The problem of the future tense


§ 4. The combinations of the verbs shall and will with the infinitive have of late become subject of renewed discussion. The controversial point about them is, whether these combinations really constitute, together with the forms of the past and present, the categorial expression of verbal tense, or are just modal phrases, whose expression of the future time does not differ in essence from the general future orientation of other combinations of modal verbs with the infinitive. The view that shall and will retain their modal meanings in all their uses was defended by such a recognised authority on English grammar of the older generation of the 20th century linguists as O. Jespersen. In our times, quite a few scholars, among them the successors of Descriptive Linguistics, consider these verbs as part of the general set of modal verbs, "modal auxiliaries", expressing the meanings of capability, probability, permission, obligation, and the like. A well-grounded objection against the inclusion of the construction shall/will + Infinitive in the tense system of the verb on the same basis as the forms of the present and past has been advanced by L. S. Barkhudarov [Бархударов, (2), 126 и сл.]. His objection consists in the demonstration of the double marking of this would-be tense form by one and the same category: the combinations in question can express at once both the future time and the past time (the form "future-in-the-past"),which hardly makes any sense in terms of a grammatical category. Indeed, the principle of the identification of any grammatical category demands that the forms of the category in normal use should be mutually exclusive. The category is constituted by the opposition of its forms, not by their coposition!

However, reconsidering the status of the construction shall/will + Infinitive in the light of oppositional approach, we see that, far from comparing with the past-present verbal forms as the 3d member-form of the category of primary time, it marks its own grammatical category, namely, that of prospective time (prospect). The meaningful contrast underlying the category of prospective time is between an after-action and a non-after-action. The after-action, or the "future", having its shall/will-feature, constitutes the marked member of the opposition. The category of prospect is also temporal, in so far as it is immediately connected with the expression of processual time, like the category of primary time. But the semantic basis of the category of prospect is different in principle from that of the category of primary time: while the primary time is absolutive, i. e. present-oriented, the prospective time is purely relative; it means that the future form of the verb only shows that the denoted process is prospected as an after-action relative to some other action or state or event, the timing of which marks the zero-level for it. The two times are presented, as it were, in prospective coordination: one is shown as prospected for the future, the future being relative to the primary time, either present or past. As a result, the expression of the future receives the two mutually complementary manifestations: one manifestation for the present time-plane of the verb, the other manifestation for the past time-plane of the verb. In other words, the process of the verb is characterised by the category of prospect irrespective of its primary time characteristic, or rather, as an addition to this characteristic, and this is quite similar to all the other categories capable of entering the sphere of verbal time, e.g. the category of development (continuous in opposition), the category of retrospective coordination (perfect in opposition), the category of voice (passive in opposition): the respective forms of all these categories also have the past and present versions, to which, in due course, are added the future and non-future versions. Consider the following examples:(1) I was making a road and all the coolies struck. (2) None of us doubted in the least that Aunt Emma would soon be marvelling again at Eustace's challenging success. (3) The next thing she wrote she sent to a magazine, and for many weeks worried about whatwould happen to it. (4) She did not protest, for she had given up the struggle. (5) Felix knew that they would have settled the dispute by the time he could be ready to have his say. (6) He was being watched, shadowed, chased by that despicable gang of hirelings. (7) Butwould little Jonny be *being looked after properly? The nurse was so young and inexperienced!

The oppositional content of the exemplified cases of finite verb-forms will, in the chosen order of sequence, be presented as follows: the past non-future continuous non-perfect non- passive (1); the past future continuous non-perfect non-passive(2) the past future non-continuous non-perfect non-passive (3);the past non-future non-continuous perfect non-passive (4); the past future non-continuous perfect non-passive (5); the past non-future continuous non-perfect passive (6); the past future continuous non-perfect passive (7) — the latter form not in practical use.

As we have already stated before, the future tenses reject the do-forms of the indefinite aspect, which are confined to the expression of the present and past verbal times only. This fact serves as a supplementary ground for the identification of the expression of prospect as a separate grammatical category. Of course, it would be an ill turn to grammar if one tried to introduce the above circumstantial terminology with all its pedantic strings of "non's" into the elementary teaching of language. The stringed categorial "non"-terms are apparently too redundant to be recommended for ordinary use even at an advanced level of linguistic training. What is achieved by this kind of terminology, however, is a comprehensive indication of the categorial status of verb-forms under analysis in a compact, terse presentation. Thus, whenever a presentation like that is called for, the terms will be quite in their place.



§ 5. In analysing the English future tenses, the modal factor, naturally, should be thoroughly taken into consideration. A certain modal colouring of the meaning of the English future cannot be denied, especially in the verbal form of the first person. But then, as is widely known, the expression of the future in other languages is not disconnected from modal semantics either; and this is conditioned by the mere fact that the future action, as different from the present or past action, cannot be looked upon as a genuine feature of reality. Indeed, it is only foreseen, or anticipated, or planned, or desired, or otherwise prospected for the time to come. In this quality, the Russian future tense does not differ in principle from the verbal future of other languages, including English, Suffice it to give a couple of examples chosen at random: Я буду рассказывать тебе интересные истории. Расскажу о страшных кометах, о битве воздушных кораблей, о гибели прекрасной страны по ту сторону гор. Тебе не будет скучно любить меня (А. Толстой). Немедленно на берег. Найдешь генерала Иолшина, скажешь: путь свободен. Пусть строит дорогу для артиллерии (Б. Васильев).The future forms of the verbs in the first of the above Russian examples clearly express promise (i.e. a future action conveyed as a promise); those in the second example render a command. Moreover, in the system of the Russian tenses there is a specialised modal form of analytical future expressing intention (the combination of the verb стать with the imperfective infinitive).

E. g.: Что же вы теперь хотите делать? — Тебя это не касается, что я стану делать. Я план обдумываю. (А.Толстой). Within the framework of the universal meaningful features of the verbal future, the future of the English verb is highly specific in so far as its auxiliaries in their very immediate etymology are words of obligation and volition, and the survival of the respective connotations in them is backed by the inherent quality of the future as such. Still, on the whole, the English categorial future differs distinctly from the modal constructions with the same predicator verbs.

§ 6. In the clear cut modal uses of the verbs shall and will the idea of the future either is not expressed at all, or else is only rendered by way of textual connotation, the central semantic accent being laid on the expression of obligation, necessity, inevitability, promise, intention, desire. These meanings may be easily seen both on the examples of ready phraseological citation, and genuine everyday conversation exchanges. Cf.: He who does not work neither shall he eat (phraseological citation). "I want a nice hot curry, do you hear?" — "All right, Mr. Crackenthorpe, you shall have it" (everyday speech). None are so deaf as those who will not hear (phraseological citation). Nobody's allowed to touch a thing — I won't have a woman near the place (everyday speech). The modal nature of the shall/will + Infinitive combinations in the cited examples can be shown by means of equivalent substitutions:... → He who does not work must not eat, either. ... → All right, Mr. Crackenthorpe, I promise to have it cooked. ... → None are so deaf as those who do not want to hear. ... → I intend not to allow a woman to come near the place. Accounting for the modal meanings of the combinations under analysis, traditional grammar gives the following rules: shall + Infinitive with the first person, will + Infinitive with the second and third persons express pure future; the reverse combinations express modal meanings, the most typical of which are intention or desirefor I willand promise or command on the part of the speaker for you shall, he shall.

Both rules apply to refined British English. In American English will is described as expressing pure future with all the persons, shall as expressing modality. However, the cited description, though distinguished by elegant simplicity, cannot be taken as fully agreeing with the existing lingual practice. The main feature of this description contradicted by practice is the British use of will with the first person without distinctly pronounced modal connotations (making due allowance for the general connection of the future tense with modality, of which we have spoken before).

Cf.: I will call for you and your young man at seven o'clock (J.Galsworthy). When we wake I will take him up and carry him back (R. Kipling). I will let you know on Wednesday what expenses have been necessary (A. Christie). If you wait there on Thursday evening between seven and eight I will come if I can(H. С Merriman).

That the combinations of will with the infinitive in the above examples do express the future time, admits of no dispute. Furthermore, these combinations, seemingly, are charged with modal connotations in no higher degree than the corresponding combinations of shall with the infinitive. Cf.: Haven't time; I shall miss my train (A. Bennett). I shall be happy to carry it to the House of Lords, if necessary (J. Gals-worthy). You never know what may happen. I shan't have a minute's peace (M. Dickens).

Granted our semantic intuitions about the exemplified uses are true, the question then arises: what is the real difference, if any, between the two British first person expressions of the future, one with shall, the other one with will?Or are they actually just semantic doublets, i.e. units of complete synonymy, bound by the paradigmatic relation of free alternation? A solution to this problem is to be found on the basis of syntactic distributional and transformational analysis backed by a consideration of the original meanings of both auxiliaries.

§7. Observing combinations with will in stylistically neutral collocations, as the first step of our study we note the adverbials of time used with this construction. The environmental expressions, as well as implications, of future time do testify that from this point of view there is no difference between will and shall, both of them equally conveying the idea of the future action expressed by the adjoining infinitive. As our next step of inferences, noting the types of the infinitive-environmental semantics of will in contrast to the contextual background of shall, we state that the first person will-future expresses an action which is to be performed by the speaker for choice, of his own accord. But this meaning of free option does not at all imply that the speaker actually wishes to perform the action, or else that he is determined to perform it, possibly in defiance of some contrary force. The exposition of the action shows it as being not bound by any extraneous circumstances or by any special influence except the speaker's option; this is its exhaustive characteristic. In keeping with this, the form of the will-future in question may be tentatively called the "voluntary future". On the other hand, comparing the environmental characteristics of shall with the corresponding environmental background of will, it is easy to see that, as different from will, the first person shall expresses a future process that will be realized without the will of the speaker, irrespective of his choice. In accord with the exposed meaning, the shall-form of the first person future should be referred to as the "non-voluntary", i.e. as the weak member of the corresponding opposition. Further observations of the relevant textual data show that some verbs constituting a typical environment of the non-voluntary shall-future (i.e. verbs inherently alien to the expression of voluntary actions) occur also with the voluntary will, but in a different meaning, namely, in the meaning of an active action the performance of which is freely chosen by the speaker. Cf.: Your arrival cannot have been announced to his Majesty. I will see about it (B. Shaw).In the given example the verb see has the active meaning of ensuring something, of intentionally arranging matters connected with something, etc. Likewise, a number of verbs of the voluntary will-environmental features (i.e. verbs presupposing the actor's free will in performing the action) combine also with the non-voluntary shall, but in the meaning of an action that will take place irrespective of the will of the speaker. Cf.: I'm very sorry, madam, but I'm going to faint. I shall go off, madam, if I don't have something (K. Mansfield). Thus, the would-be same verbs are in fact either homonyms, or else lexico-semantic variants of the corresponding lexemes of the maximally differing characteristics. At the final stage of our study the disclosed characteristics of the two first-person futures are checked on the lines of transformational analysis. The method will consist not in free structural manipulations with the analysed constructions, but in the textual search for the respective changes of the auxiliaries depending on the changes in the infinitival environments. Applying these procedures to the texts, we note that when the construction of the voluntary will-future is expanded (complicated) by a syntactic part remodelling the whole collocation into one expressing an involuntary action, the auxiliary will is automatically replaced by shall. In particular, it happens when the expanding elements convey the meaning of supposition or Uncertainty. Cf.: Give me a goddess's work to do; and I will do it (B. Shaw).→ I don't know what I shall do with Barbara (B. Shaw). Oh, very well, very well: I will write another prescription (B.Shaw). → I shall perhaps write to your mother (K. Mansfield).Thus, we conclude that within' the system of the English future tense a peculiar minor category is expressed which affects only the forms of the first person. The category is constituted by the opposition of the forms will + Infinitive and shall + Infinitive expressing, respectively, the voluntary future and the non-voluntary future. Accordingly, this category may tentatively be called the "category of futurity option". The future in the second and third persons, formed by the indiscriminate auxiliary will, does not express this category, which is dependent on the semantics of the persons: normally it would be irrelevant to indicate in an obligatory way the aspect of futurity option otherwise than with the first person, i.e. the person of self. This category is neutralised in the contracted form -'ll, which is of necessity indifferent to the expression of futurity option. As is known, the traditional analysis of the contracted future states that -'ll stands for will, not for shall.

However, this view is not supported by textual data. Indeed, bearing in mind the results of our study, it is easy to demonstrate that the contracted forms of the future may be traced both to will and to shall. Cf.: I'll marry you then, Archie, if you really want it (M. Dickens). → I will marry you. I'll have to think about it (M. Dickens). → I shall have to think about it. From the evidence afforded by the historical studies of the language we know that the English contracted form of the future -'ll has actually originated from the auxiliary will.

So, in Modern English an interesting process of redistribution of the future forms has taken place, based apparently on the contamination will → 'll < — shall.

As a result, the form -'ll in the first person expresses not the same "pure" future as is expressed by the indiscriminate will in the second and third persons. The described system of the British future is by far more complicated than the expression of the future tense in the other national variants of English, in particular, in American English, where the future form of the first person is functionally equal with the other persons. In British English a possible tendency to a similar levelled expression of the future is actively counteracted by the two structural factors.

The first is the existence of the two functionally differing contractions of the future auxiliaries in the negative form, i.e. shan't and won't, which imperatively support the survival of shall in the first person against the levelled positive (affirmative) contraction -'ll.

The second is the use of the future tense in interrogative sentences, where with the first person only shall is normally used. Indeed, it is quite natural that a genuine question directed by the speaker to himself, i.e. a question showing doubt or speculation, is to be asked about an action of non-willful, involuntary order, and not otherwise. Cf.: What shall we be shown next? Shall I be able to master shorthand professionally? The question was, should I see Beatrice again before her departure? The semantics of the first person futurity question is such that even the infinitives of essentially volition-governed actions are transferred here to the plane of non-volition, subordinating themselves to the general implication of doubt, hesitation, uncertainty. Cf.: What shall I answer to an offer like that? How shall we tackle the matter if we are left to rely on our own judgment? Thus, the vitality of the discriminate shall/will future, characteristic of careful English speech, is supported by logically vindicated intra-lingual factors. Moreover, the whole system of Modern British future with its mobile interaction of the two auxiliaries is a product of recent language development, not a relict of the older periods of its history. It is this subtly regulated and still unfinished system that gave cause to H. W. Fowler for his significant statement: ".. of the English of the English shall and will are the shibboleth."

§ 8. Apart from shall/will + Infinitive construction, there is another construction in English which has a potent appeal for being analysed within the framework of the general problem of the future tense. This is the combination of the predicator be going with the infinitive. Indeed, the high frequency occurrence of this construction in contexts conveying the idea of an immediate future action can't but draw a very close attention on the part of a linguistic observer. The combination may denote a sheer intention (either the speaker's or some other person's) to perform the action expressed by the infinitive, thus entering into the vast set of "classical" modal constructions. E.g.: I am going to ask you a few more questions about the mysterious disappearance of the document, Mr. Gregg. He looked across at my desk and I thought for a moment he was going to give me the treatment, too.

But these simple modal uses of be going are countered by cases where the direct meaning of intention rendered by the predicator stands in contradiction with its environmental implications and is subdued by them. Cf.: You are trying to frighten me. But you are not going to frighten me any more (L. Hellman). I did not know how I was going to get out of the room (D. du Maurier).Moreover, the construction, despite its primary meaning of intention, presupposing a human subject, is not infrequently used with non-human subjects and even in impersonal sentences. Cf.: She knew what she was doing, and she was sure it was going to be worth doing (W. Saroyan). There's going to be a contest over Ezra Grolley's estate (E. Gardner). Because of these properties it would appear tempting to class the construction in question as a specific tense form, namely, the tense form of "immediate future", analogous to the French futur immédiat (e.g. Le spectacle va cornmencer — The show is going to begin).

Still, on closer consideration, we notice that the non-intention uses of the predicator be going are not indifferent stylistically. Far from being neutral, they more often than not display emotional colouring mixed with semantic connotations of oblique modality. For instance, when the girl from the first of the above examples appreciates something as "going to be worth doing", she is expressing her assurance of its being so. When one labels the rain as "never going to stop", one clearly expresses one's annoyance at the bad state of the weather. When a future event is introduced by the formula "there to be going to be", as is the case in the second of the cited examples, the speaker clearly implies his foresight of it, or his anticipation of it, or, possibly, a warning to beware of it, or else some other modal connotation of alike nature. Thus, on the whole, the non-intention uses of the construction be going + Infinitive cannot be rationally divided into modal and non-modal, on the analogy of the construction shall/will + Infinitive. Its broader combinability is based on semantic transposition and can be likened to broader uses of the modal collocation beabout, also of basically intention semantics.

§ 9. The oppositional basis of the category of prospective time is neutralised in certain uses, in keeping with the general regularities of oppositional reductions. The process of neutralisation is connected with the shifting of the forms of primary time (present and past) from the sphere of absolute tenses into the sphere of relative tenses. One of the typical cases of the neutralisation in question consists in using a non-future temporal form to express a future action which is to take place according to some plan or arrangement. Cf.: The government meets in emergency session today over the question of continued violations of the cease-fire. I hear your sister is soon arriving from Paris? Naturally I would like to know when he's coming. Etc. This case of oppositional reduction is optional, the equivalent reconstruction of the correlated member of the opposition is nearly always possible (with the respective changes of connotations and style). Cf.:...→ The government will meet in emergency session. ...→Your sister will soon arrive from Paris? ...→ When will he becoming"?

Another type of neutralisation of the prospective time opposition is observed in modal verbs and modal word combinations. The basic peculiarity of these units bearing on (he expression of time is, that the prospective implication is inherently inbuilt in their semantics, which reflects not the action as such, but the attitude towards the action expressed by the infinitive. For that reason, the present verb-form of these units actually renders the idea of the future (and, respectively, the past verb-form, the idea of the future-in-the-past). Cf.: There's no saying what may happen next. At any rate, the woman was sure to come later in the day. But you have to present the report before Sunday, there's no alternative. Sometimes the explicit expression of the future is necessary even with modal collocations. To make up for the lacking categorial forms, special modal substitutes have been developed in language, some of which have received the status of suppletive units. Cf.: But do not make plans with David. You will not be able to carry them out. Things will have to go oneway or the other.

Alongside of the above and very different from them, there is still another typical case of neutralisation of the analysed categorial opposition, which is strictly obligatory. It occurs in clauses of time and condition whose verb-predicate expresses a future action. Cf.: If things turn out as has been arranged, the triumph will be all ours. I repeated my request to notify me at once whenever the messenger arrived. The latter type of neutralisation is syntactically conditioned. In point of fact, the neutralisation consists here in the primary tenses shifting from the sphere of absolutive time into the sphere of relative time, since they become dependent not on their immediate orientation towards the moment of speech, but on the relation to another time level, namely, the time level presented in the governing clause of the corresponding complex sentence. This kind of neutralising relative use of absolutive tense forms occupies a restricted position in the integral tense system of English. In Russian, the syntactic relative use of tenses is, on the contrary, widely spread. In particular, this refers to the presentation of reported speech in the plane of the past, where the Russian present tense is changed into the tense of simultaneity, the past tense is changed into the tense of priority, and the future tense is changed into the tense of prospected posteriority. Cf.: (1) Он сказал, что изучает немецкий язык. (2) Он сказал, что изучал немецкий язык. (3) Он сказал, что будет изучать немецкий язык. In English, the primary tenses in similar syntactic conditions retain their absolutive nature and are used in keeping with their direct, unchangeable meanings. Compare the respective translations of the examples cited above: (1) He said that he was learning German (then). (2) He said that he had learned German (before). (3) He said that he would learn German (in the time to come). It doesn't follow from this that the rule of sequence of tenses in English complex sentences formulated by traditional grammar should be rejected as false. Sequence of tenses is an important feature of all narration, for, depending on the continual consecutive course of actual events in reality, they are presented in the text in definite successions ordered against a common general background. However, what should be stressed here, is that the tense-shift involved in the translation of the present-plane direct information into the past-plane reported information is not a formal, but essentially a meaningful procedure.


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