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Expressing the future

In speech you may report on what you did yesterday, e.g. saying:

            "I went to the cinema.".

On other occasions you may report what is happening now, e.g. saying:

            "I am watching a film right now.".

To do so, you will need to use the tenses correctly. In the former case you would use a past tense, in the latter one a present tense.

It is a different situation if you talk about things which have neither happened in the past nor are they happening at the present - they will happen at some point of time, a point of time which still has to come. You are talking about the future, which require the use of a future tense. This is the topic we will have a look at now.

About the Future (Tense)

First of all let's make clear that we are not talking about the future here. Doing so would require some abilities of forseeing things. We don't have those. What will be will be, it is said. Who knows what the future will bring? We don't, and therefore we are not talking about it.

What we are talking about is the future tense. This is a grammatical construct that refers to the future. To understand how this works in German, it is helpful to have a look at:

The Future Tense in English

Consider the following:

            I will buy a new car next month.
            Peter will move to to Berlin in two years time.
            We will have dinner together.
            She will sell her house and buy another one.

The first two phrases contain 'next month' and 'in two years time'. This, on its own, does already indicate future. However, the last two phrases do not contain any time words which make reference to the future. It is the verb 'will' that makes this reference. When I say: ' I will do .....' I am making clear that this will be at a later point of time.

Generally speaking, a phrase in the future tense, in English, is formed by using three ingredients :

1 2 3
a subject 'will' a verb (infinitive)
will sleep.
will come.
will pay.

The Future Tense in German

Considering how the future tense is formed in English is useful because in German it is done pretty much the same way. If you can do it in English, you can do it in German. The same structure applies, we have a subject, an auxiliary verb and a verb in the infinitive. The equivalent for the English 'will' is 'werden'. Therefore we have the following:

1 2 3
Ein Subject 'werden' Ein Verb (Infinitiv)
werde schlafen
wird kommen.
wird zahlen.
werden fahren.
wirst fliegen.
werdet gehen.

As you see, the auxiliary verb "werden" is not regular, so you must learn by heart how to conjugate it. This is absolutely essential. Apart from that, there is nothing difficult in using the future tense in German. Its difficulty, so far, is reduced on knowing how to conjugate 'werden':

    Pronomen         Verbform    
sie / Sie

If 'werden' is used on its own, means without another verb and thus not as an auxiliary verb, it has the meaning of 'to become / to get' as in 'Ich werde älter.' (I am getting older.) or 'Er wurde Bürgermeister von London.' (He became Lord Mayor of London).

If 'werden' is used with another verb and thus as an auxiliary verb, it is meaningless and its only function is to indicate future (This is the same in English, where the 'will' in 'He will go." does not have a meaning in its own right.).

Please note:

'Ich bekomme...' does not mean 'I become...' !
'Ich will gehen.' does not mean 'I will go.' !

The German verb 'bekommen' means 'to get / to receive' as in 'Ich bekomme ein Paket.' (I am getting/receiving a parcel.').

The German verb 'wollen' means 'to want (to)', and 'Ich will...' means I want...'.


            Ich werde trinken.    (I will drink.)
            Du wirst fliegen.    (You will fly.)
            Sie wird kommen.    (She will come.)
            Er wird essen.    (He will eat.)
            Wir werden zahlen.    (We will pay.)
            Ihr werdet lernen.    (You will learn.)
            Sie werden sprechen.    (They will speak.)
            Wirst du gehen?    (Will you go?.)
            Werden wir nicht gehen?    (Won't we go?)
            Ihr werdet nicht schlafen?    (You won't sleep?)
            Wird sie nicht kommen?    (Won't she come?)

Examples with separable or reflexive verbs:

            Ich werde ankommen.    (I will arrive.)
            Du wirst mitkommen.    (You will come along.)
            Sie wird aufwachen.    (She will wake up.)
            Wir werden abfahren.    (We will depart.)
            Ihr werdet euch beeilen.    (You will hurry up.)
            Sie werden sich erholen.    (They will relax / rest themselves.)
            Wirst du dich anziehen?    (Will you get dressed?.)
            Werden wir uns vorbereiten?    (Will we prepare ourselves?)
            Ihr werdet euch nicht ausziehen.    (You won't get undresssed.)
            Wird sie sich umziehen?    (Will she get changed?)

As you see the future tense in German is quite easy to use and, up to this point, it is the direct equivalent to the English future tense I using 'will'. However, there is one important issue regarding word order which we will deal with in the next paragraph.

Word order in phrases with two or more verbs

So far we have learnt that short and basic sentences (usually) start with a subject which is followed by a verb and then by 'rest' of the phrase. As long as the sentence is short, simple and affirmative this is true for German and for English, which means that there are phrases where the word order in English and in German is the same, allowing to translate a sentence one-to-one, word-for-word, into the other language. This is true for phrases such as:

            Geld stinkt.    (Money stinks.)
            Du trinkst ein Bier.    (You drink / are drinking a beer.)
            Sie schläft.    (She sleeps / is sleeping.)
            Wir wohnen in London.    (We live in London.)

However, the word order in more complex sentences in German is usually quite different from the order in English. There are several reasons for this. If there is more than one verb in a sentence (and this happens very often!), English and German differ fundamentally. In simplifying words we can say:

English verbs 'like' each other :)
Peter will fly to Rome next summer.

German verbs 'dislike' each other. :(
Peter wird im nächsten Sommer nach Rom fliegen.

When there are two verbs in English, they behave like a inseparable unit. Hardly any parts of the sentence will 'live' between the verbs, only occasionally a single word such as 'already' or 'soon' does. Apart from this, the verbs stick together.

When there are two verbs in German, the conjugated one is usually in the second position. The other one comes after. However, if there are any other elements in the sentence - an object, time indicators, a location or something else - all of these squeeze in between the two verbs with the result that the second verb is being driven away from the first one, usually towards the end of the sentence.


    German         English    
Ich gehe.
I go.
Ich werde gehen.
I will go.
Ich werde ins Kino gehen.
I will go to the cinema.
Ich werde nächsten Freitag ins Kino gehen.
I will go to the cinema next Friday.
Ich werde nächsten Freitag mit Gaby ins Kino gehen.
I will go to the cinema with Gaby next Friday.
Petra liest.
Petra is reading.
Petra wird lesen.
Petra will read.
Petra wird ein Buch lesen.
Petra will read a book.
Petra wird im Garten ein deutsches Buch lesen.
Petra will read a German book in the garden.
Petra wird morgen Abend im Garten ein deutsches Buch lesen.
Petra will read a German book in the garden tomorrow night.

This was a only first introduction to the future tense. There is much more to learn, which will be dealt with in:
"Expressing the future (part 2)" and "Expressing the future (part 3)".

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