Reporting the future
Weather forecast

Chua-Liang Su from Malaysia, studying at UMIST in Manchester, writes:

Is it grammatically correct to say: I hope it would be of some use to you? Please advise.

T B Nfila from Botswana writes:

Please tell me the difference between these two sentences:

  • The minister said the squatters would be removed.

  • The minister said the squatters will be removed.
Roger Woodham replies:

Hope + will

Hope as a reporting verb in the present tense refers to future time. Hope also expresses a degree of certainty or doubt about the future and when we refer to the future in this way, we normally use will:

  • I hope he'll come soon. I hope he'll remember it's Friday.

  • I hope this small gift will be of some help to you in your studies.

In English, there are many other verbs that can be used to report people's thoughts and they all express varying degrees of certainty about what will happen in the future. Here are a few of the most common:

assume believe reckon expect
fear be sure guess imagine
pray suppose wonder

We most commonly use the will-future with these reporting verbs in the present tense, though other combinations are sometimes possible. Compare the following:

  • I'm assuming you'll be here next Friday and that you won't cancel the appointment.

  • Experts believe that snowfall in the Alps will be quite extensive this winter.

  • Joe is never on time, so I reckon he'll turn up after we have started the meeting.

  • I expect I'll be spending part of the Christmas holidays with my parents.

  • I expect to spend part of the Christmas holidays with my parents.

  • I fear I'll get lost if I try to drive through London on my own.

  • You can be sure she'll arrive when everybody else is leaving.

  • I guess/imagine I'll spend part of my time on the beach when I'm in Cyprus.

  • I can't imagine going to Cyprus and not spending part of the time on the beach.

  • I'm just praying that someone will do something about this oil slick before it's too late.

  • I suppose he'll take most of the furniture with him when he moves out.

  • I don't suppose you'd leave some of the furniture behind for me, would you?

  • I wonder if he'll take the kitchen sink as well.

Reporting verbs in past tense

When reporting verbs are in the past tense, it is normal for the verb in the reporting clause also to be in past tense form:

  • I wondered if he would take the kitchen sink as well.

  • Experts believed that the snowfall would be extensive in the winter of 1986.

  • I hoped the problem could be resolved, but it couldn't.

However, if the situation we are reporting still exists or is still in the future and we wish to draw attention to that, we can use will in the reporting clause with a past tense reporting verb. Thus, in your example, Nfila, the squatters are still in residence, they have not moved out, so both of the following are correct:

  • The minister maintained that the squatters would be evicted.

  • The minister maintained that the squatters will be evicted.

(NB: A squatter is a person who squats in or occupies land or a building without the legal right to do so and without paying rent or property tax.)

Here are a few more examples of situations with present and future reference in the reporting clause and past tense reporting verbs:

  • They maintained the problem can be solved, but I see no sign of that.

  • What did she say? ~ She said she's going out, but she's still here.

  • She informed me she's planning to quit the job before Christmas.

  • She told me she'll leave if things don't get any better.