How to use Future Perfect

Learn about the Future Perfect in English grammar. Clear and simple explanation of meaning and use, with examples.

Keith Taylor

Contents

Five Minute Guide to Future Perfect

Forming sentences with Future Perfect

  • will have + verb 3 (past participle)

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 “have + past participle”) is one of those forms. In many student grammars (and here!) this form is referred to as future perfect for convenient comparison with similar continuous/progressive forms in the present and past. See this post about tense and aspect for more.

Using Future Perfect

  1. We use future perfect when an action will be complete at a specific time in the future.
    • I will have finished my project by the weekend.
    • This time next year I will have graduated college.
  2. We use future perfect to predict the present.
    • Don’t bother going to see him, he’ll have left.
    • It’s 6 o’clock, hurry up! The film will have started.

Future Perfect in detail

How do we form Future Perfect?

To form future perfect we use the modal verb will, the auxiliary verb have in its base form and the past participle form of the main verb, like this:

  • will + have + past participle

Here are some examples:

  • They will have left.
  • We will have been here for two days.

Future Continuous questions

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

  • Will they have left? (yes/no question)
  • Why will they have left? (object or adverb question)
  • Who will have left? (subject question)

Future Perfect negatives

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

  • They will not have left.
  • We won’t have been here for two days.

When do we use Future Perfect?

  1. Events that will be complete at a specific time in the future

    Have a look at this sentence:

    • The team will have finished the project by Friday.

    What can we say about when the project will be complete in this example? Well, what we’re doing here is imagining a specific time in the future (Friday) and saying that at some point between now and that specific time, the project will be complete.

    We often use the word “by” to introduce the specific time in the future that we’re thinking about. “By” in this sense means “on or before” – in other words, “Friday at the latest”.

    Here’s another example:

    • This time next week I will have graduated college.

    Once again we are saying that if we project ourselves forward in time to “this time next week” the action of graduating college will be complete. It will be completed at some point between now and that specific point in the future. The word “by” in this example is implied – we could have said “by this time next week…”.

    Now, let’s compare this with some other forms of the future:

    • This time next week I will have graduated college. (future perfect)
    • This time next week I will be graduating college. (future continuous)
    • This time next week I will graduate college. (will)

    Can you see the differences in meaning when we compare future perfect with “will” and future continuous?

    • With the first sentence (future perfect), we mean “on or before this day next week”.
    • The second sentence (future continuous) means that the action of graduating college will be in progress on this day next week.
    • The last one (will) is a prediction or assumption about what will happen on this day in a week’s time.
  2. Predictions about the present

    Just as we can use future continuous to make predictions about the present, we can use future perfect to do the same thing. Have a look at this sentence:

    • Don’t bother going to see John, he’ll have left already.

    Here I’m predicting that John left at some undefined time between the past and now.

    Let’s compare this with present perfect. One use of present perfect is to talk about events that happened at an unspecified time in the past, up to the present. So, if we were 100% sure that John had left, we would say this:

    • Don’t bother going to see John, he has left already. (present perfect)

    Using future perfect gives us exactly the same meaning, except that we are not sure – we are predicting rather than stating a fact.

  3. Future Perfect Continuous

    Just as we have present perfect continuous and past perfect continuous, we can make a similar form to talk about the future. We form it like this:

    • will + have been + present participle

    We use this form to emphasise the fact that an action is longer in duration and will continue up to the point in the future that I’m talking about.

    Here’s an example:

    • On Friday I’ll have been working in this job for 10 years.

    Just like before I’m imagining a specific time in the future (Friday). This time though, rather than focusing on the fact that an action will be complete on or before that time, I’m focusing on the action of working and the duration of this action up to that point in the future.

    Related grammar points

    Future Continuous
    Will and Going to
    Tense and aspect

Keith Taylor

Keith is the co-founder of Eslbase and School of TEFL. He's been a teacher and teacher trainer for over 20 years, in Indonesia, Australia, Morocco, Spain, Italy, Poland, France and now in the UK.

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4 comments

  • ROSA MARIA GONZALEZ VIDEGARAY

    A reading to introduce the grammar is always helpful, to teach in context so students understand how it works! In this case, as mentioned above, could be with predictions or depending on the area of interest of the student, as I live in a touristic area, planning the vacation of the clients can be a great context, a wedding by the beach for instance, lets us use structures such as “by the time the bride arrives at the hotel, the receptionist will have delivered flowers to her room, the guests will have organized a special show” and so on.

  • Des

    Choose a female student, ask her to pick the person she would most like to have a date with (anyone at all) – Explain that next Friday at 7pm, the student is going to date Mr X. Explain that Mr X is very impatient and doesn’t like to be kept waiting, so she must be ready on time.

    Elicit from the class all the things the student will have to do next Friday before the date (buy new dress, go to the salon for hair do, manicure, leg waxing, clean the house, have a bath etc. etc.) then ask how long each activity will take her and write the time by the activity. Then establish with the class the order of these events. Draw a time line with the activities in sequence at the top of the board. Elicit what time she will have to start in order to be ready on time and mark the time line accordingly.

    Then explain that next Friday morning her car breaks down or some similar event and she is (for example) 90 minutes. late starting these activities. Now, re-time the timeline based on the later starting time. From here, ask students “What will she have done by the time Mr X arrives?”, elicit and board the sentences, then ask “What won’t she have finished by this time?”.

    From here you have an excellent context and the form to teach the target language and even the quietest classes get fully engaged, especially discussing what she should do to prepare for the date and how long these things take.

  • Lorena

    It’s easy, you can set a date in the future and ask your students what they plan to have finished by then, like: “By the year 2010, I will have graduated from university” or “By the year 2015, I will probably have gotten married, etc. It’s interesting because it makes them set goals, like “By the end of next year, I will be speaking English well.

  • Candice

    Not an idea as such, but more of a question. How can you put the future perfect tense into some kind of theme with an activation that upper intermediates can relate to? I’m really struggling with this.. help!

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