Why Spanish has a Future while English does not.
As we know, English has two terms:
- “Time” to refer to the concept we use to measure the succession of events, situations, etc., and
- “Tense” to refer to the grammatical category of verbs expressing time nuances.
Spanish, on the other hand, uses the same term, “Tiempo”, to refer to both distinctions.
The distinction and, particularly, the analysis of how tense relates to time lead us to categorically state that:
Spanish has a Future (tense) …
Let’s see why:
We understand tense as a category within a language’s intrinsic grammar which consists in adding inflectional suffixes to a verb. These different inflections serve to indicate:
- The person who performs the action, situation, or state and,
- The time in or around which the action, situation or state takes place. Our concept of time normally evolves around the present, the past or a (predictable, likely, unlikely, hypothetical, etc.) future.
Such is the case of Spanish, which has:
- A present tense, which typically locates the action, event, or situation in or around the “present time”:
- “Voy, vas, va, vamos, vais, van…a pilates dos veces por semana”, for instance, for the highly irregular verb “ir”.
- Two past tenses, which typically locate the action, event, or situation in or around past time:
- One for, among other nuances, something which was frequent or customary in the past: “iba, ibas, iba, íbamos, íbais, iban todos los domingos a bañarnos al río”.
- The other expresses the occurrence of an event, typically, at a given time in the past: “fui, fuiste, fue, fuimos, fuisteis, fueron al concierto que dió Wynton Marsallis and The JLCO en Madrid en 2021”.
- Two future tenses, which locate the event or situation in a non-factual, not-happening-yet, i.e., future, sometimes hypothetical, time”:
- One, the future tense proper, is normally used to express predictable or intentional future events or situations: “iré, irás, irá, iremos, iréis, irán a la boda porque me/te/se/nos/os/se lo ha pedido Pilar”,
- The other normally expresses hypothetical situations (often if a condition is met) in a future or present time: “iría, irías, iría, iríamos, iríais, irían al cine si me/te/le/nos/os/les apeteciera”. Hence its name “tiempo condicional” (also “potencial”) in Spanish.
If we consider the sentence I used above: “iría al cine si me apeteciera”, we also find that, in Spanish, the Subjunctive mood plays a highly significant role in the expression of non-factual situations or events. But we’ll examine the subjunctive mood in another post.
So, it is clear that, in the Spanish verb phrase, there are tenses which inflect:
- for person (hence the frequent omission of the subject when it does not provide information or is not relevant)
- and for time: present (1 tense), past (2 tenses), future -predictable/desirable/intentional/hypothetical/etc. (2 tenses).
And so, Spanish has a Future tense,
… while English does not.
And I categorically state this, regardless of what some —in my humble view, not very accurate— grammars and English learning textbooks say.
Let me explain:
Remember what we said about tense being a grammatical category which consists in adding an (inflectional) suffix to indicate time and/or person nuances? Well, when we look at the English verb phrase, we find…
Two interesting features:
- One is that it is seldom inflected, hence the need to use a subject to indicate who performs the action or is the key participant in the event or situation.
The analysis of inflections in the English verb phrase leads us to conclude that there are ONLY TWO TENSES IN ENGLISH:
- I-you-we-they take/ he-she takes Pilates classes twice a week.
- I-you- we-they go / he-she goes to the Wynton Marsalis and the JLCO concert whenever they are in Madrid.
- I-you-we-they attend/ he-she attends meetings held at the School every Wednesday afternoon.
- I-you-he-she-it-we-they took Pilates classes for the first time last May;
- I-you-he-she-it-we-they went to the Madrid 2021’s Wynton Marsalis and the JLCO concert.
- I/you/he/she/we/they/attended the meeting held at the School on Wednesday afternoon.
Thus, in English we find that verbs only inflect
- In the Present, to tell the 3rd person singular from the other persons, and
- for the past, with no person distinction.
- The second is that the English verb phrase cannot be understood properly, nor will we be able to interact with others in English, if we do not have it clear in our minds that there are two main groups of verbs:
- Lexical, and
Yes, auxiliary verbs exist in Spanish, but they do not play the significant role they do in English. More of this in another post.
But then, there is…
To be …
Actually, as we all very well know, there are two exceptions breaking the pattern of “inflected forms” explained above: One is the auxiliary and lexical verb “be”,
or not to be …that is… the “Modals.”
But this is for another post.
So, if there is no future tense in English,
how do we express future time?
On a lark, since I was planning to write about the Future, and AI seems to be the-near Future, I decided to test ChatGPT:
Me- Ways to express future time in English.
ChatGPT : In English, there are several ways to express future time.
For example, you can use the present continuous tense to talk about something that is happening in the near future, such as “I am meeting a friend for coffee at noon.”
You can also use the simple present tense to talk about something that is planned or scheduled to happen in the future, such as “The train leaves at 3 PM.”
Another way to express future time is to use the future tense with the modal verb “will,” such as “I will go to the store tomorrow.”
When I read the last sentence, I just fumed and replied:
“There’s no future tense in English!”
To which ChatGPT said:
You are correct that there is no specific “future tense” in English. However, there are several ways to express future time in English, as I mentioned in my previous response (and repeated the same examples, this time omitting the sentence I had objected to).
So, politely, I replied:
Ok I agree…and this will be the topic of my next post…an interesting experience, though….
It sounds like you had an interesting experience learning about how to express future time in English. I’m glad I could help! If you have any other questions, feel free to ask. I’m here to help.
I did not have any problems. I was merely testing you, as the machine you are, to see what you might come up with. I’m impressed, I must say.
I’m glad that I was able to meet your expectations and provide you with the information you were looking for. As a large language model trained by OpenAI, I have been designed to be able to provide information on a wide range of topics. If you have any other questions, feel free to ask. I’m here to help.