Learn English – ‘future in the future’ tense in English


I had an idea for a trilogy of novels with the first written in the past tense, the second in the present tense, and the third in the future tense. Why hasn't anyone done this before? I thought. Then I realised what you wouldn't be able to do in the third book. In the first, you could say:

He walked along the street. He had just left his house, and later it would be burgled.

In the second:

He walks along the street. He has just left his house, and later it will be burgled.

But in the third:

He will walk along the street. He will have just left his house, and later it what? burgled.

Without a 'future in the future' tense, this idea can't work! Has there ever been any such tense in the English language, or is there some sort of substitute for one? The closest I've come up with is:

He will walk along the street. He will have just left his house, and later it will be going to be burgled.

… which is cumbersome to say the least!

Edit: my example was badly chosen, because of the adverb 'later'. Since I'm toying with the idea of a whole book written in the future tense (or 'tense' if you don't count periphrastic tenses as tenses 🙂 ), I'm looking for something that works in general, not just for this sentence. A better example is:

He left his house, but he would return / He leaves his house, but he will return.

Now 'He will leave his house, but he will return' doesn't really work.

Best Answer

English has no future in the future because English has no future tense at all. English verbs approach tense from two perspectives: before now (past), now and after now (present/nonpast). As such, we can conjugate the verb to eat as follows:

I eat.

I ate.

But there is no way to conjugate the verb for the future, and so we resort to periphrastic constructions to form future aspects, which, for better or for worse, usually infuse other meaning into the sentence:

I will eat (volition).

I shall eat (obligation).

I may eat (possibility/permission).

These all imply future time (and thus form the future aspect), but may infuse undesired meaning into the sentence. Nevertheless, we also have less meaning-rich, albeit more verbose, ways of expressing future time:

I am going to eat.

I am about to eat.

So, although there is no future in the future tense, we can form a future in the future aspect by combining the foregoing constructions:

I will be going to eat.

I will be about to eat.

Both of which sound fine on occasion, but may grate on the ears (eyes) if heard (read) too often, especially in the passive voice: the food will be going to be eaten.

It is also worth noting that the present tense is often used for both present and future time, often making the future aspect seem too verbose where it is still grammatical. Consider the following pairs:

I am going home tomorrow. / I will be going home tomorrow.

He heads out in an hour. / He will head out in an hour.

In each pair, both sentences mean about the same thing and, at least where I live, the average Joe is more likely to say the first. This is merely something to consider, however, and it is not meant to discourage your idea at all.