Future in the Past: Formula and Rules

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In the English language, besides the well-known groups of tenses, there is another very interesting group. This group is called the Future in the Past.

We do not use the Future in the Past separately.

We use the tenses of this group in subordinate clauses for Agreement of Tenses (Sequence of Tenses).

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What does Future in the Past mean?

We use the Future in the Past to shape the future of the past. To show the future from the perspective of the past.

Don’t worry if you don’t understand what I’m talking about. In fact, understanding the Future in the Past is not at all difficult.

Take a look at an example:

We said that we would wait until the morning.

This is a classic example of the use of the future in the past.

Some English grammar teachers suggest studying the Future in the Past as a separate tense. Others believe that the Future in the Past does not deserve to be an independent group of tenses.

It doesn’t really matter. I highlight the Future in the Past as a separate group for convenience. So that you can see the formation and use of these tenses in one place.

It seems to me that the Future in the Past is easier to study as a separate group, especially if you are learning it after you have learned the “classic” groups of the tenses.

You should remember that all groups of tenses have four forms:

  • Simple
  • Continuous
  • Perfect
  • Perfect Continuous

The Future in the Past also has these forms. But all forms of the Future in the Past always express future actions in relation to the past.

Logic of using Future in the Past

We use the Future in the Past in subordinate clauses in which the predicate of the main clause is expressed as a verb in the past form.

In other words, we use the Future in the Past in subordinate clauses if in the main clause the action takes place in the past:

I thought you would be angry with me.

In this example, “I thought” is in the past. And the subordinate clause “you would be angry” describes the future regarding this moment in the past.

We cannot use the Future Simple in this case!

I thought you will be angry with me.

In English, such a sentence is a mistake.

If the predicate in the main clause is expressed as a verb in the past, then in the subordinate clause we can only use “pseudo future“. This is the place for our special group the Future in the Past.

We use the Future in the Past to show what happens after the action in the past in the main sentence.

Jessica thought John would like the gift.

In this sentence, we have a point in the past “Jessica thought“. The second part is the future after this point. Although for us now both of these events are the past.

Here are some more examples:

He said he would be delighted to help you with your accounts.

I thought you would not come.

He knew we would not get any lunch.

Remember, in the main sentence that describes an event in the past, we must use the verb in the past tense. In a subordinate clause, we show the future relative to that past in the main clause.

What is the formula of Future in the past?

The good news is that we form the Future in the Past in much the same way as classic future tenses.

Therefore, if you know how to form:

  • The Future Simple
  • The Future Continuous
  • The Future Perfect
  • The Future Perfect Continuous

then you will quickly understand how to form the Future in the Past.

The difference between the Future in the Past and ordinary tenses of the future is very simple:

We use would instead of will and should instead of shall.

This means that if in the Future Simple we say:

I will do it…

Then in the Future Simple in the Past we say:

I would do it…

If in Future Perfect we say:

I will have done it…

Then in the Future Perfect in the Past we say:

I would have done it…

See how easy it is?

We change will to would, shall to should.

But there is one important nuance here. We used to use shall for the first person singular and plural for I and We. But today we rarely use shall.

Today we use will instead of shall. Accordingly, in the past tense we use would instead of shall. Therefore, in the Future in the Past, instead of should, you can use would regardless of who is the subject.

  • I would (should)
  • He would
  • She would
  • It would
  • We would (should)
  • They would
  • You would

How to form Affirmative (Positive) Sentences in Future in the Past

To form an affirmative (positive) sentence in the Future in the Past, we use the same formula as for the Future Simple, the Future Continuous, the Future Perfect, the Future Perfect Continuous.

Only instead of the auxiliary verb will, we use the verb would regardless of who is the subject (you can use should with I and We, but this form is rarely used).

The formulas look like this:

An affirmative sentence in The Future Simple in the Past:

Subject (I, you, John, dog, friends) + would + main verb (love, watch, jump) + the rest of the sentence.

He said that he would only give it to me.

An affirmative sentence in The Future Continuous in the Past:

Subject (I, he, we, John, dog) + would be + main verb ending in -ing (watching, working, writing) + the rest of the sentence.

He said that we would be writing the book together.

An affirmative sentence in The Future Perfect in the Past:

Subject (I, you, they, people, boy, dog) + would have + the third form of the main verb (Read, Done, Seen, Passed) + the rest of the sentence.

He said he would have done the project by the end of the year.

An affirmative sentence in The Future Perfect Continuous in the Past:

Subject (I, he, we, John, friends, dog) + would have + been + main verb with the -ing ending (working, playing, walking) + the rest of the sentence.

He said he would have been working for ten years in this company.

For comparison, look at the affirmative (positive) sentences of the basic tenses of the future and the Future in the Past.

The Future Simple: I will tell them the truth
The Future Simple in the Past: I would tell them the truth

The Future Continuous: I will be working on the project
The Future Continuous in the Past: I would be working on the project

The Future Perfect: I will have written the book.
The Future Perfect in the Past: I would have written the book.

The Future Perfect Continuous: It will have been raining for 10 days
The Future Perfect Continuous in the Past: It would have been raining for 10 days

How to form Interrogative (Question) Sentences in Future in the Past

To ask a question in the Future in the Past we use the same formula as for interrogative (question) sentences of the Future Simple, the Future Continuous, the Future Perfect, the Future Perfect Continuous. Only instead of the auxiliary verb will we use the verb would regardless of who is the subject (you can use should for I and We, but this form is rarely used).

A question in The Future Simple in the Past:

would + subject (I, you, John, dog, friends) + main verb in its base form (love, watch, jump) + the rest of the sentence.

He asked would we do it again?

A question sentence in The Future Continuous in the Past:

would + subject (I, he, we, John, dog) + be + main verb ending in -ing (working, playing, walking) + rest of the sentence.

I wondered would she be working all week?

A question sentence in The Future Perfect in the Past:

would + subject (I, you, they, people, boy) + have + third form of the main verb (read, done, seen, passed) + rest of the sentence.

Would they have done the job?

Please note that in questions we put only would at the beginning of the sentence! Not would have.

Correct: Would they have done the job?
Incorrect: Would have they done the job?

A question sentence in The Future Perfect Continuous in the Past:

would + subject (I, he, we, John, friends, dog) + have + been + main verb with the -ing ending (working, playing, walking) + rest of the sentence.

Would I have been studying it all night?

Please note that in questions we put only would at the beginning of the sentence! Not would have. Not would have been.

Correct: Would I have been studying it all night?
Incorrect: Would have I been studying it all night?
Incorrect: Would have been I studying it all night?

For comparison, look at the affirmative (positive) sentences of the basic forms of the future tense and the forms of the Future in the Past.

The Future Simple: will you do it again?
The Future Simple in the Past: Would you do it again?

The Future Continuous: Will she be working all week?
The Future Continuous in the Past: Would she be working all week?

The Future Perfect: will they have done the job?
The Future Perfect in the Past: Would they have done the job?

The Future Perfect Continuous: will I have been studying it all night?
The Future Perfect Continuous in the Past: would I have been studying it all night?

How to ask Wh-Questions

A Wh-Question is a question in which we want to know additional information besides a simple answer yes or no.

We ask Wh-Questions using additional words or phrases:

  • when
  • where
  • why
  • how often
  • what for
  • what time
    etc.

To ask a Wh-Question in the Future in the Past we use the same formula as for General or Yes/No Questions. Only at the beginning of this formula, we put an additional, question word or phrase:

Why would you do it again?
Where would she be working all week?
When would they have done the job?
What would I have been studying it all night?

How to answer questions

We answer the Future in the Past questions in the same way as we answer questions in other future forms.

In a short answer, we use the formula:

Yes or No + Subject + Auxiliary verb from the question (+ not if the answer is negative)

The Future Simple in the Past:

Question: Would you do it again?
Positive Answer: Yes I would.
Negative Answer: No I would not.

The Future Continuous in the Past:

Question: Would she be working all week?
Positive Answer: Yes she would.
Negative Answer: No she would not.

The Future Perfect in the Past:

Question: Would they have done the job?
Positive Answer: Yes they would.
Negative Answer: No they would not.

The Future Perfect Continuous in the Past:

Question: Would I have been studying it all night?
Positive Answer: Yes I would.
Negative Answer: No I would not.

In a full answer, we use the formula:

Yes or No + Subject + Auxiliary verb from the question (+ not if the answer is negative) + part of the question in the affirmative (positive) or negative form of the required tense of the Future in the Past

The Future Simple in the Past:

Question: Would you do it again?
Positive Answer: Yes I would do it again.
Negative Answer: No I would not do it again.

The Future Continuous in the Past:

Question: Would she be working all week?
Positive Answer: Yes she would be working all week.
Negative Answer: No she would not be working all week.

The Future Perfect in the Past:

Question: Would they have done the job?
Positive Answer: Yes they would have done the job.
Negative Answer: No they would not have done the job.

The Future Perfect Continuous in the Past:

Question: Would I have been studying it all night?
Positive Answer: Yes I would have been studying it all night.
Negative Answer: No I would not have been studying it all night.

How to form Negative Sentences in Future in the Past

To form a negative sentence the Future in the Past, we use the same formula as for negative sentences in the Future Simple, the Future Continuous, the Future Perfect, the Future Perfect Continuous.

Only instead of the auxiliary verb will and the negative not, we use the verb would + not regardless of who is the subject (you can use should + not for I and We, but this form is rarely used).

A negative sentence in the Future Simple in the Past:

Subject (I, you, John, dog, friends) + would not + main verb in its base form (love, watch, jump) + the rest of the sentence.

We would not get any lunch.

A negative sentence in The Future Continuous in the Past:

Subject (I, you, John, dog, friends) + would + not + be + main verb ending in -ing (working, playing, walking) + the rest of the sentence.

We would not be swimming.

A negative sentence in The Future Perfect in the Past:

Subject (I, you, John, dog, friends) + will have + not + the third form of the main verb (Read, Done, Seen) + the rest of the sentence.

She would not have written the letter.

Remember that we put the negative not after the auxiliary would. Not after have.

Correct: She would not have written the letter.
Incorrect: She would have not written the letter.

A negative sentence in The Future Perfect Continuous in the Past:

Subject (I, you, John, dog, friends) + will + not + have + been + main verb with the -ing ending (working, playing, walking) + the rest of the sentence.

I would not have been waiting for two hours by ten o’clock.

Note: We add the negative not after the auxiliary would. Not after have, not after been.

Correct: I would not have been waiting for two hours…
Incorrect: I would have not been waiting for two hours…
Incorrect: I would have been not waiting for two hours…

For comparison, look at the negative sentences of the main forms of the future tense and the forms of the Future in the Past.

The Future Simple: We will not get any lunch
The Future Simple in the Past: We would not get any lunch

The Future Continuous: We will not be swimming.
The Future Continuous in the Past: We would not be swimming.

The Future Perfect: She will not have written the letter.
The Future Perfect in the Past: She would not have written the letter.

The Future Perfect Continuous: I will not have been waiting for two hours by ten o’clock
The Future Perfect Continuous in the Past: I would not have been waiting for two hours by ten o’clock.

Abbreviations

We shorten the verb would in the Future in the Past like this:

Abbreviation of the would in affirmative (positive) sentences.

FullShort
I wouldI’d
He wouldHe’d
She wouldShe’d
It wouldIt’d
We wouldWe’d
They wouldThey’d
You wouldYou’d
  • I would – I’d
  • He would – He’d
  • She would – She’d
  • It would – It’d
  • We would – We’d
  • They would – They’d
  • You would – You’d

Abbreviation of the would in negative sentences.

FullShort
I would notI wouldn’t
He would notHe wouldn’t
She would notShe wouldn’t
It would notIt wouldn’t
We would notWe wouldn’t
They would notThey wouldn’t
You would notYou wouldn’t
  • I would not – I wouldn’t
  • He would not – He wouldn’t
  • She would not – She wouldn’t
  • It would not – It wouldn’t
  • We would not – We wouldn’t
  • They would not – They wouldn’t
  • You would not – You wouldn’t

Be Going To

We often use be going to to from the future.

We use be going to when we express intentions or plans to do something:

We are going to fix up the room for you!

We also use be going to in the Future in the Past to show that someone was planning to do something.

We were going to fix up the room for you!

As you might have guessed, we just use the past form of to be instead of the present form of to be. Compare:

To be going to in the Present/Future:

You are going to find him.

To be going to in the Future in the Past:

You were going to find him.

How to use the pasive voice in the Future in the Past?

We can use the passive voice in the Future in the Past.

Reminder: The active voice is when a person or object performs an action. In this case, the person or object takes an active part:

John writes the book.

The passive voice is when an action is performed on a person or object. In this case, the person or object takes a passive part. The fact of the action itself is important to us, not who produces it:

The book is written (by John).

To form a passive voice in the Future in the Past, we do everything the same as in the usual forms of future tenses, only instead of will we use would.

He said that this book would be written one day…

Complex Sentences

We use the Future in the Past in complex sentences if the action in the main sentence is in the past.

I said he would be fine.

He thought we would be working a lot.

We decided the project would have been done by the next summer.

Relative clauses

We do not use the Future in the Past in subordinate clauses that begin with words such as:

  • before
  • after
  • if
  • unless
  • when
  • while
  • by the time
  • as soon as

Incorrect: Mom told Jimmy that when he would graduate, we would move to Paris.

Correct: Mom told Jimmy that when he graduated, we would move to Paris.

Use of Future in the Past when telling stories

When we tell about the past, everything that is in the future from the point of view of our story can be said with the help of the Future in the Past.

We most often use the Future in the Past in this way in fiction where events are usually told in the past. Or when we tell stories about what happened in the past.

Thus, with the help of the Future in the Past, we talk about what could happen or happened in the future from the point of view of the past.

The guys decided to go fishing. They would have had a great day out on the river.

She said she wanted to quit. She would go to work at another bank or stay at home with little Tom.

Dad made a decision, next year we would buy a new car. Then We would go wherever we want!

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