If you're learning French, you can’t fail to have noticed that a major aspect of French grammar involves verbs and verb tenses, like the French future tense.
You have to master lots of conjugations, there are all those pesky irregular forms to learn and some of the tenses are different from English, so you need to work hard to understand them all.
But now I have some good news for you – expressing the future is one of the easiest parts of French grammar, and it shouldn’t pose you any particular problems. Plus being able to talk about future plans and predictions is an essential part of getting fluent in any language.
However, there are still a few differences between the future in French and the future in English, so to help you get to grips with it, here’s everything you need to know about the French future tense.
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How To Form The French Future Tense
In English, we don’t have a future tense. There are different ways of talking about the future in English, but we don’t have a dedicated tense for it – instead, we use “will”, “going to” and a few other constructions.
However, French has a specific verb tense to express the future, so here’s how to form it:
As you will no doubt notice, the future endings are the same as the present tense of avoir (to have).
For the singular forms and the third person plural, you just add the corresponding form of the verb avoir to the stem: -ai, -as, -a, -ont.
For the nous and vous forms, you need to remove the first part of the verb and just use the ending – so instead of avons and avez, you add -ons and -ez to the stem.
As for the stem itself, this could hardly be easier. For -er and -ir verbs, the stem is the infinitive. For -re verbs, the stem is the same as the infinitive minus the final ‘e’.
Irregular Verbs In The Future
The future tense in French is one of the most regular. And even verbs that are irregular in other tenses are often regular in the future.
However, some of the most important and common verbs have irregular stems that you need to remember, and here are some examples:
As you can see, the endings remain the same – it is only the stem that changes.
How To Use The Future Tense In French
In general, the future tense in French is used in the same way as using “will” to talk about the future in English, like this:
- J’irai demain (I will go tomorrow)
- Elle te dira la semaine prochaine (she will tell you next week)
- Ils oublieront sûrement (they will probably forget)
But, even if this tense is simple to conjugate, there are a few usage differences that can trip you up. I'll explain these in the next sections so you'll be able to use the French future tense like a pro in no time.
Future Expressions With Quand, Lorsque etc.
One important difference between French and English concerns expressions such as quand, lorsque (when), dès que, aussitôt que (as soon as) and a few others when referring the future.
Think of the English sentence “I’ll tell you when I see you”. We use “will” for the first part of the sentence because we’re talking about the future. But then for the second part, we just use the present, even though the action will clearly happen in the future.
However, French grammar follows the logic a bit more strictly, so that both parts of the sentence must be in the future, like this: je te dirai quand je te verrai.
Here are two more examples:
- Nous partirons dès qu’ils arriveront (we’ll leave as soon as they arrive)
- Vous verrez quand il vous le montrera (you’ll see when he shows it to you)
As an aside, in casual spoken French, you may well hear something more like the English version, or even je te dis quand je te vois (literally, “I tell you when I see you”).
However, you won’t find this in any textbooks, and French people will tell you that it’s incorrect. So don’t tell them you got this from me!
Other Ways To Talk About The Future In French
So far, I’ve been concentrating specifically on the French future tense. But in French, just like in English, there are other ways of talking about the future, so let’s look at that now.
Think about the English sentence “I’m going to buy a book”.
This can have two meanings. It can mean that you are literally on the way to buy a book now. But usually, we use this structure to indicate an action that is going to take place in the future.
In French, you can use exactly the same structure, like this:
- Je vais acheter un livre (I’m going to buy a book)
To form it, you just take the present tense of the verb aller (to go), and add the infinitive of the verb. It’s extremely easy to use, even easier than the French future tense, and is a handy structure to know.
Here are some further examples:
- Il va rentrer chez lui ce soir (he’s going to go home this evening)
- Elle va cuisiner quelque chose pour lui (she’s going to cook something for him)
- Vous allez vous rendre compte (you’re going to realise)
Differences Between The Future Tense & Aller + Infinitive
In French, as in English, the future tense and the aller + infinitive future can’t always be used interchangeably, although, in many situations, both versions would be correct.
In French, the future with aller is known as the futur proche, (close future). This is because it is usually used for events that are going to happen in the near future.
However, this is a little misleading since the difference between the two is not determined by how far into the future the event is expected to happen.
In French, like in English, the difference is to do rather with the level of certainty that an action will happen or the degree of intention to carry out that action.
Let’s look at some examples to make this clearer.
Concrete Intention vs Vague Idea
Take these two sentences:
- Il achètera une maison (he will buy a house)
- Il va acheter une maison (he’s going to buy a house)
In both of these sentences, we are talking about the purchase of a house that is set to happen in the future.
However, in the first sentence, the speaker is stating that it is something that will happen at some undetermined point in the future: “one day, he will buy a house”.
In the second sentence, on the other hand, it gives the impression that the event is imminent or planned. Perhaps he has already decided to buy a house, maybe he has started looking at houses or it could be that he has already found the house he wants to buy.
What’s important is that, although the second version is likely to happen sooner, this is not the determining factor. Rather, it is about the intention. The first sentence expresses a vague idea about something that will probably happen in the future while the second expresses a more concrete intention.
Possible vs Likely, Sure Or Inevitable
Now look at this example:
- La France gagnera le prochain Mondial (France will win the next World Cup)
- La France va gagner le prochain Mondial (France is going to win the next World Cup)
In the first version – in French and in English – this is a kind of prediction. The speaker is saying who they think will win the next World Cup, but it is just an opinion: “I think France will win the next World Cup”.
However, in the second version, the speaker is more certain of the statement, based on what they’ve seen. Perhaps they were impressed by the quality of the players or maybe they have seen how well they play as a team, and the prediction is based on these observations.
Here, it is about the likelihood that it will happen based on the present evidence. The speaker is expressing a certainty and even an inevitably that France is going to win the next World Cup. (But let’s hope they don’t!)
Note that in this example, the amount of time between now and when the event is set to happen is irrelevant. The event – France winning the World Cup – will happen at the same moment in both sentences, so proximity to or distance from the present can’t be what determines our choice.
The only difference is how likely the speaker thinks it is that this event will come to pass.
Possibility vs Firm Intention
Let’s take one more example.
- Il achètera du pain cet après-midi he will buy some bread this afternoon
- Je vais déménager au Portugal dans deux ans I’m going to move to Portugal in two years
Here, we have two completely different sentences, but they highlight a specific point. In the first sentence, the event is set to happen this afternoon, probably in only a couple of hours, but in the second sentence, the event is set to take place two years in the future.
Yet despite this, the first one, the one that will happen soon, uses the future tense, while the second one, the one due to happen a long time from now, uses the futur proche.
Here, the first sentence expresses a possibility that he will buy some bread this afternoon – the speaker is saying it is likely. However, in the second sentence, we are talking about much firmer plans to move to Portugal, an intention that is sure to come true unless those plans change.
This demonstrates why the term futur proche can be misleading – and that how soon an action will happen doesn’t determine which form we should use.
Polite Requests With The French Future Tense
There is another separate use of the future tense in French that I want to mention briefly before I finish, and that’s as a softer alternative to the imperative or command form of the verb.
For example, you could say to someone:
- Achète du pain! (buy some bread!)
Of course, you can make it more polite by adding s’il te plaît (please) – but another way of saying it is like this:
- Tu achèteras du pain (you will buy some bread)
The meaning is the same, but it comes across as less of an imperious command and more of a gentle reminder – and often, this can be a much better way of telling or asking someone to do something.
One Of The Easier Points Of French Grammar
If you’ve been struggling with some of the more challenging features of French grammar, the fact that the future tense is so easy probably comes as quite a relief.
My final word of advice is this: very often, the difference between the future tense and the futur proche is minimal, and sometimes, you can use either – so to begin with you don’t need to worry too much about making mistakes.
However, most of the time, they follow the same logic as English – and by listening to native speakers using them, eventually, you will also be able to use them correctly too without consciously thinking about which one to choose.
So keep on finding opportunities to immerse yourself in French so that the French future tense becomes second nature to you.
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