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How to define the future time?
Thread poster: engtense
engtense
English
Apr 7, 2006

As for English tense, how do you define the future time? I find it hard to define.
Must next year be a future?
Must tomorrow be a future?
How about next minute?
How about next second?
How about next millisecond?
But if we cannot define the future time, how can we decide to use the Future Tense?


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Trevor Butcher
Local time: 17:17
English
When things get tense Apr 8, 2006

The first question must be why do you want to define it? It is like asking 'When do you use a hammer' (any time you want to or need to).

Have you ever asked yourself where the dividing line is between 'here' and 'there'. Does here only include where you are sitting, or your street, or your city, or the whole universe. And when did here become here, because once you thought it was there.

The answer probably lies with a basic problem with philosophy. You are simply asking the wrong question because we spend too much time classifying things. Just because we use a word like 'future' does not mean it has to be in any future, 'future' is simply an artificial class we have created because it makes for convenient communication of a concept. It does not have to be a reality.

As an example of over-classifying, take your pen. Or is it a pen? Say that 'pen' is a class used to describe things which make inky marks on paper. You go to the shop, buy a 'pen' and then break it before using it and throw it away. Was it a pen? Well, it never made any inky marks on paper so it was not a pen - you only thought it was a pen because it appeared to have the potential to make inky marks on paper.

Time in English language appears to be chopped into three classes - future, present and past. But time, like a pen, is only what we perceive it to be in terms of the classes we create. I will write the word ponky in capital letters in a moment - PONKY. There, that was my future but for you it is all long ago in the past.

Next, the tenses have class names that are only approximate. The present perfect, for example, is a two action tense, the second action happening NOW! The first action was in the past. (interestingly enough, language often treats time as an 'action', or at least as a marker for action. The Polish word for 'verb' is 'time-thing').

For the future perfect tenses the first and second action may actually be in our past. 'The man on the moon will have eaten cheese today, before he goes to bed' - perhaps he has already eaten cheese and gone to bed. As there is no one else on the moon to confirm or deny this, my choice of tense (class) was arbitrary as I could not know when the man on the moon did/does anything - or even when his day starts or ends.

Tenses are only tools that help us to indicate what we mean, language books often mislead students with their 'usage' guides - as many students and teachers misinterpret them as grammar rules. My mum used to sometimes say 'did you clean your teeth', but other times she would say 'have you cleaned your teeth' - and there was no difference, over the years, in what she meant, even though one was a past tense and the other a present tense.

Like here and there, the future starts where you want it too. You might choose 'I want to go there tomorrow' instead of 'I will go there' because of the meaning of the words want, tomorrow and will, not because you have to relate a tense to a time.

To conclude, the present is only a momentary thing, the past blends into the present and the present into the future. The present is as big or as small as you want it to be, just as here is as big or as small as you need. Once you decide when your present will finish, that is when your future will begin.

Trevor


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Astrid Elke Witte  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 17:17
Member (2002)
German to English
+ ...
What is your perspective? Apr 8, 2006

Certainly the future tense has different applications in different languages. However, we can only help you if you at least state your nationality. Then we will know how you are used to using the future tense in your own language, and be able to tell you how it could differ in English.

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John Walsh  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 17:17
Member (2004)
Italian to English
Basically... Apr 8, 2006

...the future depends on the speaker's perspective of the future and a proficient user of English will understand the speaker's perspective of the future based on the structure the speaker uses.
You can use the present simple or continuous and modal verbs (especially "will"), and the form you use tells the listener whether you see a "future" event or state as a plan, an arrangement, an intention, a prediction or whatever.
English is rather "easy" for simple communication but at higher levels English gets much more complicated. For example, if you're a pre-intermediate user you can just use "will" to speak about the future, just to get your message across, but at higher levels you really need to know which form to use to express how you see the future. It also depends on the listener. For example, if you use a present tense and the listener is low level then he/she may not understand that you're speaking about the future. Of course context usually makes it rather clear but not always.
So, "Must next year be a future?". Do you want to know if you "have to" use "will"? The answer is no. If you plan on getting married next year then you would use the present continuous because it's a plan or an arrangement. So, I'm going to get - or - I'm getting married next year.
"How about next minute?" - Again it depends on the situation. "The train leaves in five minutes." Here you might use the present simple.
"How about next millisecond?" - (the phone rings) "I'll answer it." Here "will" is used to express a spontaneous intention.
So you see it all depends on how you see the future.


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engtense
English
TOPIC STARTER
Reply Apr 8, 2006

John Walsh wrote:
...the future depends on the speaker's perspective of the future and a proficient user of English will understand the speaker's perspective of the future based on the structure the speaker uses.


My reply: You are very correct, if we know what is "the speaker's perspective of the future". However, we don't even know what is the future, how can we know the perspective of the future? For example, if we don't know what is Yhegtydn, it is no use talking about its perspective, even it is a very simple thing. You presupposed that we know what is the future, so you go deeper into "the speaker's perspective of the future". But what is the future?

-------------------------------
John Walsh wrote:
You can use the present simple or continuous and modal verbs (especially "will"), and the form you use tells the listener whether you see a "future" event or state as a plan, an arrangement, an intention, a prediction or whatever.


My reply: You are correct, but all these have presupposed we know what is the present and the future. But we don't. By a "future" event, what do you mean by "future"? As you yourself have to bracket "future", you have admitted it is a so-called future event. You are not so sure what is the future. If you are sure, you may drop the brackets.

--------------------------
John Walsh wrote:
English is rather "easy" for simple communication but at higher levels English gets much more complicated.


My reply: Is it high level or basic level English, talking about the basic future time notion?

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John Walsh wrote:
So, "Must next year be a future?". Do you want to know if you "have to" use "will"?
"How about next minute?" - Again it depends on the situation. "The train leaves in five minutes." Here you might use the present simple.


My reply: I am afraid you have set the level too high, complicating the question.

By "Must next year be a future?", I simply want to know whether Next Year is a future time or not. Where is the standard?

By "How about next minute?", I just want to know its basic time notion whether past or future. Does the future mean the train schedule, or do we have an objective standard to measure whether future or present?

Is time created to express English tense? Or is English tense created to express time? The answer is obvious. I want to know first about the basic time notions of the future. After that, we may talk about the deeper level in using tense. I don't want to put the cart before the horse.

If Next Century is regarded as a future time, is Next Millisecond a future time too? I see they are either both future, or both present. If you regard one as future and the other as the present, what is the standard? Where is the difference?

engtense


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engtense
English
TOPIC STARTER
Reply Apr 8, 2006

Astrid Elke Johnson wrote:
Certainly the future tense has different applications in different languages. However, we can only help you if you at least state your nationality.


My reply: I agree but I am not precisely asking about the Future Tense. I want to know the definition of the future time.

I am a Chinese in Hong Kong. However, in this thread obviously I am talking about English. It has nothing to do with my nationality really. I want to know about the future time concept in English. However, if you can define the future time in the perspective of other language, I would like to know it, as long as it is explained in English.


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engtense
English
TOPIC STARTER
Reply Apr 8, 2006

Trevor wrote:
The first question must be why do you want to define it? It is like asking 'When do you use a hammer' (any time you want to or need to).


My reply: Tense is used to express time. I want to know about the basic time notions. I don't think it is a question at all.

-----------------------
Trevor wrote:
Have you ever asked yourself where the dividing line is between 'here' and 'there'.


My reply: I didn't ask myself. Teachers have told me the difference before. I learned it when I was a young student. They throw a contrast to each other, mentioning two different places. You may please ask about the difference in other forums, they tell you unselfishly.

-----------------------
Trevor wrote:
The answer probably lies with a basic problem with philosophy. You are simply asking the wrong question because we spend too much time classifying things. Just because we use a word like 'future' does not mean it has to be in any future, 'future' is simply an artificial class we have created because it makes for convenient communication of a concept. It does not have to be a reality.


My reply: If there is a problem in defining the time, it is because we have spent too little time classifying things, rather than as you say spending too much in it. Now defining time seems not to be a reality, according to you. If you don't know how to define the future, how about "the present time"? Is the present time definable? Is it a reality or not?

Ultimately, what if the future time is definable? Is there such possibility or not? Why are you so sure there is no such possibility to define the future?

-----------------------
Trevor wrote:
Time in English language appears to be chopped into three classes - future, present and past. But time, like a pen, is only what we perceive it to be in terms of the classes we create. I will write the word ponky in capital letters in a moment - PONKY. There, that was my future but for you it is all long ago in the past.


My reply: I beg to differ. If it WAS your future, to me it WAS my future also. Now, as it IS my past, so it IS also your past. Simple put, your future cannot be my past. It is very simple and troubles no one, actually.

------------------------
Trevor wrote:
Next, the tenses have class names that are only approximate. The present perfect, for example, is a two action tense, the second action happening NOW!


My reply: I don't know what is "two action tense". In searching engines I searched for "two action tense", there was no such thing. I am just asking a simple time notion, and I didn't expect being led to a term known to no one.

-----------------------
Trevor wrote:
For the future perfect tenses the first and second action may actually be in our past. 'The man on the moon will have eaten cheese today, before he goes to bed' - perhaps he has already eaten cheese and gone to bed.


My reply: Again, it is so-called "two action tense", isn't it? I can see there is only one future perfect tense, not in plural number. I have a hard time to catch the "two action tense".

We don't even know what is the future time. As you said, "It does not have to be a reality." However, you will build the future tense upon it, and now also the future perfect tense(s). Don't you think you have built too many things on unreality?

-----------------------
Trevor wrote:
Tenses are only tools that help us to indicate what we mean, language books often mislead students with their 'usage' guides - as many students and teachers misinterpret them as grammar rules. My mum used to sometimes say 'did you clean your teeth', but other times she would say 'have you cleaned your teeth' - and there was no difference, over the years, in what she meant, even though one was a past tense and the other a present tense.


My reply: I am afraid I have to differ. Tense is used to express time; Sentence is used to express what we mean. Cleaning the teeth is meaning; past and present are time notions.

Grammars have at first agreed that tense is used to express time. But because learners have a hard time to define time, they have to use meanings to explain tense. They say Simple Present expresses habit; Present Perfect implies result or effect; they cannot tell the time of Simple Past "Joe married Mary"; they claim there is no Future Tense, because they fail to define the future. They have long been failing to link tense to time. All they see is meaning. This is why they claim, as you do, "Tenses..... help us to indicate what we mean".

Failing to define the time, learners have found no logical rule at all in explaining tense. You didn't hear me wrong. Remind me if there is one logical rule. But people are free to generate difficult terms like "two action tense" to feed any question about tense. Jargons are now the only tools to deal with English tense.


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 17:17
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
Future tense only partially related to future time Apr 8, 2006

engtense wrote:
But if we cannot define the future time, how can we decide to use the Future Tense?


The future tense is generally used in English when something will happen and is not already happening. However, the future tense in English can also be used for non-exclusively future things... "He will go home" (exclusively future) x "He will always go home" (not exclusively future).

I find it strange that you struggle with the future tense in English. Can you give us some examples? Personally, I struggle more with the past tense and with the past-in-the-present tense (or is it the present-in-the-past tense?).


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Alfredo Tutino  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:17
English to Italian
+ ...
I think it was St Augustine... Apr 8, 2006

who said: "What is time? As long as nobody ask me, I know perfectly well; but as soon as someone ask, I begin to get lost" - or something like that.

Similarly, I'd say that,

in your mother tongue at least, you already know how to use the future tense(s) the way you need;
if you look for a simple definition or rule, you'll simply get lost;
and if you want to learn how to use it/them in a foreign language, you'll have to take the time to soak up the whole way of thinking that comes with the language - or, to be possibly more exact, of which the language is the expression, and a very great part.


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John Walsh  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 17:17
Member (2004)
Italian to English
No Apr 9, 2006

engtense wrote:

Remind me if there is one logical rule. But people are free to generate difficult terms like "two action tense" to feed any question about tense. Jargons are now the only tools to deal with English tense.


There is not one logical rule. I don't understand what you mean by jargon is the only tool to deal with English tense.
It would also help to understand why you're asking. Do you want to know how to express the future or do you want to discuss the notion of future itself?
If you want to know how to express the future then my suggestion is that you keep it simple and not bash your head against the wall.


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John Walsh  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 17:17
Member (2004)
Italian to English
Like I said Apr 9, 2006

engtense wrote:

John Walsh wrote:
English is rather "easy" for simple communication but at higher levels English gets much more complicated.


My reply: Is it high level or basic level English, talking about the basic future time notion?


A low level user can use "will" to speak about his/her perspective of the future regardless of how he/she "sees" the future. A proficient user will speak about the future using different tenses and structures to help the listener understand how the speaker "sees" the future.
Talking about the basic future time notion is not "high level". Being able to express your perspective in different contexts is high level.


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engtense
English
TOPIC STARTER
reply Apr 9, 2006

Alfredo Tutino wrote:
I think it was St Augustine...
who said: "What is time? As long as nobody ask me, I know perfectly well; but as soon as someone ask, I begin to get lost" - or something like that.

My reply: After that, St Augustine provided an elongated comment on time, which explores God's creation in Time, trying in the perspective of God. He theorized that, at once, God sees all the time of us: our past, our present, and our future.

But did I ask a question as difficult as that? If English users use tense to express OUR time, do you mean they use tense to express something as difficult as in the perspective of God??

-----------------------------
Alfredo Tutino wrote:
if you look for a simple definition or rule, you'll simply get lost.....

My reply: The definition is indeed very simple. The future time overlaps the present time. They are of the same time. How will I get lost? English has two time concepts, past and non-past. But we human beings have three time concepts, past, present, and future. Therefore, the logical conclusion is, the future is overlapped with the present, both throwing a contrast with the past.

Concrete examples are:
If tomorrow is future, it is within this (present) week.
If next week is future, it is within this month.
If next century is future, it is within this millennium.
That is to say, the future and the present are overlapped. Just because they are of the same time, those who want to tell the difference will get lost.

Does the overlap theory fail to meet any point in your time concept?


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engtense
English
TOPIC STARTER
reply Apr 9, 2006

John Walsh wrote:
A low level user can use "will" to speak about his/her perspective of the future regardless of how he/she "sees" the future. A proficient user will speak about the future using different tenses and structures to help the listener understand how the speaker "sees" the future.

My reply: I really don't believe this low level bias.


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engtense
English
TOPIC STARTER
reply Apr 9, 2006

Samuel Murray wrote:
Future tense only partially related to future time

My reply: I am asking to define the future time. Before I agree to you, you have to tell me exactly what is the future time. As I said, I don't want to put the cart before the horse. After I have known what is the future time, I will discuss the Future Tense in any way you want.
For example, I agree that Future Tense is related wholly to YheyaGiuuk. But before you know what is YheyaGiuuk, you cannot agree or disagree. You may want to know exactly what is YheyaGiuuk first. This is what I am doing.

-------------------------
Samuel Murray wrote:
I find it strange that you struggle with the future tense in English. Can you give us some examples?

My reply: It is not fair. I was asking to define the future time, rather than as you say the future tense. And I have listed concrete examples for discussion:
I wrote:
(Title) How to define the future time?
As for English tense, how do you define the future time? I find it hard to define.
Must next year be a future?
Must tomorrow be a future?
How about next minute?
How about next second?
How about next millisecond?
But if we cannot define the future time, how can we decide to use the Future Tense?

The title and my examples clearly ask what I want. I am terribly sorry if one will mistake I am asking of the Future Tense here. I will not escape from the discussion of the future tense, if you tell me what is the future time.


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John Walsh  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 17:17
Member (2004)
Italian to English
an example Apr 9, 2006

engtense wrote:

The title and my examples clearly ask what I want. I am terribly sorry if one will mistake I am asking of the Future Tense here. I will not escape from the discussion of the future tense, if you tell me what is the future time.


Relax (present). You'll live longer (future).


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