LINGUIST List 8.196

Sat Feb 8 1997

Disc: The English Future

Editor for this issue: T. Daniel Seely <>


  1. John Atkinson, Re: 8.178, Disc: The English Future
  2. Koutsomitopoulou Elenh, Re: 8.178, Disc: The English Future
  3. LAS, will as a future

Message 1: Re: 8.178, Disc: The English Future

Date: Fri, 7 Feb 97 12:29:49 +1100
From: John Atkinson <>
Subject: Re: 8.178, Disc: The English Future

bwaldHUMnet.UCLA.EDU (benji wald) wrote:

>We might also wonder, if it
>hasn't been solved yet, why "will" can be used in volunteering, but "gonna"
>cannot, e.g., "Who volunteers to put the bell on the cat's tail?" Answer:
>"I will", NOT "I'm gonna". Does it go back to "will" meaning "want", e.g.,
>"I'm WILLing"? Seems to me that in this context, "I will" also somehow
>concedes that it's not up to me to be selected, only to offer. "I'm gonna"
>sounds peculiar because it contradicts that implication.

I'm not sure about this. Note that "gonna" is OK if the question is 
expressed slightly differently:

Q: "Who volunteers to bell the cat?" A: "I do." "I will." *"I'm gonna."
Q: "Who'll volunteer to bell the cat?" A: *"I do." "I will." ?"I'm gonna."
Q: "Who's gonna volunteer to bell the cat?" A: *"I do." "I will." "I'm gonna."

"I'd like to" also works for all three. Whether this is synonomous with 
the first "I will" is by no means obvious to me. And whether "I'd like to"
means "I'd like to volunteer", or "I'd like to bell the cat" is equally 
unclear. Similarly, "I will" could equally well mean "I will volunteer",
or "I will bell the cat", it seems to me (especially in the first case). 
Same with "I'm gonna" (in the third case).

Actually, the third form of the question is almost the only one I'd 
want to use myself. The others sound a little stilted or oldfashioned.

>P.S. what does "shall" mean? -- Benji

Nothing. It doesn't exist in my dialect.

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Message 2: Re: 8.178, Disc: The English Future

Date: Thu, 6 Feb 1997 18:30:42 -0200 (GMT+2)
From: Koutsomitopoulou Elenh <>
Subject: Re: 8.178, Disc: The English Future

Dear collegues,

I won't be long in this discussion on the English future. It seems to me
rather interesting to think over this superficially extreme opinion that
there is no future tense. As i rarely reject revolutionary ideas before i
consider them carefully, i'll just say my basic thoughts about it. 

My opinion is that it is worthwhile doubting about the 'existence' of a
future tense in the grammar of any language. Theoretically (and
philosophically) speaking it seems that only a present and a past tense 
DO exist. As for the future is most times a 'reference forward' in the
basis of a present. Maybe that's why it is often the case that in the
world's languages the progressive present form serves also for future
sense. Then maybe we can take it as the first sign that there is no
specific 'marked' form for the English future. 

And what about 'will'? As it was first connected with 'shall' which is
still nowadays in use when we want to denote a definite 'will' to do
something, we could say that it still shares that sense with 'shall' only
less strong (maybe because of its so broad and common use). Besides, it
tends to take shall's position completely, doesn't it? So if 'will'
is a 'marked' form for a sense it must be a mark for the 'will to do
something' on the first place. But the temporal reference of a prospective
action is always to the future, which means that 'will' is secondarily a
marked form for the future tense. (Do you see here the question on the
relation between 'action' and 'time' underlying the discussion?).

For sure a cross linguistic study would help more into clarifying this
subject. It would be interesting to see how future behaves into several
languages and then try to draw any conclusions. F.i. in Modern Greek the
following are (traditionally) the future tense forms;

(1) Tha pao sto sxoleio se ligo (= i will go to school)
(2) Tha pigaino sto sxoleio kathe mera (= i'll be going to school every
(3) Prokeitai/Skopevo/Sxediazo/Thelo na pao sto sxoleio avrio
 (= I'm going/i intend/i plan to go to school tomorrow)
(4) Tha exo ftasei sto sxoleio se ligo (= I will have reached school in a
(5) Na pas/pigaineis sto sxoleio, entaksei? [= (You should) go to school,
(6) -[pou pas?] (= where are you going?)
 - pao sto sxoleio (= i'm going to school) 

While (1), (2) and (4) are future no doubt, the native speaker would also
take (3), (5) and (6) as future forms in the sense that the common feeling
is that they refer to the future even if they sound as
suggestions/commands (5). A non-present action must always have a (past
or) future reference. The same with (3) where the intention inclydes the
future reference. 
(6) is the case where a present form has future
reference as the speaker seems to have stopped walking as he gives the
answer. Note that the same phrase alone (out of the specific context of
the question) is plain present (meaning a simple or repeated action; i go
to school/ i go to school every day) and only if the
person is in action (i.e. going to school) can be considered as future. 

I think similar intuitions one could have also in English. How do you

Elena Koutsomitopoulou
grad in Linguistics
Athens, Gr
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Message 3: will as a future

Date: Mon, 3 Feb 1997 09:45:41 -0500
From: LAS <>
Subject: will as a future

 In a novel about time travel, you might read "My train can leave
yesterday at six" so I don't see that your example is all that useful as a
proof that there is no future tense in English. In fact, as an amateur
linguist, I find all such arguments nit-picky and non-productive. If you'll
pardon my candor, this is the kind of stuff that makes non-linguists think
linguists are elitist know-it-alls. A language belongs to all its speakers,
and if the majority of speakers determine that "will" or "shall" mark the
future tense, then that's the way it is. 
 Your point, that 'will' has a differing modal function more akin to 'can'
and 'must,' is well taken, but seems very prescriptionist in nature. The
important issue here is that the sentence "My train will leave at six" (or
perhaps a better example might have been "You will only die after having
lived a long and productive life") marks "future" in the mind of most
English speakers. If you want to squeeze some sense of volition or will (as
a noun) out of "will" (the modal) in such sentences, you'll have to mark
the context in some way in order to do so, because the default meaning in
most English speakers' minds is "future."
 It seems to me that you recognize that your argument isn't strong enough
in the end when you give in to the classic notion that you can prove there
is no future tense by simply citing the fact that there is no
morphologically based form. In my opinion, this has nothing to do with the
issue. Otherwise, you'll have to throw out the perfect and progressive
forms, as well, and say that these aspects don't exist in English, because
without the assistance of the verbs 'to have' and 'to be' you wouldn't be
able to use them.
David Harris

David Harris
Language Analysis Systems Voice: (703) 834-6200 ext. 242
2214 Rock Hill Road, Suite 201 Fax: (703) 834-6230
Herndon, VA 22070 
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