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  1. #1
    alexdanny is offline Newbie
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    Future/Modal 'will'

    I know this matter has been brought up some many times it's already becoming annoying but I've been sweeping through dozens of threads around this and some other forums only to find out they've all gone sideways. I'm solely looking for a point of view without planning on starting or provoking a debate on or around this subject.

    I'm well aware of all the reasoning behind the hypothesis stating that English has a two-tense system and it literally has no future As mentioned above, I'm not looking to prove this theory is wrong but for some enlightenment with respect to the other POV.

    My question is, what are reasons to account for the existence of a Future Tense in English, namely what are the linguistic arguments to sustain the theory?

    Any help would be greatly appreciated.

  2. #2
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    konungursvia is offline Key Member
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    Re: Future/Modal 'will'

    There are standard constructions which allow us to refer in English to future times while specifying a verb. These constructions are understood by all, and work as well as any future tense in any language. To me, that's enough to consider these grammatical conventions to be tenses.

    The difficulty of the issue lies in the fact that there actually is a past, and a present, but no one can say for certain there will be a future, or what it will bring when it does arrive.


    Quote Originally Posted by alexdanny View Post
    I know this matter has been brought up some many times it's already becoming annoying but I've been sweeping through dozens of threads around this and some other forums only to find out they've all gone sideways. I'm solely looking for a point of view without planning on starting or provoking a debate on or around this subject.

    I'm well aware of all the reasoning behind the hypothesis stating that English has a two-tense system and it literally has no future As mentioned above, I'm not looking to prove this theory is wrong but for some enlightenment with respect to the other POV.

    My question is, what are reasons to account for the existence of a Future Tense in English, namely what are the linguistic arguments to sustain the theory?

    Any help would be greatly appreciated.

  3. #3
    Tdol is offline Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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    Re: Future/Modal 'will'

    If you're looking for linguistic proof in the same way that the existence of the past/second/distant/remote tense/form can be proved, then you won't get it. A lot of traditional grammar was drawn up through comparison with Latin, so there was an expectation that there should be a future tense, so will was labelled as the future tense as it does perform the functions that the future tense performs in other languages. To the three-or-more tense view of English, the existence of the form is sufficient proof. The two-tense view rejects this.

    Unfortunately, this does mean that discussions can turn a bit pantomime because it boils down to a yes-it-is/oh-no-it-isn't view of will.

  4. #4
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    Re: Future/Modal 'will'

    Ultimately it depends on one's definition of 'tense' and so, as Tdol said, there can be no 'proof'.

    If one restricts the word to inflected forms of the verb, then there are clearly only two tenses, as exemplified by work/worked and bring/brought.

    Those who believe this, as I do, consider such forms as the 'progressive' and 'perfect' to be 'aspects'; these forms also have present and past tenses.

    The core modals, can/could, may/might, must, shall/should, will/would, are not in themselves part of the English tense system, any more than, for example, BE + going to or used to, though some of them convey ideas which are conveyed by tenses in other languages. The modal forms in bold sometimes function as the past tense of the modal form immediately preceding them, and sometimes appear to function as modal verbs in their own right - but that is a different issue.

    Most modern writers on grammar accept the two-tense idea for English (and other Indo-European languages (including German), but the idea of the Will form as the future tense is so firmly entrenched in many people's minds, and still presented in many EFL course books and grammars aimed at learners, that it will probably be around for a long time yet.

  5. #5
    Tdol is offline Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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    Re: Future/Modal 'will'

    It's been thirty years since I first read a view of the two-tense theory. For me, it was a revelation- a far better explanation of the way verbs worked in English. Virtually every linguist subscribes to it, but I have seen very little evidence of it gaining much traction in wider circles of speakers and learners. Some coursebooks may refer to will as a future form rather than a tense, but there has been virtually no mainstream adoption of the whole scheme- more lip service than anything else. Michael Lewis raised a lot of hopes, but not much resulted. Will will still be the future tense for most people in my lifetime.

  6. #6
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    Re: Future/Modal 'will'

    In the Latin languages, the future is constructed by adding a modal "have" as a suffix to the infinitive. When you "have" to do something, you are going to do it. Does your school of thought consider this a "real" future tense? If so, is that because there's no space between the words any more?

    On the other side of things, there are languages in which the only way to refer to future verbs is by adding "tomorrow" or similar constructions. Chinese, for instance. Those languages I would truly consider as lacking a future tense.

    The question is, are we refining our idea of what a tense is, by saying English only has two, or are we discovering that the past and present are much older, more solidly entrenched constructions?

    So

    Quote Originally Posted by Tdol View Post
    If you're looking for linguistic proof in the same way that the existence of the past/second/distant/remote tense/form can be proved, then you won't get it. A lot of traditional grammar was drawn up through comparison with Latin, so there was an expectation that there should be a future tense, so will was labelled as the future tense as it does perform the functions that the future tense performs in other languages. To the three-or-more tense view of English, the existence of the form is sufficient proof. The two-tense view rejects this.

    Unfortunately, this does mean that discussions can turn a bit pantomime because it boils down to a yes-it-is/oh-no-it-isn't view of will.

  7. #7
    Tdol is offline Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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    Re: Future/Modal 'will'

    Languages that modify the verb to express the future would normally be seen as having a future tense, while adding an adverb wouldn't constitute one. Part of the argument is about this, but the more important part for me is that looking at English as having two tenses enables us to see the way the verbs work better IMO. However, I understand that this view is far from universal and that many don't agree, and fully respect that.

  8. #8
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    Re: Future/Modal 'will'

    Quote Originally Posted by konungursvia View Post
    In the Latin languages, the future is constructed by adding a modal "have" as a suffix to the infinitive. When you "have" to do something, you are going to do it. Does your school of thought consider this a "real" future tense? If so, is that because there's no space between the words any more?
    It's not just a matter of no space between words - the 'future-tense' construction is one word now, whatever it was in the past. There is also the point that, in the modern language, it is not just a matter of adding 'have'; some verbs have a separate stem for the future tense, for example ir- (aller) and ser- (ętre) in French.

    Conversations with speakers of French lead me to believe that at least some of them do not actually realise that the 'future-tense' endings are the present tense of 'avoir' (minus the 'av' in the nous and vous forms).

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