Is it true that English has no future tense?

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Jose A. Carillo

Jose A. Carillo

This question was raised in Jose Carillo’s English Forum recently by member Jhun Bartolo: “Our school principal told me that there is no future tense in the English language. Is that statement correct?”

Here’s my clarification of this wrongheaded idea that I hope isn’t widespread among English teachers in the Philippines:

The principal of your school is correct in a rather loose, imprecise way. English does have a future tense, though; it’s just that English verbs can’t inflect or change in form for the future tense. By some quirk in the grammatical structures of English, its verbs can inflect only for the past, present, and perfect tenses.

To compensate for this structural handicap, however, the English language came up with six ways of reckoning with the future. The first two are, as we know, the simple future tense and the future perfect tense. The simple future puts the auxiliary verb “will” ahead of the verb stem, as in “will give” in this sentence: “She will give you the funds later.” On the other hand, the future perfect uses temporal indicators to situate actions and events at different times in the future, as in “will have given” in this sentence: “By this time next week, she will have given me the funds she promised.”


Note than in these two future-tense forms, the verb “give”—instead of inflecting itself—harnesses the auxiliary verb “will” or the auxiliary verb pair “will have” (in tandem with the past participle “given”) to evoke the future.

Aside from these two forms, English came up with four more forms to convey the sense of the future: the arranged future or present continuous, the predicted future, the timetable future or present simple, and the described future or future continuous (http://tinyurl.com/k4lx8nc).

So go tell your teacher that it’s incorrect to say that English has no future tense. Although English verbs are constitutionally unable to inflect for the future tense, there are actually six functional ways of making them evoke that tense.

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Here’s another interesting grammar question, this time from Forum member Alexiliciosdy:

“What degree of comparison is the degree of equality (‘as+adjective+as’)? Is it positive or comparative?”

My reply to alexiliciosdy:

The degree of comparison in the form “as + adjective + as” is positive, not comparative. Recall that there are three degrees of comparison—the positive, the comparative, and the superlative. The positive degree uses the “as + adjective + as” form, as in “Her grade in Physics is as high as my grade in English—95%.” Strictly speaking, in the positive degree or degree of equality, there’s no difference in degree at all because the things being compared are equal in the aspect described by the adjective.

The comparative degree is, of course, used for comparing two things, as in “Mt. Everest in Nepal is higher than Mt. Kinabalu in Sabah by 4,445 meters,” and the superlative for comparing three or more things, as in “At 8,550 meters, Mt. Everest is the highest mountain peak in our planet.”

As we know, most comparatives use the suffix “-er” while most superlatives use the suffix “-est,” but there are other ways of expressing comparison. When a two-syllable adjective ends in the letter “y,” in particular, “-ier” instead of “-er” is used in the comparative, as in “We wish you a merrier Christmas this year than last year,” and “-iest” is used in the superlative, as in “His merriest Christmas must have been in 1982 when Gabriel Garcia Marquez won the Nobel Prize for Literature.” However, when the adjective has more than one syllable, “more” is used in the comparative, as in “Broadsheets are generally more reliable than tabloids as information sources”; and “most” is used in the superlative, as in “The pork-barrel scam is easily the most shocking manifestation of government corruption in living memory.”

Visit Jose Carillo’s English Forum at http://josecarilloforum.com. Follow me at Twitter.com @J8Carillo.

j8carillo@yahoo.com

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