TALKING ABOUT THE FUTURE                   

By Chris Green  



The IELTS Speaking test often has at least one question that asks you to make some guesses about how the future will be different to today.  These questions are usually in Part 3 but sometimes Part 1 or Part 2 have questions about the future.

Here is a typical example:

How do you think transportation will change in China in the next twenty years?”

(For the word, ‘transportation’, you could  substitute any of the following: ‘education’, ‘housing’, ‘the way people spend their free time’, ‘work’, ‘entertainment’, ‘shopping’,  ‘clothes’, ‘the way people get their news’, ‘communication’, ‘the environment’, ‘society’, ‘families’, ‘medicine’, ‘people’s eating habits’ etc. )

The question could even be something like, “In what ways do you think you will change over the next 20 years?”

Another variation could be, “What changes would you like to see take place in (topic area) in China over the next few years?”

And a further variation (which is not covered very much in this document) could be, “What plans do you have for the next 5 years?”

Many IELTS candidates are not very strong at making a variety of sentences to talk about the future. These notes list some of the main ways to make these sentences. 

In the IELTS Speaking test, you might be able to impress the examiner enough to move from a Band 5 score to a Band 6, just by making a few good sentences about the future! In other words, if you are asked a question about the future and you are NOT prepared, you are unlucky because this kind of question is one of the most difficult questions in the Speaking test. But if you are asked this kind of question and you ARE prepared, you are lucky because you have a good opportunity to impress the examiner.

One kind of sentence which you really should practice is the sentence using ‘there + be’ in the future tense. (Model 2 in these notes.) This is because ‘there + be’ is widely used in English to make sentences but many people are not very skilled using ‘there + be’ in the future tense and in the spoken form.

For example, (in answer to the question about transportation):

“I think there’ll certainly be many electric cars on the roads twenty years from now.”

Notice two things: 1) The contracted form of ‘there will be’ is the most natural way to speak this sentence; 2) The sentence is made more accurate by adding an adverb such as ‘certainly’ between the words ‘will’ and ‘be’.

When talking about the future, we most often use the word “will” but that is not the only way to talk about the future.  


The following diagram shows how adverbs can express different degrees of certainty about the future.  

Expressing Degree of Certainty about the Future


a)    Although ‘certainly’ and ‘definitely’ are interchangeable here, other variations of these words are not always interchangeable. For example, we can say, “He is certain to pass the exam.” But we can’t say, “He is definite to pass the exam.”

b)    These adverbs can be used either before or after the word, ‘will’.  In other words, we can say, ‘probably will or ‘will probably’. However, when we use the word, ‘won't’ (or ‘will not’), we can only put the adverb before the word ‘won't’.

c)     These percentages are approximate values. Some people might mean that ‘possibly’ is anything between 0.01% and about 65%; a mathematician might mean that ‘probably’ is ‘more than 50%’.    

d)      You can think of ‘probably’ as meaning ‘很可能 .


The following are some different ‘models’ for talking about the future.

(Example question:Do you think it will rain tomorrow?”)

Models 1 to 13 involve different ways to use the verb ‘will’.

Models 14 to 17 use the Modal Verbs ‘might’, ‘may’, ‘could’, ‘should’ and ‘ought to’ instead of ‘will’.

Model 18 uses, be certain to/be sure to/be bound to/be likely to/be unlikely to.

Model 19 uses,  There is certain/sure/bound/likely/unlikely to be + noun.

Model 20 shows some (usually more formal) ways of talking about the future using the nouns, likelihood’, ‘certainty’, ‘probability’ and ‘possibility’.

Model 21 shows three idiomatic expressions used for talking about the future.

Model 22 shows how, ‘going to’ can sometimes mean the same as ‘will’.

 Model 23 shows the grammar of ‘hope’ and compares ‘hope’ to ‘wish’. Basically, you should use ‘hope’ when talking about the future and use ‘wish’ when talking about how you would like to change the present or the past (both impossible).

Model 24 shows that ‘can’ should not be used when talking about the future (except when using ‘hope’) ‘will be able to’ should be used instead.

Model 25 shows that ‘must’ should not be used when talking about the future ‘will have to’ should be used instead.

Model 26 explains the use of ‘shall’.

Model 27 explains the use of ‘ago’ and ‘in’ when referring to countable time units from now ( relative to now) in the past and the future.


Do you think it will rain tomorrow?


Models 1 – 13, Using ‘will’

Model 1: will (+ adverb) + verb  ( = adverb + will + verb)


1.1   Yes, it’ll rain tomorrow.

= Yes, it’ll definitely/certainly rain tomorrow.

1.2   Yes, it’ll almost certainly rain tomorrow.

1.3   Yes, I think it’ll probably rain tomorrow.

1.4   Yes, it’ll possibly rain tomorrow. (= Possibly it’ll rain tomorrow.)

1.5   No, it probably won’t rain tomorrow.

1.6   No, it almost certainly won’t rain tomorrow.

1.7   No, it definitely won’t rain tomorrow. 


Model 2:  There + will (+ adverb) + be + noun 


2.1 Yes, (I think) there’ll definitely be (lots of) rain tomorrow. (=1.2 almost certainly will)


NOTE:  There + be (including the future form, ‘there will be’ and the past forms, ‘there was; there were’), is VERY commonly used in English.  However, many Chinese students are not confident about using these future and past forms of ‘there + be’ and so they have trouble making sentences when they are talking about the past or the future. You should practice using them. Although Example 2.1 is not the most suitable way to answer the question about rain tomorrow, for many other questions, ‘there + be’ is one of the best ways to make a sentence. For example - Question: “How do you think transportation in China might change over the next few years?” Answer: “I think, within ten or twenty years, there’ll probably be many electric cars on the roads.”  

Note that, in place of the word ‘will’ we can substitute the modal verbs, ‘might’, ‘may’, ‘could’, ‘should’, and ‘ought to’. (We can also substitute the modal, ‘would’ but this is not used when talking about the future.) However, when we use ‘might’ or ‘may’ we cannot use the adverbs, ‘probably’ or ‘possibly’ because ‘might’ and ‘may’ already include the idea of ‘possibly’. On the other hand, we can use ‘certainly’, ‘definitely’ and ‘surely’ with the modals ‘might’ and ‘may’ as a way to emphasize what we are saying.


See also Models 14-17, below.


Model 3:  We will (+adverb) + have/see + noun  


            3.1 Yes, (I think) we’ll probably have rain tomorrow. (= 1.3 probably will)




Variations of ‘We will see’ and ‘We will have’ are:


Model 4:  

I’m sure (= I’m confident = I’m convinced = I’m certain = I’m positive = I bet (very informal) ) + will + verb


        4.1  I’m sure it’ll rain tomorrow. (= 1.1 or 1.2, certainly will, almost certainly will)  

        4.2  Yeah, I bet it’ll rain tomorrow. (= 1.2 almost certainly will)


Model 5:  Be (present tense) + adjective (+ that )+ subject + will + verb

Here, the suitable adjectives are: certain, definite, sure, probable, likely, possible, improbable, unlikely, impossible, and doubtful.

NOTE: Model 5 examples are not often used because there are simpler ways to express the same idea.  Model 18 is similar to but simpler than this model.


5.1  It’s (I’m) certain that we’ll have rain tomorrow. (= 1.1 certainly will)

5.2  (I think) it’s probable that it’ll rain. (= 1.2 almost certainly will)

       (= It’s likely to rain tomorrow.)

5.3  It’s possible that it’ll rain tomorrow. (= 1.3, probably will)

5.4  It’s unlikely that we’ll have rain tomorrow. (= 1.5 probably won’t)

5.5     I’m very doubtful that it’ll rain tomorrow. (= 1.6 almost certainly won’t)

                (This model not often used. Most people would simply say, “I don’t think it’ll rain tomorrow.)  

5.6     It’s impossible that we’ll have rain tomorrow. (= 1.7 definitely won’t)

                (This model not often used. Most people would simply say, “I'm sure it won't rain tomorrow.)  


Model 6:   

I think(=guess/suppose/imagine/expect/predict/foresee) + will + verb


            6.1 Yes, I think (that) it’ll rain tomorrow. (=1.3, probably will)  


The words ‘expect’, ‘predict’ and ‘foresee’ can also be followed by a noun. For example: “I predict rain tomorrow”, “I expect many changes in the future”, “I foresee fast growth in the Chinese economy over the next few years.” (These sentences really have the meaning of: “I predict (that) we will see/have rain tomorrow”, “I expect we will see/have many changes in the future” and “I foresee that we will see/have fast growth in the Chinese economy over the next few years.”)  


Model 7:  Maybe + will  + verb    =   Perhaps + will + verb   


 7.1 Maybe it’ll rain tomorrow. (= Perhaps it'll rain tomorrow.)

                                                        (= 1.4, Possibly it’ll rain tomorrow.)  

Note that “Maybe it'll rain tomorrow.” means the same as, “It may rain tomorrow.” (See Model 14.)  However, in the second example, ‘may ’ is a verb which is followed by another verb (including the verb, ‘be’) while ‘maybe’ is an adverb. 

An example of may + be’

“That may be the best choice.” = “That might be the best choice.” = “Maybe that's the best choice.” = “Perhaps that's the best choice.” 


Model 8:  I doubt (that) + will + verb  


8.1     I doubt it’ll rain tomorrow. (=1.5 probably won’t) = I don't think it'll rain tomorrow.


Model 9: 

Will be + 过去分词 (= future simple tense, passive voice  = 将来被动语态)

(Note that only the future simple tense and the future perfect tense normally have a passive form.)  


9.1    Twenty years from now, China’s economy will be much more developed. 

9.2    Hopefully, China’s present-day environmental problems will be solved in the not-too-distant future.  


Model 10:  Will be + 现在分词 (= future continuous tense = 将来进行时 )

        (Note that all continuous tenses refer to a particular point in time.)


10.1  In twenty years, people will probably be living on the moon.

10.2  I’m sure that, within a few years, people in China will be enjoying a high standard of living.

10.3  People will probably be driving electric cars (at some point) in the future.

10.4  I predict that, in the future (= at some point in the future), many people will be working from home, using the internet to communicate with their workplace.



Model 11:  Will have +过去分词 (= future perfect tense =将来完成时)

        (Note: Perfect tenses always refer to ‘before a particular time’.)  



11.1  By 2020, China’s standard of living will have reached a high level.

11.2  I’m sure some Chinese people will have landed on the moon before 2020.

11.3  I’m confident that, twenty years from now, medical science will have already found a cure for cancer.

11.4  I believe that, within the next twenty years (= some point within the next twenty years), China will have become the world’s leading country.


Model 12: 

Will have been +过去分词 (= future perfect passive = 将来完成时被动语态)


12.1  I’m sure that many of today’s social and environmental problems will have been solved by the year 2020.

12.2  I predict that cures for AIDS and cancer will have been discovered by the year 2020.

12.3  I’m sure that certain educational reforms will have come into effect by the year 2020.

12.4  China’s education system will probably have been reformed somewhat by the year 2020.  



Model 13: 

Will have been +现在分词  (= future perfect continuous tense =将来完成进行时)

             (Note: There are easier ways to express the idea in the following sentence.)  


13.1  I think that, by 2020, people will have already been driving electric cars for a few years.

          (= I think that, by 2020, people will already have been driving electric cars for a few years.)


Models 14 –17, using the modal verbs.

Model 14:  Might + verb = May + verb  


           14.1 It might rain tomorrow.

       =  14.2 It may rain tomorrow. (= 1.4, possibly will)  


‘Might’ and ‘may’ have the same meaning. The difference between the two is that relatively uneducated English speakers never or rarely use ‘may’ while well-educated English speakers use both - sometimes using ‘may’, especially in situations where they want to sound more polite, and sometimes using ‘might’. You should not ONLY use ‘may’ because this will make your speech seem unnatural and pretentious.


Model 15:  Could + verb  


           15.1 It could rain tomorrow. (= 1.4, possibly will)


Model 16:  Should + verb    


16.1  It should rain tomorrow.  (= 1.3 probably will or 1.2 almost certainly will)

          (This implies that the weather forecast predicted an almost 100% chance for rain tomorrow.)  


Model 17: Ought to + verb  


17.1  It ought to rain tomorrow. (= 1.3 probably will or 1.2 almost certainly will)

         NOTE: Model 17 is not often used for the future.


Model 18:  

Be (present tense) + certain to/sure to/bound to/likely to/unlikely to + verb  


           18.1  Yes, it’s certain to rain tomorrow. (= 1.1 certainly will)  

           18.2  Yes, it’s sure to rain tomorrow. (= 1.1 certainly will)  

           18.3  Yes, it’s bound to rain tomorrow. (= 1.1 certainly will)

           18.4  Yes, it’s likely to rain tomorrow. (= 1.3, probably will)

           18.5  No, it’s unlikely to rain tomorrow. (= 1.5 probably won’t)


Model 19: There is certain/sure/bound/likely/unlikely to be + noun

Note that when speaking about simple topics such as rain, most English speakers would choose simpler ways to speak than these examples. However, when discussing more serious topics, these sentences are suitable.  


            19.1  Yes, there’s certain to be some rain tomorrow. (=1.1 certainly will.)

            19.2  Yes, there’s likely to be rain tomorrow. (= 1.3, probably will)

            19.3  No, there’s unlikely to be rain tomorrow. (=1.5 probably won’t)


Model 20

Using the nouns, likelihood, certainty, probability, and possibility.

These examples are quite formal language which is frequently used by ‘experts’ in a particular field, for example, by weather forecasters on TV.


20.1  Yes, there’s a strong likelihood of rain. (= 1.3, probably will)

20.2  Yes, rain tomorrow is a certainty. (= 1.1 certainly will)

20.3  There’s a high probability of rain tomorrow. (= 1.2 almost certainly will)

20.4  Yes, there’s a possibility of rain. (= 1.4 possibly will.)

20.5  Yes, it’s a (= rain tomorrow is a) possibility. (=1.4 possibly will)


Model 21:  Idiomatic expressions about the future. 

Certain idioms are frequently used to express ideas about the future.  Idiomatic expressions are most suitable for informal, spoken English.


21.1  Yes, rain is on the cards tomorrow. (= 1.3 probably will)

21.2  Yes, rain is a sure thing tomorrow. (= 1.1 certainly will)

21.3  Electric cars are a sure thing in the future. (= 1.1 certainly will)

21.4  You can bank on seeing electric cars in the future. (= 1.2 almost certainly will)  



Model 22: Going to + Verb

‘Going to + verb’ has three different shades of meaning:

1. An Intention or plan  (安排)

            22.1  I’m going to see my girlfriend this weekend.

2. Saying that something will happen soon (快要)

            22.2   It’s going to rain soon.

            22.3  Look at that car! It’s going to crash!

3. Predicting (预言) This meaning is the same as 1.1 or 1.2, (will/certainly will/almost certainly will)

22.4  She’s going to have a baby in January. = She’ll have a baby in January.

22.5  It’s going to be a hot day tomorrow. = It will be hot tomorrow.

22.6  Unfortunately, I think there’s going to be a few more wars in the near future.

         = Unfortunately, I think there’ll be a few  more wars in the near future.  



Hope and Wish

Model 23: hope + present tense (= expressing a wish/hope for the future).

1)   ‘Hope’ (希望) is used to express a desire for a real possibility in the future. The grammar is, hope + present tense verb.

NOTE: Although it is possible to use ‘will’ after the word, ‘hope’, it is best NOT to say or write ‘hope + will’ because this sounds incorrect to many English speakers. Therefore, the best idea is to use the present tense after ‘hope’ most of the time. However, in the (假设的) situation [see 5) below], ‘hope + will’ sometimes sounds more natural than ‘hope + present tense’.  


Hope + 不定式 

When the person doing the hoping hopes to do something in the future, then the 不定式 form of the verb can be used. For example:

Hoping about a present situation

When we express a hope about a present situation, it means that we don't yet know what the present situation really is but that we will find out the real situation in the future, (probably very soon). In other words, this is just a variation of hoping for the future. For example; ‘I hope I'm not late.’ = ‘I hope you will not tell me that I am late.’ Similarly; ‘I hope you like my new hairstyle.’ = ‘I hope you're going to tell me that you like my new hairstyle.’


2) ‘Wish’ can be used with the same meaning as hope, above. However, this meaning for ‘wish’ is , not 希望 and it is followed by a noun, not a verb.



3) ‘Wish’ (希望) expresses a desire to change the present or the past, but NOT the future. (Use ‘hope’ for the future. Also see ‘wish for’, below.) It is hypothetical (假设的) because it is impossible to change the past or the present. (If you change the present situation, it becomes a new present situation.)  


A Present Situation that you would like to change:

A Past Situation that you would like to change:

Note the grammar (which seems a little strange): “I wish I had more money” uses the past tense but the meaning is not past tense – it simply expresses a desire to have a different present situation. Similarly, “I wish I had grown up in a big city” uses the 过去完成时 but the meaning is that the speaker would like to change the 过去时, not the 过去完成时.


4)Make a wish for + noun  = Wish for + noun

In many cultures, people throw a coin into a ‘wishing well’ and make a wish. Or, they might make a secret wish when they cut their birthday cake. Making a wish for + noun is really the same as hoping for + noun or saying, I hope + present tense verb.


Similarly, we can say (or write), “My best wishes to you.” This really means, “I hope your future is good.” “I wish you a merry Christmas” is another example of this.

Note that you should only use the expression, wish for + noun in the rather rare situations of making a wish when you throw a coin into a wishing well or cut a birthday cake or similar rituals that are used for making wishes.

5) Wish ….would = hope + future tense or present tense

This is used to express regret, dissatisfaction, impatience or irritation.


        = Everybody hopes you’ll go home.

= Everybody hopes you go home. 

= I hope you’ll stop smoking.

=  I hope you stop smoking.

=  I hope you don’t drive so fast in the future.

=   I hope you won’t drive so fast in the future.

 Or  = You are driving too fast now and I would like you to drive slower.            


6) Wish + 不定式

This use of wish is formal and sounds a little old-fashioned. In everyday spoken English, it is best to AVOID using this and, instead, use would like.  Formal or ‘ultra polite’ language does have a place in English, for example, when a waiter in a high-class restaurant speaks to a customer or when the speaker especially wants to show deference to a very important or high-ranking person. However, in the IELTS test and in most everyday speaking situations, it is not suitable.



Model 24: Will be able to + verb



24.1  After (=when) I go to Australia next year, I’ll be able to practice speaking English every day.



Model 25: Will have to + verb



          25.1    After I move to Shanghai, I’ll have to find an apartment.


Some people try to use must for the future when their meaning is, 一定是. In this case, they should not use must but should use, certainly will (or, definitely will, surely will or simply, will).


INCORRECT: “If you eat too much, you must get fat.”

CORRECT: “If you eat too much you’ll (certainly) get fat.”


Model 26:  ‘I shall’ or ‘We shall’

In Britain, I shall and We shall mean the same as I will and We will. However, in the other English-speaking countries, shall is only used in quite formal situations (such as in an important speech) or when someone wants to sound extra polite. Even this extra polite usage is not very common among non-British English speakers.

An example of using shall to sound very polite:

“Shall we begin?” = “Would you like to begin?”

        = (informal) “Let’s begin.”

        = “Why don’t we begin?”


Model 27:  THE TIME LINE

The diagram below shows a ‘time line’. A time line represents countable units of time such as minutes, days, years, etc.  Many people make grammatical mistakes when talking about situations on time lines.

The important things to remember are:



For the diagram shown below, correct sentences are:

1.  I’ll go to Shanghai in four days and I’ll return three days later.

2.  I’ll go to Shanghai in four days and three days after that, I’ll return home.

3.  I’ll return from Shanghai in seven days.

4.  I’ll come back from Shanghai in seven days after having gone there three days before/earlier/previously. (An unnecessarily complex way to say it.)

5.  I went to Nanjing eight days ago and I came back five days later.

6.  I went to Nanjing eight days ago and, after spending five days there, I came back home.

7.  I came back from Nanjing three days ago.

8.  I returned from Nanjing three days ago. I had gone there five days before/earlier/previously. (Unnecessarily complex.)



Actually, “after five days”, meaning from now, can be used but the meaning is, “anytime after five days and not including five days or before five days”. This is shown in the diagram below. So, you could say to someone, “I’ll give you the money I owe you after five days”, and in fact give them the money five years from now! However, this kind of sentence is rarely used precisely because it is so non-specific. If you could not pay back the money until, say, your payday five days from now, you should say, “I won't be able to repay you within the next five days but I will be able to give it to you after that.” Or you could say, “I won't be able to repay you until I get paid in five days.”