Contemporary linguists claim that there is no future tense in English. Discuss in detail with examples.

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lynnebh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Some linguists argue that English does not have a true future tense because sentences expressing future action are voiced in the present and express the implication of future action with a helping verb (will or shall), therefore making the future tense an auxiliary construction because it is a compound tense. If this is true, however, then all of the compound tenses are also not real because why should “will and shall” be considered auxiliary verbs and “have, has and had” not be considered so?

Main tenses in English:

Present:  I sing

Past: I sang

Future: I will sing

Present perfect: I have sung

Past perfect: I had sung

Future perfect: I will have sung

Present progressive (not considered a tense): I am singing

Some linguists also argue that English does not have a subjunctive mood as some foreign languages do, but then what about: “I wish he were here”? Normally, the third person “he” would not be conjugated with “were” – the proper present tense is “He was here” but it is incorrect to say “I wish he was here” even though many people speak this way.

The bottom line is, who cares? Does this really make a difference? It surely complicates the teaching and learning of English to say that English has no future tense. Foreign speakers of English have ENOUGH trouble learning English without complicating it with ambiguities like this. Language is difficult enough as it is. I think it is splitting hairs and is something stupid that some academic made up. It has no practical purpose at all except for totally boring conversations among English PhD students in Starbucks.

Kind of like transformational grammar. Does anyone remember that? Years ago, some academics decided the best way to teach the parts of speech was by turning every word in a sentence into a letter and then making the sentence into a math-like equation. This was supposed to help kids learn how to diagram sentences and thus speak better. All of us were forced to teach kids:

S + V + Av + Ad = ?????

Ugh! Please! Stop the insanity!