- As soon as I arrive home, I will cook dinner.
- Before I arrive home, she will have cooked dinner.
- After I arrive home, I am going to cook dinner.
- Until I arrive home, you will be cooking dinner.
- Once I arrive home, I am cooking dinner and that's that!
- If I arrive home, then I cook dinner.
- Unless I arrive home, dinner won't have been cooked.

Click me!

We will look properly at the CONDITIONALS later, but for now you can see that
When (for example)
is a similar structure to
So what is the difference between:
If he comes...
Unless he comes...
When he comes...
After he comes...

IF and UNLESS just suggest the ACTION is not certain.
While WHEN, AFTER, etc have a degree of CERTAINTY.

If we don't feel we can trust the event, if we feel it is IMPROBABLE / UNREAL then:
If he came...
Unless he came...
We would use the PAST...
And we look more at this in PART 14!!!

Click me!

Another way to look at these Expressions of Time is as if
they are A WAY TO TELL THE TIME...
For example, substitute them with....
Your birthday

- At 9pm, I will call you.
- At 9pm, I am going to turn the TV on straight away.
- At 9pm, that's WHEN the evening begins.
- At 9pm, the match starts.
- At 9pm, she will be studying.
- At 9pm, I am cooking dinner as we agreed.

- At Christmas, I will cook dinner.
- On your birthday, she will have cooked dinner.
- At Christmas, I am going to cook dinner.
- On your birthday, you will be cooking dinner.
- At Christmas, I am cooking dinner and that's that!
- If it's your birthday, then I cook dinner.
- Unless it's Christmas, dinner won't have been cooked.

Click me!

So... if the use here is VERY SIMILAR to FUTURE FACTS...
Well we said that WILL is also possible....
Is that true here?
When I will come home...
If I will come home...

Ok, now in reality YES!
But in practice it is RARE!

Click me!

"How will I know when she arrives?"
"How will I know WHEN SHE WILL ARRIVE?"
What is the meaning of the second version?
What is the difference?

Here the speaker is emphasizing how the WHEN moment is really separate from now.
Possibly stressing how unpredictable NOW the girl's arrival is.
It really empahsises the idea as
"How can I tell you NOW about this future event that is completely separate from what we know NOW!?"

Click me!

"If you are free, I will visit."
"IF YOU WILL BE free, I will visit."
What is the meaning of the second version?
What is the difference?

So again, the IF clause must be sitting in the future,
separate from now... for example?
Well perhaps the situation was like this...
The person is not currently free (BEFORE NOW), but some situations between now and then might change so you might become free,
Or you being free is impossible to predict until the moment. (BEFORE THAT MOMENT).

Click me!

[Sourced: EnglishAdam.com]

Test Your Knowledge!


What TENSE is MOST COMMONLY used for Time Expressions in the Future?

Theory Test

Click to show


Present Simple


Click to show


No specific notes on this question yet, sorry.



Practice Your Knowledge!

Cards coming soon!


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