Future tense – the differences

Future Tense – Confused which one to use?

There are many different versions of the future tense in English, which is something I know causes a lot of confusion among students learning English. Which one do you use?
  • I will watch a movie at the cinema tonight. (Future simple)
  • I am going to watch a movie at the cinema tonight. (Future with going to)
  • I am watching a movie at the cinema tonight. (Present continuous with a future meaning)
  • I will be watching a movie at the cinema tonight. (Future continuous)
Here I’m going to try to explain it to you.

Future simple:

Imagine the conversation: “What do you want to do tonight?” “I don’t know, let me think. I know, I’ll watch a movie at the cinema.” One use of future simple is when you make a decision about something. Here the person has only just decided to watch the movie tonight.

Future with going to:

half an hour later. “Hey, what are you doing tonight?” “I’m going to watch a movie at the cinema.” “Have you bought a ticket yet? “Not yet.” In this case the person has already decided to go to the cinema and is making plans, but has not bought the ticket yet. So it is still only an intention. Present continuous with a future meaning: Once the person has bought the ticket the plan is now fixed. “Hey, what are you doing tonight?” “I’m watching a movie at the cinema.” Now the ticket is booked you can use present continuous with a future meaning because the plans are fixed and at that time you are doing something. Note however, this is mainly used when describing an activity.

Future continuous:

“Hey, would you like to go for a drink tonight at 8?” “Sorry, I can’t. I’ll be watching a movie at the cinema then.” Here, we mostly use future continuous to describe an activity which will be happening at a certain time in the future. Again, it must be a fixed plan in the future.

Other uses

There are of course other uses of these tenses, particularly future simple and future continuous. But I’ll save that for another blog to avoid more confusion. Exercise: In the meantime, download this good little exercise. You can check your answer on the website address at the bottom.
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