The Future Tense in English: Arguments For and Against
Among the most controversial aspects of semantics is the issue of the future tense in English. Some scholars say that English has no future tense while others insist that it has. The purpose of this paper is to explore the arguments for and against the presence of a future tense in English.
2. English has no future tense
There are several arguments that have been put forward in support of the claim that English has no future tense. One such argument is based on the fact that there is no inflection for the future tense in English as there is in many other languages such as French and Spanish (Comrie, 1985). In other words, there is no way to change the form of a verb to indicate that it is referring to the future. This is in contrast to languages like French which have a dedicated future tense verb form, for example, je mangerai (I will eat).
Another argument for the absence of a future tense in English is that there are many ways of expressing future time without using a dedicated verb form. For example, modal verbs such as will and shall can be used to express futurity (Comrie, 1985). This is in contrast to languages like French which do not have modals and therefore require the use of the dedicated future tense form to express futurity.
A further argument against the existence of a future tense in English is based on the fact that there is often ambiguity about whether a sentence is referring to the present or future (Swan, 2005). For example, consider the following sentence:
The train leaves at 10am.
This sentence could be interpreted as meaning either that the train will leave at 10am (i.e. in the future) or that the train leaves at 10am every day (i.e. in the present). This ambiguity would not be possible if there were a dedicated future tense form in English as there would be in French (le train part à 10h) or Spanish (el tren sale a las 10).
3. English has a future tense
Despite these arguments, there are also good reasons to believe that English does have a dedicated future tense form. One such argument is based on historical evidence, which shows that Old English did indeed have a dedicatedfuture tense form (Quirk et al., 1985). This means that it is likely that Modern English also has a dedicatedfuture tense form, even though it may be less overt than in other languages.
Another argument for the existence of a future tense in English is based on etymological evidence (Swan, 2005). This evidence shows that many words which are now used to express futurity actually derive from dedicatedfuture tense forms in Old English or other Germanic languages. For example, the word shall derives from Old English sceal, which was a dedicatedfuture tense form.
A final argument in favour of the existence of a future tense in English is based on linguistic intuition (Swan, 2005). This argument claims that it just feels right to say that English has a future tense. After all, almost all other languages have some kind of dedicatedfuture tense form and it would be very odd if English were an exception to this rule.
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