I just found out that there are 2 flavors of English, considering the moment of their "definition":

  • the "normal" English, which everybody knows and uses and explained in the vast majority of (grammar) books around the world (further divided in UK English, US English, Australian English ...);

  • a "new" English that only an "elite" knows about, which redefines even the basics of English.

I just found out about it yesterday here, which references this.

Yes, but your first example is more likely to be heard. Note, though, that English doesn't have a future tense, so "Melanie will start school from tomorrow" is present tense, since "will" is a present tense modal verb. – BillJ Dec 30 '17 at 9:08

@BillJ: this is the most "original" thing I heard in a long time: "English doesn't have a future tense". You probably wanted to say that in English, verbs do not have a specific form to express future, in the way that they have forms (regular or irregular) to express past actions - but that is a totally different statement. – virolino 23 hours ago

@virolino No, it's not a totally different statement. That's what is meant by tense in English (i.e. inflection in this case in addition to a time component). See english.stackexchange.com/a/465378/71740 for more information. – userr2684291 22 hours ago

I think that is a also an "original" point of view - into the realm of unnecessary hair splitting. So there is past tense, present tense and future mood?! Not to talk about the countless books written about the future tense... – virolino 22 hours ago

@virolino No: I meant exactly what I said. English does not have a future tense, though it does have numerous ways of expressing future time. There is no grammatical category that can properly be analysed as a future tense. That is the accepted view of most grammarians, at least all those that I work with. – BillJ 22 hours ago

In more than 25 years of learning and using English (as a foreigner), today I heard (read) for the first time that there is no future tense in English. I am totally puzzled. Is this widely know information to all (most) native English speakers? Is this taught in schools (US, UK, Australia...)? Or it is only knowledge to some linguistic enthusiasts... – virolino 20 hours ago

@virolino In my experience, native speakers of English know less about the grammar of English (and the terminology that comes with it) than learners. What's taught in school often lags a few decades behind currently accepted theories, so I'd assume it hasn't been fully established yet, as far as that's concerned. – userr2684291 19 hours ago

So you agree that this information is created by and available to only a handful of specialists, and does not really constitute "the rule" of English (but only a "theory" - as you named it). I just want to understand. – virolino 16 hours ago

@virolino No, I do not. Never said anything of the sort. Every plausible explanation in every science is what's called a theory, in any case. If you navigate the link I provided above, you can find a rather comprehensive explanation of what one modern grammar understands by tense. There's nothing sensational about traditional grammar vs. modern grammar; the latter is just grammar v2.0, or whatever: it's a demonstrably better analysis than the one before it. The authors of The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (2002) point out flaws of the grammar they strive to update. – userr2684291 15 hours ago

Obviously, "normal" English and "new" English are highly conflicting. Which "rule" should we follow when Asking, and especially, when answering?

It seems (as per BillJ's comments), that the "new" English is a work-in-progress, or a "dream", but not agreed for current use:

  • "What's taught in school often lags a few decades behind currently accepted theories" (my note: in my understanding, a theory is not an established rule);
  • "There's nothing sensational about traditional grammar vs. modern grammar" (my note: nothing sensational, except that they are highly conflicting with each other);
  • "flaws of the grammar they strive to update" (my note: so not an established rule, but a "desire").

Note: In this question, I am not interested if the "new" English" is better or worse than the "old" English.

The question is: How shall we handle the answers? Which rules shall we follow?

Shall we slap the wrists of the people saying / writing "the future tense in English..." - considering that the modern view does not acknowledge a future tense?

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    This has nothing to do with "current English" and "new English". These aren't different languages. What you all are talking about is the choice between outdated analyses and modern ones, the former being less coherent, less accurate descriptively, less parsimonious, and so on. Changes in and arguments about how we describe language have been going on for centuries. Surely you don't think that there is a single "traditional" grammar which everyone agrees on?
    – user230
    Mar 29, 2019 at 7:17
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it doesn't appear to seek discussion from the community. What do you aim to achieve with the rhetorics in your rant? I don't think there's anything useful to come out of this discussion.
    – M.A.R.
    Mar 29, 2019 at 7:20
  • @M.A.R.ಠ_ಠ: what is off-topic or rhetorical about "How shall we handle the answers?" Especially in the specific example: is there a future tense or not?!
    – virolino
    Mar 29, 2019 at 7:22
  • @snailboat: you definitely used better words to express my thoughts. That is why I used the quotation marks around "normal" and "new". Obviously, languages change. But how do we deal with the change here on ELL when answering, and when judging answers?
    – virolino
    Mar 29, 2019 at 7:24
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    I'm not particularly fond of questions like, "Which rules shall we follow?" Or, "Should we slap the wrists of people saying XYZ?" As I said in an answer to one of your previous questions: If you're looking for some foolproof flow chart that will instruct you and the rest of the community about what to do for every question, then, sorry, you'll be disappointed. (Whether "You'll be disappointed" is written in the future tense is left as an exercise for the reader.) You can offer a contrary opinion, you can cast a vote, but, eventually you may just have to agree to disagree and move on.
    – J.R. Mod
    Mar 29, 2019 at 14:43
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    Bad title, confrontational, and mocking. Moreover, the post appears to lean towards sarcasm. Pity because you make some fair enough points. However, English is mutevole, it's what makes it great and that is why it is the lingua franca today. Gotta move with the times or be left behind!
    – Mari-Lou A
    Mar 30, 2019 at 13:09

2 Answers 2


The question of whether there's a future tense depends on how technical you're being. English doesn't inflect verbs much at all, so some linguistic purists say we only have past and present tenses, and form everything else with auxiliaries. It's a different way of looking at things. Most people stick with calling future, past, present perfect, past perfect, the various progressives etc tenses, because it's just more practical for communicating if you are just talking about English. Technically, depending on approach, few of them are tenses. It's all a combination of tense, aspect and auxiliaries.

But telling a learner that English has no future tense is most likely to confuse them, rather than help them. On the other hand, it's best to just counterpoint them and leave it alone, not get into big arguments.

  • "But telling a learner that English has no future tense is most likely to confuse them, rather than help them" - fully agree, and yet that is what happens here on ELL (sometimes). What I personally think, how I personally see the world (or any detail of it), is my problem. How shall / should we handle the topic while answering? Or while down-voting? I assume that there should be a defined way to proceed, agreed by "everybody". ELU might be the proper place for these subtleties, but ELL?
    – virolino
    Mar 29, 2019 at 11:40
  • Well, who could gave guessed that a downvoted meta post with endangered existence can bring valuable information in a very simple, short answer?! I just have to disagree with the last part since it will only result in increasing ignorance among non-native learners... Mar 29, 2019 at 13:13
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    @TasneemZh I think it depends on the level of the learner. I don't think we do anyone any favours if we teach learners in a way that leads to them confronting even natives with a pedantic and potentially baffling correction, saying that the terms most people use every day are wrong. They're wrong to a linguist, but they are normal everyday terms.
    – SamBC
    Mar 29, 2019 at 13:24
  • I doubt that any learner would do that except if they were so full of themselves as that is their nature, or if they don't have any trust in natives which is another individual problem that is not related to the teaching procedure itself. Thus, there is really no excuse to hide things that may open many new aspects for the learner. And I mean by "learners", the ones who are completely willing to learn with keeping an open-mind alongside the process. Mar 29, 2019 at 13:48
  • @TasneemZH For me, there are two ways a non-native speaker learns a language. Functionally, and theoretically. Obviously if you're learning it as a university major you'll be doing comparative linguistics, getting deep into theory. If you're just learning it in order to be able to use it, there's no need to overburden learners with unnecessary theory.
    – SamBC
    Mar 29, 2019 at 14:07
  • Universities teach us the very basics when it comes to foreign languages. They wouldn't even tell you that "since", for example, can come with tenses other than the present perfect and have a different meaning. That all led to highly-confident students using and spreading what they learned, to get shocked by the reality of the language. They had learned it as a Must when it appeared to be Can. Therefore, I believe there would be a time when learners would think they got it all but get stunned that they actually didn't. Thus, the real harm is in increasing ignorance, not in minimizing it. Mar 29, 2019 at 15:10
  • @TasneemZh Oh yeah, there's a lot of bad teaching of English, just like any language taught as a foreign language. But I would say it's a very different sort of problem than this. Teaching people English as if there are a big set of clear rules is never going to produce competent speakers. Teaching people 'better' formalisms for describing the language wouldn't fix that - it would just increase the number of dodgy rules people got taught. It needs to be taught less analytically.
    – SamBC
    Mar 29, 2019 at 15:12
  • Yes, you are right. But where is the harm in explaining a very controversial issue (the existence of the future tense for example) in a very simple, abstracted way as you did?! Mar 29, 2019 at 15:17
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    @TasneemZh Oh, as long as you say there's different ways of looking at it, that's fine. I'm concerned about teaching "there is no future tense" as a definite fact.
    – SamBC
    Mar 29, 2019 at 15:26
  • @TasneemZh (and Sam), this highlights a consistently troublesome aspect of this site. Answers are meant to be authoritative, so that other people can confidently rely on them. On the other hand, most (many?) of the answerers are also concerned with helping the askers learn. Sometimes the answer a learner needs is not the most correct answer.
    – Juhasz
    Mar 29, 2019 at 21:11
  • As in most interpretive disciplines, "most correct" is always going to be a matter of interpretation anyway, @Juhasz. The answer should be a practical answer to the question, and to the needs of the person asking; that's the case on a lot of SE sites. Even the original StackOverflow has a lot of opinion and interpretation, given the nature of its questions.
    – SamBC
    Mar 29, 2019 at 21:21
  • @Juhasz - I find some answers can be sufficient enough to cover what the learner needs and what they should know and be aware of; otherwise, it would require them to read the whole post, from the question title till the last comment under the least upvoted answer. If that, too, wasn't enough, then approaching several other posts would probably lead the learner to know of what is common, what is correct, and what is totally wrong. So, in the end, the "most correct" answer would come to light, but when and how, is something that depends on the learner willingness and efforts. Mar 30, 2019 at 10:55

This sort of (ultimately fruitless) debate reminds me of the scientists who will tell you that "a peanut is not a nut, it is a legume". Or multiple other nuts are actually seeds, or other seeds are properly considered nuts. And certain vegetables are actually fruits, or tubers, or ... on, and on, and on.

The scientists are, of course, completely right. So there's no real point getting hot under the collar about it, as the OP clearly is (other than for reasons of humour). It is a scientist's job to be accurate, just as it is an academic grammarian's.

But on another level, of course, it is also completely unhelpful. A peanut is a 'nut' for most useful day-to-day purposes - it's right there in the name - and looking for it in the vegetable aisle in the supermarket is not going to do you much good. When teaching children, it is going to be highly useful to let them understand that peanuts are, you know, nuts. Sort of. In a similar manner, I've heard that when using an astrolabe, it is highly beneficial to pretend that the the sun goes round the earth. You don't need to be George Orwell's Winston Smith to realise that humans are quite good at holding mutually contradictory beliefs when convenient. We know 2 plus 2 equals 4, but if it's useful for it to equal 5 for certain purposes, then we'll just go along with it. You can even prove Pi equals 4, and Indiana nearly passed a law that included three definitions of the value of Pi, one of which was 4.

In English we form future ... somethings by using auxiliary verbs like "will" and "going to". I'm happy to learn that technically that isn't a tense. It will make a great question on a future edition of QI. To me 'tense' is being used to mean what I'm accustomed to thinking of as inflection, but, whatever ... not my pig, not my farm.

So, I'd recommend the OP not worry about it and just carry on doing what he has always done, while adopting the simultaneous knowledge that English both practically does and technically does not have a future tense.

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