Very often you will need to write about the future in IELTS. This lesson shows you some words and ideas to improve your future language. The main idea is to show you that there are many different ways to write about the future. This is important because your grammar and vocabulary are not just marked for accuracy (not making mistakes), but also for range (using different words). If you want a band score above 6.0, you need to use different words.
You will find a download of the vocabulary and practice exercises at the end of the lesson.
Test yourself first
Before you start, you may want to have a look at this exercise. The task is to find all the different ways of talking about the future in this essay.
How many ways can you find of writing about the future?
We are becoming increasingly dependent on computers. They are used in business, crime detection and even to fly planes. What things will they be used for in future? Is this dependence on computers a good thing or should we be more suspicious of their benefits?
As we move into the twenty-first century, it is clear to see that we have become more and more dependent on computers and information technology. This technology now reaches into almost every area of our lives and it is easy to predict that this phenomenon is only going to grow. My personal belief is that this presents a variety of dangers.
It is highly likely that in the future there will be comparatively few aspects of our lives that will not be influenced by computer technology. The probability is that it will control more and more forms of communication, transforming fields such as education and business when video-conferencing platforms become more stable. It might even affect romance with more people forming relationships online.
While there may be benefits to this technological revolution, there are also a number of potential dangers. Perhaps the most serious of these would be that if people rely on computers too much for communication, they could in fact begin to communicate less well. For example, if every member of a family had their own computer screen and smart phone, they might speak less and less often to one another and simply look at a screen. This would be serious because our ability to communicate is an essential part of our humanity.
My conclusion is that the growth of computer technology is inevitable, but that this may not be entirely positive. Just one area in which it is possible to foresee dangers is communication, and if we are going to ensure that computers do not become a negative influence, we need to think carefully how we use them.
You will find my solution at the end of the lesson.
Some different ways of thinking about the future – not just “will”
There is in fact no future tense in English, just different ways of thinking about the future. What this means is that there are many different ways of writing about the future. This is a selection of some of the ways you can do this. You should note that only some of these ideas relate to verbs:
- different verb forms : going to/present simple and continuous
- different verbs: plan/intend to/predict
- verbs of probability: may/might/could
- probable words: probable/possible/likely
- conditional and time phrases: if, when, after, as soon as
- phrases about the future
You have no doubt “learned” the future a few times already. For me, the key is not just to use “will”, but to use a variety of verb forms. Very frequently, there is only a small difference between “will” and “going to” and you can use either one.
The present simple is quite often used for the future. It can be used after “when”, “after”, “until”, “as soon as” as well as “if”. Be careful of writing “when I will finish it, I will go home” – that is a mistake.
“Going to” is mostly used for intentions. However, it can also be used for predictions too, especially when we have evidence for making the prediction.
The present continuous is also frequently used for the future (mostly in speech). We use it when we have a fixed plan, for example when we have agreed something with another person.
One useful set of words to use when you are writing about the future are the modal verbs of probability. It is quite common to talk about how probable some future event is. Often, you can use these verbs instead of “is” or “will”. A benefit of these is that they tend to be more academic.
There is little difference in meaning between “may”, “might” and “could”. Typically, though, “may is slightly more likely than “might” and “could”.
As mentioned above, these words make your writing appear more academic. For more on this, take a look at academic caution.
More words of probability
If you can see that the language of probability can be helpful when writing about the future, you should also see that there is more language you can use:
When you are learning these words, it is a good idea to learn some collocations. So instead of just learning “possibility”, try to learn the phrase “strong possibility”
You should also note that it help to learn both forms of the word. If you can use both “likely” and “likelihood”, you will be able to use English much more flexibly.
Conditional and time phrases
More language you need to master relates to the word “if”. Very often when you use the word “if”, you are referring to future time. This is particularly helpful language for IELTS as “if” is an excellent way to give examples to explain your ideas.
You should note from the examples that in the part of the sentence that uses “if”, “when” etc we use a present tense and not “will”.
You should also see that we can use the present perfect or present continuous instead of the present simple.
The first example could be changed to “If computers continued to develop at the same pace, then we would be likely to become over-reliant on them”. This does not relate to a past time, but a less likely future/present time.
The language of prediction and planning
Two of the most common ways to write about the future are to make predictions and/or write about plans and intentions. This is a selection of useful words to help you do just that. It is not just a case of learning “will” and “going to”
There are of course many different ways to talk about future time. We could refer to “in 20 years’ time” or “one day” for instance. This is a simple selection of phrases/collocations including the word “future”.
Future Earth – a more advanced exercise on futures including structures not in this lesson