English grammar – Future continuous

Quick reference

Form

will be + present participle (-ing form of the verb)

NOTE – There is no future tense in English. Instead we use a variety of forms to talk about the future. WILL (in this case with be + present participle) is one of those forms. In many student grammars (and here!) this form is referred to as future continuous for convenient comparison with similar continuous/progressive forms in the present and past. See this post about tense and aspect.

Meaning

  1. Future continuous is used to say that an action will be in progress at a specific time in the future.
    • This time on Thursday I’ll be flying to Thailand.
    • In two hours she’ll be leaving work.
  2. Future continuous is used for an action in progress in the future which is interrupted by a shorter action.
    • I’ll be waiting for you when you get back.
  3. Future continuous is used to predict the present.
    • Don’t call him now, he’ll be sleeping.
  4. Future continuous is used for arrangements, often as a reminder or warning.
    • We’ll be leaving at 10 o’clock. (So don’t be late!)
  5. Future continuous is used to make polite enquiries about someone’s plans (without wishing to influence those plans).
    • Will you be watching TV this evening? (You simply want to know if the TV will be free)

Future continuous in detail

Future continuous form

We form the future continuous with the modal verb will, the auxiliary verb be and the present participle of the main verb. For the auxiliary verb “be” we use its present forms am, are and is:

will + am/are/is + present participle

The present participle form of all verbs ends in “ing”, and to make it we normally simply need to add “ing” to the base form of the verb, although there are some exceptions:

Verb Rule Example
Most verbs ending with consonant + “e” take off the “e” hoping; taking
Most verbs ending in consonant + vowel + consonant double the last consonant batting; referring; swimming
Verbs ending in consonant + vowel + consonant where the last consonant is “w”, “x” or “y” don’t double the last consonant blowing; flexing
Verbs ending in “ie” change the “ie” to “y” dying; lying
Verbs ending in “c” add “k” panicking

Future continuous affirmative

Here are some examples of future continuous sentences using am/are/is and the present participle:

  • We will be having dinner at 8.00 tonight.
  • This time next Thursday I‘ll be flying to Thailand.

Future continuous questions

We make yes/no and object/adverb questions by inverting the subject and auxiliary verb. With future continuous though we have two auxiliary verbs, will and be, so we just invert the first one, “will”, with the subject. The other one, “be”, stays with the main verb:

  • Will we be having dinner at 8.00 tonight? (yes/no question)
  • What time will we be having dinner tonight? (object or adverb question)

For future continuous subject questions, the question word just replaces the subject, like this:

  • Who will be having dinner tonight?

Future continuous negatives

To make a negative future continuous sentence, we use one of the auxiliary verbs (will) and “not”. The second auxiliary verb, “be”, stays with the main verb. Here are some examples:

  • We will not be having dinner at 8.00 tonight.
  • I won’t be flying to Thailand this time next week.

Future continuous meaning

When do we use the future continuous?

We’ve seen how to make a future continuous sentence, so let’s have a look at why and when we use it – its meaning. The other name for future continuous, future progressive, suggests that something is in progress, which gives us our first use:

Events in progress at a particular time in the future

Have a look at this sentence:

  • I ‘ll be putting the kids to bed at 7 o’clock so don’t call then.

What can we say about the time that the action of “putting the kids to bed” starts and finishes? Well, let’s imagine that you decide to call me at exactly 7 o’clock. I won’t be available because I will be in the process of putting the kids to bed. This means that the action started at some point before 7 o’clock (maybe 6.58, maybe 6.30) and it will finish at some point after 7 o’clock.

Now, if we compare this sentence to one with just “will”, let’s see what happens:

  • I ‘ll put the kids to bed at 7 o’clock so don’t call then.

Now the action will start at exactly 7 o’clock – it won’t already be in progress at that time.

An action in progress interrupted by a shorter action in the future

  • I ‘ll be waiting for you when you get back.

What’s happening here? Well, first we have an action in progress in the future (waiting). At some point in the middle of waiting you will get back, interrupting the action of waiting. We use future continuous for the relatively longer action that will be in progress, and present simple for the relatively shorter action which interrupts it. We know that the action of waiting will start at some point before you get back, and we imagine it will stop when you get back, because I won’t need to wait anymore!

Here’s another example:

  • When I arrive they ‘ll probably be working in the garden as usual.

The same thing happens here – the relatively short action of arriving interrupts the relatively longer action of working in the garden. This time though we don’t know whether they will continue working in the garden after I arrive or not.

Arrangements

We can use future continuous to talk about arrangements in the same way that we use present continuous. Have a look at this sentence:

  • We ‘ll be leaving at 10 o’clock.

We’re using future continuous here to show that we have made an arrangement to leave at a fixed time in the future. We could also say this with present continuous:

  • We ‘re leaving at 10 o’clock.

So what’s the difference? Well, when we use future continuous for arrangements, it’s often because we want to give some kind of reminder or warning. For example, we might imagine our sentence continuing like this:

  • We ‘ll be leaving at 10 o’clock… so don’t be late!

Predictions about the present

  • Don’t go round there now, the baby will be sleeping!
  • Our team are losing 3-0. My dad will be going crazy!

We’re using future continuous here to make predictions about what the baby and the speaker’s dad are likely to be doing at this moment.

Polite enquiries about someone’s plans

We also use future continuous to make polite enquiries about someone’s plans, normally without wishing to influence those plans:

  • Will you be watching the football tonight Chris?

In this case I might be asking because I want to know if Chris is free to do something else, or I might be asking because I want to know if the TV will be free for me to watch something else!

Future continuous additional points

Future continuous and stative verbs

Dynamic verbs describe an action or occurrence, and stative verbs describe a state of being. Here are some examples of dynamic and stative verbs in future continuous:

  • The man will be walking down the road soon. (dynamic verb)
  • Anna will be hating this cake I’ve made. (stative verb)

The first sentence sounds okay, but the second one, with the stative verb, doesn’t. And that’s because we don’t normally use stative verbs in the future continuous form.

Are future continuous and future progressive the same?

Future progressive is another name for future continuous and so they are exactly the same. Using “future progressive” gives us a better idea of its meaning – the word “progressive” suggests that something is in progress.

Related grammar points

Future perfect
Will and Going to
Tense and aspect

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