Forms for future time

 

Q:

Are all these forms possible? How can the difference between the sentences be easily explained to the students?

I think the president is leaving for the summit meeting tomorrow.

I think the president leaves for the summit meeting tomorrow.

I think the president will leave for the summit meeting tomorrow.

I think the president is going to leave for the summit meeting tomorrow.

Vera Mello
[email protected]

A:

In some circumstances—but without the existing main clause "I think"—all the sentences above could be used almost interchangeably.

Leave is one of the common verbs applying to travel and scheduling (others, for example, are arrive, open, close, begin, end, start, finish, come, return) that permits the use of these four forms. A television reporter might say, for example, sentence (a) or sentence (b):

(a)

The president is leaving for the summit meeting tomorrow,

or

 

(b)

The president leaves for the summit meeting tomorrow,

to refer to the scheduled plans of the president.

Sentence (c) below predicts the event, but is slightly more formal in style:

(c)

The president will leave for the summit meeting tomorrow

Sentence (d) below reports a prior arrangement or plan:

(d)

The president is going to leave for the summit meeting tomorrow.

In your sentences, the inclusion of "I think" colors the dependent clause about the president somewhat. The event of his leaving is not certain, but is based on the speaker抯 opinion. Sentences (e) and (f) below are spoken at a certain time, say at 10:00 a.m. on Tuesday, and refer to what the speaker believes has been scheduled for some time the next day, Wednesday.

(e)

I think the president is leaving for the summit meeting tomorrow.

(f)

I think the president leaves for the summit meeting tomorrow.

Sentence (g) below is a prediction using the opinion of the speaker as a basis; there is no outside evidence for the statement. She is saying that the president will make his decision to leave between now and tomorrow; it抯 possible that the decision to leave has not yet been made. However, she is predicting that the leave will indeed take place; perhaps she thinks she knows a lot about human nature, or perhaps the tarot cards say that the president will leave tomorrow. The speaker is asking us to believe her conclusion, whatever her source of information, if any:

(g)

I think the president will leave for the summit meeting tomorrow.

Sentence (g) might also be spoken梬ith the spoken emphasis on the word will梚n a situation to emphasize the speaker抯 belief, contrary to others?beliefs, or in spite of difficulties. This use has elements of the president抯 desire or willingness to leave (one factor that evokes the use of will).

If the word will is emphasized in speech, as in (h):

(h)

I think the president will leave for the summit meeting tomorrow.

it could mean that the speaker believes that in spite of everything—in spite of death threats from terrorists, his heart condition, the hurricane at the meeting place—the president's departure tomorrow morning is certain.

Sentence (i) below is also a prediction, but it is based more on some outside evidence that the president has already planned to leave tomorrow, or is scheduled to leave tomorrow. The speaker knows about some plans which have been made, either because she is privy to some private plans of the president, or she has been paying attention to news reports that the listener doesn抰 know about:

(i)

I think the president is going to leave for the summit meeting tomorrow.

To explain these differences to students, a teacher might use a picture of an Olympic diver standing on the edge of a diving board, poised to make his jump. Ask the students what they think. "I think he抯 going to jump" clearly shows that it is the intention of the diver to jump. "I think he will jump" is possible to show the speaker抯 prediction, but not the jumper抯 intention.

Neither "I think he jumps" nor "I think he is jumping" can be used, as the action of jumping is not a scheduled event.

The verbs having to do with scheduling, such as leave or other verbs that are clearly in a scheduling context (such as "She graduates next spring") have, as you know, a wider range of tense possibilities than others such as jump in the teaching example above.

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