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How is the future expressed in Spanish?

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There are three ways of expressing the future in Spanish: we can use the combination ir + a + infinitive (Mañana voy a ver el partido de fútbol. [Tomorrow, I am going to watch the soccer game]); we can express the future with the present tense (Mañana tengo examen de matemáticas. [Tomorrow I have a math exam]); or we can use the simple future (La comida llegará sobre las 8. [The food will arrive at 8]). If you want to know in which contexts you should use each form, continue reading! (For a review of the infinitive, head down to “Unpacking the grammar!”)

There are three ways of expressing the future in Spanish: we can use the combination ir + a + infinitive (Mañana voy a ver el partido de fútbol. [Tomorrow, I am going to watch the soccer game]); we can express the future with the present tense (Mañana tengo examen de matemáticas. [Tomorrow I have a math exam]); or we can use the simple future (La comida llegará sobre las 8. [The food will arrive at 8]). If you want to know in which contexts you should use each form, continue reading! (For a review of the infinitive, head down to “Unpacking the grammar!”)

‘Ir’ + ‘a’ + infinitive

We can express the future by using the combination of the verb ir (to go) in the present tense + preposition a + a verb in the infinitive. The equivalent English expression of this combination is going to + infinitive. We usually use this combination in these contexts:

  • To express plans and intentions of some certainty

We use ir + a + the infinitive when we want to talk about our intentions, objectives, or plans, or in order to ask others about their intentions, decisions, or plans:

¿Vas a comer conmigo?
Are you going to have dinner with me?

El fin de semana que viene voy a ir a Barcelona.
Next weekend I am going to visit Barcelona.

Usually, when we use this combination, we are certain or sure about the information we are presenting. This also works if we are certain something is not going to happen:

No vamos a ir al concierto esta noche.
We are not going to go to the concert tonight.

  • To express evident future facts

We also use this combination when we want to present a future fact that is likely evident. For example, if you see a lot of people arriving at a party, you could say: 

Va a ser una fiesta muy grande. 
It’s going to be a large party. (it is evident)

  • To express a logical result

Another use for this combination is for a logical result of the present. For example, imagine you are at the beach sunbathing and your friend doesn’t put sunscreen on, you can say:

Te vas a quemar. 
You are going to get a sunburn. (it is logical)

The present tense

Yes, you read this heading correctly! Dust off your crystal ball because in Spanish we can use the present tense to convey the future! Its use is similar to ir + a + infinitive, but also:

  • To confirm the near future

We use the present simple to refer to actions in the future we are sure about, that is, we use the present tense to confirm the future. These sentences always go with an expression of time in order to indicate its future value: esta noche [tonight], mañana [tomorrow], etc.

Take a look at the following examples, in each of them, we are presenting information that will happen in the near future that we are sure about:

       Mi hermana llega esta noche.
My sister will arrive tonight.

      El miércoles que viene tengo un examen.
I have an exam next Wednesday.

      ¿A qué hora comemos mañana?  
What time are we eating tomorrow?

Notice that in English, we can use the future will, the present simple, or the present progressive to talk about the near future. However, in Spanish we use the simple present.

  • Expressions in the present that denote the future

There are a couple of expressions with the verb estar used in the present tense that can denote that you’re about to do something in the near future:

      • Estar a punto de + infinitive

  To be about to / To be on the verge of

  Estoy a punto de salir de casa.

  I’m about to leave the house.

      • Estar por + infinitive

  To be about to

  Estoy por ir a su casa y preguntarle.

  I’m about to go to his house and ask him.

Although similar and often interchangeable, there is sometimes a subtle difference in meaning. Estar a punto de describes what you’re going to do next, whereas estar por can express the feeling of wanting to do something, even if you may not actually do it. 

Check out this list of other expressions that are typically used with the present tense to denote the future.

Simple future

Finally, we use the future tense when we want to make predictions about the future or when we want to make assumptions about the present. To see how to form the simple future, take a look at these tables we created with regular and irregular verbs. And keep reading to see the various ways it can be used.

  • To make predictions about the future

When we use the simple future to talk about the near future, we are making a prediction about the future. Usually, we use this tense when we are less sure about the information we are conveying. Take a look at the following examples, comparing the simple future with the ir + a + infinitive construction we saw above.

SIMPLE FUTURE                        IR + A + Infinitive

El avión llegará a las 5.    vs.   El avión va a llegar a las 5.

The plane will arrive at 5. 

 

Al final, se cancelará el viaje.    vs.    Al final, se va a cancelar el viaje.

The trip will be cancelled.

The main difference between these pairs of sentences is the certainty the speaker has about the information. In the first sentence on the left, it is probable that the plane will arrive at 5, while in the sentence on the right, it is certain. In the second example on the left, you are making a prediction about the trip, while in the one on the right, you are certain the trip will be cancelled.

  IMPORTANT:

Remember that in general, if we want to present information that is obvious, then we use the present tense, the simple future is used for probable or likely situations:

Simple future →  It is probable:
El paquete llegará a las 3
The package will arrive at 3.

Present tense →   It is certain:
El paquete llega a las 3. The package arrives at 3.

IMPORTANT:

One last remark! The present progressive in Spanish cannot be used to express the future as we do in English: I am playing soccer tomorrow.

In conclusion

You’ve learned that there are three ways of expressing the future in Spanish: the combination ir + a + infinitive, the present tense, and the simple future. We use the combination ir + a + infinitive when we talk about decisions or plans, or when we are talking about logical or evident results. We use the present tense in order to present information in the near future we know is true. Finally, the simple future is used when we want to make predictions about the future.

Take a look at this article that provides more information about the future tense in Spanish and this article provides tables and more explanations relating to the future tense in Spanish. Before you leave, we created some activities so you can practice the different ways of expressing the future in Spanish. A key is included so you can check your work. Happy learning!

Unpacking the grammar

An infinitive is a verb in its basic form, for example to run, to eat, to be. In Spanish, infinitives have one of three endings: -ar, -er, -ir (cantar, comer, vivir).

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