In English, there are many ways to talk about the future, so I’ll split it up into various articles.
You never really know what the future holds, so there are different ways to talk about plans, timetables, predictions and so on. Consider:
- We’re going to travel to York in February. → a plan/intention.
- I’m meeting Katie for lunch tomorrow. → a date, or “future arrangement”.
- If you study and behave, you will pass. → a prediction.
- The plane leaves in two hours’ time. → a timetable.
Sometimes, different ways of seeing the future overlap: are you talking about a plan, or a future arrangement? The good news is that very often there’s more than one ‘correct’ option. The bad news is, it can be confusing.
Present Tenses with Future Meanings
- The Present Simple is also the “timetable future” -it’s used for scheduled events.
- The Present Continuous is for “Future Arrangements”: fixed plans, appointments etc.
Present Simple: the “Timetable Future”
In many European languages, such as Spanish and German, we use the Present Simple for scheduled events, such as exam dates, bus schedules etc.
English is just the same:
- The exam is next Thursday.
- What time does the train leave?
- The holidays don’t start before December 18th.
Present Continuous for Future Arrangements
The use of the Present Continuous to talk about future plans is a bit less familiar to speakers of Spanish or German. Often, it overlaps with the going-to future ( → Future: BE going to ) to some extent.
We use the Present Continuous to talk about appointments and fixed plans, especially if they involve other people:
- We’re meeting the Smiths at five pm tomorrow.
- What time are you getting off work today?
- I’m not starting work till ten, so we might as well have a coffee together.
We also use the Present Continuous to express refusal: it means that we aren’t going to do something, whatever might happen.
Using Present Simple and Present Continuous Together
We often use Present Simple and Present Continuous together when we’re talking about how we’re going to deal with a scheduled event. It sounds complicated, but just look at the cartoon to see how it’s done.