The future tense (Lazarus' version)
The future tense
Spanish has two future tenses:
- future (simple): comeré (I will eat)
- future perfect: habré comido (I will have eaten)
Historical introduction: understanding its conjugation
The future was originally form by adding the forms of "haber" to an infinitive (remember that the h is not pronounced in Spanish):
- comer he (eat I must) ? comeré
- comer has (eat you must) ? comerás
- comer ha (eat he/she must) ? comerá
- comer hemos (eat we must) ? comeremos
- comer habéis (eat you must) ? comeréis
- comer hán (eat they must) ? comerán
In other words, the endings are identical to the present indicative of "haber". Possibly for this reason, it is by one of the most regular tenses in Spanish: there are about 12 verbs with irregular futures, plus other verbs that were created by adding a prefix to them, like decir and predecir, or poner and componer. These prefixed verbs always follow the same pattern.
This "eat you must" is still reflected in commands, like the ones in the Bible:
- No matarás = you shall not kill
- No irás a ninguna parte = You are not going anywhere
Most irregularities happened for phonetic reasons. The regular conjugation of "haber" in future tense should be "haberé", but pronounced quickly, it sounds practically like "habré", which is also easier to say. All verbs ending in vowel + ner change to -dré in this tense for similar reasons.
The most common ones are:
Group 1: the -ce- is dropped.
- hacer (har-). Same pattern: contrahacer, deshacer, rehacer, satisfacer
Full conjugation: haré, harás, hará, haremos, haréis, harán
Group 2: the -ec- is dropped, and the e changes to i
- decir (dir-). Same pattern: contradecir, predecir, redecir (however, bendecir and maldecir are regular in the future)
Full conjugation: diré, dirás, dirá, diremos, diréis, dirán
Group 3: the -e- is dropped
- haber (habr-). The only one of its kind.
- querer (querr-): malquerer
- poder (podr-): The only one of its kind.
- saber (sabr-): resaber
- caber (cabr-): The only one of its kind.
Sample conjugation: podré, podrás, podrá, podremos, podréis, podrán.
Group 4: the -e-/-i- is replaced with a -d-.
- tener (tendr-): abstenerse, atenerse, contener, detener, entretener, mantener, obtener, retener, sostener
- venir (vendr-): convenir, intervenir, prevenir, provenir, reconvenir, sobrevenir
- poner (pondr-):componer, disponer, exponer, imponer, oponer, poner, posponer, proponer, reponer, superponer, suponer, trasponer
- salir (saldr-): sobresalir
- valer (valdr-): prevaler
Sample conjugation: tendré, tendrás, tendrá, tendremos, tendréis, tendrán.
Uses of this tense
1) Make predictions about the future (we'll have to verify it)
We use this tense to talk about the future when we imply somehow that we have to wait until things can be verify later. This can be understood with different degrees of certainty (or lack of). In any case, we don't use this tense if we are absolutely convinced that something is going to happen, for it wouldn't be a prediction, but an certainty. For certainties about the future, we use the present tense.
- Me casaré dentro de unos años = I'll get married in a few years
- Volveré dentro de un rato = I'll be back in a while
This "let's verify things later" feeling to this tense is the reason why it is the preferred method to talk about the future in newspapers and formal texts. Conversely, it is not used that much in spoken Spanish, where the periphrasis ir a + infinitive is generally preferred (read below).
2) Make suppositions about the present and future (we'll have to verify it)
Future tense is all about suppositions and predictions. The use the future tense very often to guess things, as if we had to wait for our guesses to be verified later. For this, suppositions can be made about present (or future things):
- Juan estará ahora en su casa = Juan is probably at home now
- ¿Habrán terminado? = ¿(Do you think) they've finished?
- No sé dónde está. Se habrá ido. = I don't know where he/she is. He/she is probably gone.
This is probably the most common usage of this tense in spoken Spanish, but the periphrasis debe de + infinitive is also very popular to express the same idea, especially in Latin America.
3) Solemn commands
As mentioned before, this is the closest meaning to the original meaning of this tense, but it is not the most common one:
- No robarás = you shall not steal
- No harás nada hasta que yo te lo diga = You will do nothing until I tell you to.
Other ways to talk about the future
1) Certain future
For these, we use the present tense:
- Mañana vamos al cine. = We're going to the cinema tomorrow
- El año que viene me jubilo = I'll retire next year.
- Mañana te veo en clase. = I'll see you in class tomorrow.
2) Future connected to the present
It is also possible to talk about the future using the periphrasis ir a + infinitive, which is very similar to the English "going to + infinitive". This periphrasis is used for future events which can be "forecasted" based on what we know in the present moment, as if they were the logical consequence of events starting now. No wonder, both English and Spanish use the verb "to go" here as a metaphor where we "move" forward in time to meet our future.
Although it is not that used in newspapers and other texts (for what I explained above), there are situations in which we don't want to remain so detached from the future, and we prefer to use this construction instead of the future. There is no reason why a very formal text can't use this periphrasis, so it is not an "informal future".
- Mira esas nubes. Seguro que va a llover. = Look at those clouds. I bet it is going to rain.
- Si sigue así, va a terminar enfermo. = If he goes on like this, he'll end up sick.
This periphrasis is not used for future provisional events or those that depend on circumstances we can't control. So, we normally say:
- Si llueve, tendremos que irnos. = If it rains, we'll have to go.
- Algún día me entenderás. = One day you'll understand me.
This tense is formed, like any other perfect tense, with "haber" plus the infinitive of the verb you want to conjugate. For example, for llegar:
- Habré llegado
- Habrás llegado
- Habrá llegado
- Habremos llegado
Being a future, it is about making a predictions, but being perfect tense, it is also about contemplating the action as finished, so it is a prediction about a point that has to be verified, when something has already happened. Again, it can be used for both present and future, with the present interpretation being about "waiting and let's verify whether we are right about our guess".
- Habrán llegado ya = They've probably arrived already
- Mañana habrán terminado ya = Tomorrow they will probably have finished already.