When is a tense a tense (English Future Tense)

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rolleston:
I wonder, what are the reasons for not thinking
that "I will run" is a future tense
construction. Leaving aside the possibility that
"will" is not purely temporal in meaning (i.e.,
I don't want to consider modal notions such as
necessity and volition), is there any reason why
one cannot claim that the future tense exists
in English?
I believe that some linguists say that tense
refers to the way the first verb of a VP is
inflected. I also believe that "will" is a
present tense form. But I'm not a linguist,
so I'm just feeling around in the dark.
Why can't "will" be considered a virtual
ending of the verb that follows, an ending
that has been separated from the verb and

I runwill
I gowill
I seewill
...
would we not then think that there was
a true future tense in English? Is there
something else going on here?
Thanks all,
R.
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Robert Lieblich:
[nq:1]I wonder, what are the reasons for not thinking that "I will run" is a future tense construction. Leaving aside ... such as necessity and volition), is there any reason why one cannot claim that the future tense exists in English?[/nq]
One can, of course, claim anything that the Earth is flat, that rivers flow upstream, that the sun rises in the west. A claim that the form "will + infinitive" is "the future tense" is quite modest by comparison.
[nq:1]I believe that some linguists say that tense refers to the way the first verb of a VP is inflected.[/nq]
I think they say that you need an inflection to have a separate tense which may be your point restated; I'm not sure. By this standard English has only two tenses, present and simple past. It also has aspects, moods, etc.
[nq:1]I also believe that "will" is a present tense form. But I'm not a linguist, so I'm just feeling around in the dark.[/nq]
It's a modal auxiliary. I believe it started out as a verb with full inflection, of which "will" was the infinitive and the present tense, but lost many of its forms over the years.
[nq:1]Why can't "will" be considered a virtual ending of the verb that follows, an ending that has been separated from the verb and moved to the front?[/nq]
First of all, we know that's not what happened. Second (despite your request, this point cannot be ignored), the auxiliary "will" does not always indicate simple futurity. Third, futurity can be indicated by constructions other than will + infinitive.

The first point should be obvious. As to the second, consider "I will lose fifty pounds this year." That's not a statement of futurity; it's a statement of determination. It differs in degree from something like "The sun will rise in the east tomorrow," which is simple futurity, at least in my book. And as to the third, consider "The sun is going to rise in the east tomorrow." That's simple futurity expressed in the form of the present progressive.
[nq:1]E.g., if one wrote I runwill I gowill I seewill ... would we not then think that there was a true future tense in English?[/nq]
If there existed a specific inflected verb form to indicate simple futurity, I'd say and, more to the point, I think linguists would say that that form was the future tense. But since the line is drawn between true inflected forms and forms with modals, you've only proven the point you're contesting.
I might add that phrases like "future tense," in casual use anyway, don't discomfit me at all. We don't all have to act like linguists all the time (and you can probably find some linguists who dissent from the predominant view). Unless there's some important reason to define terms, anything that can be understood seems fine to me. "Future tense" is easily understood in casual use.
[nq:1]Is there something else going on here?[/nq]
Much else. But I'm probably over my head already.

Bob Lieblich
Stretching to breathe
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Adrian Bailey:
Could any dedicated construction, not only an inflection, be considered as a tense? If "I zib go" was the English for "J'irai" and did not have other uses or meanings, could "person+zib+bare infinitive" be called the future tense?
Adrian
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Richard R. Hershberger:
[nq:1]I wonder, what are the reasons for not thinking that "I will run" is a future tense construction.[/nq]
I am going to essentially restate what Bob said, but slightly differently.
This question is merely a matter of definition. Do we define "tense" as an inflectional category, i.e. shown by changing the form of the verb, or do we define it as a semantic category, such that a verb phrase expressing futurity is defined as being in the "future tense". You can find support for both sorts of definitions, but modern linguists tend to favor the inflectional definition.

The problem with the semantic definition is that English has various ways to express time sense. Consider these:
(1) I will run tomorrow.
(2) I am going to run tomorrow.
(3) I run tomorrow.
These all say pretty much the same thing. Why do we classify (1) as being in the future tense and the other two as something else, whatever that might be?
Compare, also, these:
(1) I will run tomorrow.
(4) I might run tomorrow.
Both use similar syntax, with a verb phrase consisting of a modal auxiliary and "run". What tense is (4) in? It is a future conditional, so presumably it is future tense, if we grant the existence of the creature in English. So where is the "will" which, we are told, is part of the future tense? Apparently there are other, possibly many other, ways of expressing the future tense.

None of this would matter if it weren't that English does have thes inflectional present and past tenses, and that there is a plethora of ways of conveying the sense of present and past. If we insist on combining the inflectional and the semantic senses of "tense" we end up with a muddle, using the same word to describe unrelated phenomena. It is much more parsimonious to simply use different words for the different phenomena.
A related discussion by Professor Lawler can be found at http://www-personal.umich.edu/~jlawler/aue/tense.html .

Richard R. Hershberger
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Larry Trask:
[nq:1]I wonder, what are the reasons for not thinking that "I will run" is a future tense construction. Leaving aside ... such as necessity and volition), is there any reason why one cannot claim that the future tense exists in English?[/nq]
Many reasons. The other respondents have already made some excellent points, but perhaps I can add something.
First, English has only two tenses, the past tense and the other one. These two form a tight system. In particular, they are mutually exclusive: the presence of one bars the presence of the other. And there is no third term in the system which is likewise mutually exclusive with these two.
Second, English has a huge number of ways of talking about future time, each one of them expressing a particular view of the future. All of these forms are "present-tense", and there is no justification for singling out one of them and calling it a "future tense".

Here is a sample.
Susie is flying to London tomorrow.
Susie flies to London tomorrow.
Susie is going to fly to London tomorrow.
Susie is to fly to London tomorrow.
Susie has to fly to London tomorrow.
Susie will fly to London tomorrow.
Susie will be flying to London tomorrow.
Susie is supposed to fly to London tomorrow.
And so on. There are more. These forms are not interchangeable: each has its own functions. And there is no earthly justification for picking out one of them and calling it a future tense.

The form in 'will' has several functions. With a first-person subject, it most often expresses an offer or a promise:

I'll wash the dishes.
I'll buy you a teddy-bear.
But, as Bob Lieblich points out, a stressed 'will' here expresses determination.
With a third-person subject, it typically expresses a prediction or a surmise:
The Orioles will win the pennant.
House prices will surely fall this year.
(on hearing the doorbell) That will be Susie.
This account does not exhaust the functions of 'will'. But note that 'will' can be used only in its established functions. It cannot be used freely in speaking of the future, because the other forms exist and must be used when appropriate.
Foreign learners of English who have been badly taught sometimes speak English like this:
What will you do tonight?
I will go to the pub.
And this is not English.
Here's another learner's error:
When Susie will get here, we'll eat.
Another point. Just like any other present-tense form, 'will' is subject to sequence of tenses:
Susie says that she is coming.
Susie said that she was coming.
Susie says that she will come.
Susie said that she would come.
If you pretend that 'will' is a future tense, no coherent account of these facts is possible.
[nq:1]I believe that some linguists say that tense refers to the way the first verb of a VP is inflected.[/nq]
Only in English, and not in general.
[nq:1]I also believe that "will" is a present tense form.[/nq]
It is.
[nq:1]Why can't "will" be considered a virtual ending of the verb that follows, an ending that has been separated from the verb and moved to the front? E.g., if one wrote I runwill I gowill I seewill ...[/nq]
This is surreal. The item 'will' cannot be considered an ending because it is not an ending.
One final point. We cannot consider 'will' in isolation. It belongs to a set of items, the modal auxiliaries, all of which exhibit essentially identical behavior. Ripping 'will' out of the class of items it obviously belongs to is rather like ripping the preposition 'in' out of the class of prepositions and claiming that it is a locative case.
Larry Trask
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meirman:
In alt.english.usage on 9 Jan 2004 14:26:24 -0800
[nq:1]I wonder, what are the reasons for not thinking that "I will run" is a future tense construction. Leaving aside ... feeling around in the dark. Why can't "will" be considered a virtual ending of the verb that follows, an ending[/nq]
That's pretty much the way I look at it.
[nq:1]that has been separated from the verb and moved to the front? E.g., if one wrote I runwill I gowill ... think that there was a true future tense in English? Is there something else going on here? Thanks all, R.[/nq]
s/ meirman If you are emailing me please
say if you are posting the same response.
Born west of Pittsburgh Pa. 10 years
Indianapolis, 7 years
Chicago, 6 years
Brooklyn NY 12 years
Baltimore 20 years
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rolleston:
[nq:2]Why can't "will" be considered a virtual ending of the ... been separated from the verb and moved to the front?[/nq]
[nq:1]First of all, we know that's not what happened.[/nq]
Indeed. But this is not a historical analysis. The point is simply that the tense marker does not need to be attached to verb itself. I'm in danger of repeating myself here, but I'm not sure if you drew from my words some meaning I did not intend.
[nq:1]your request, this point cannot be ignored), the auxiliary "will" does not always indicate simple futurity.[/nq]
Why not call the construction the future tense only when simple futurity is indicated? We can surely allow that the same group of words has different uses. Perhaps it is hard to tell which use is intended.
[nq:1]Third, futurity can be indicated by constructions other than will + infinitive.[/nq]
But, by way of pointless analogy, if there exists a different house to mine, that does not make my house a non-house. Moreover, in French, for example, futurity can be indicated in different ways; A future tense does exist in that language, unless linguists have somehow made it vanish ... Emotion: smile
[nq:1]The first point should be obvious. As to the second, consider "I will lose fifty pounds this year." That's not a statement of futurity; it's a statement of determination.[/nq]
To some extent I would agree, but I would say that more and more `will' seems to be shedding such meanings. The distinction between `shall' and `will' is no longer felt as it once was. There will be people (futurity not indicated Emotion: smile who maintain the distinction, but the number of such people is shrinking. (As far as I can tell.)
[nq:1]I might add that phrases like "future tense," in casual use anyway, don't discomfit me at all. We don't all ... to define terms, anything that can be understood seems fine to me. "Future tense" is easily understood in casual use.[/nq]
I wonder, if we don't call `I will ...' a future tense construction, what do we call it? It would be nice to have some way of referring to it so that other people know what I'm talking about.

Cheers,
R.
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rolleston:
[nq:1]The problem with the semantic definition is that English has various ways to express time sense. Consider these: (1) I will run tomorrow. (2) I am going to run tomorrow. (3) I run tomorrow.[/nq]
So English has more than one future tense Emotion: smile
[nq:1]These all say pretty much the same thing. Why do we classify (1) as being in the future tense and ... told, is part of the future tense? Apparently there are other, possibly many other, ways of expressing the future tense.[/nq]
But (1) seems much closer to being a plain declarative utterance, if we exclude volition.
Thanks,
R.
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Richard R. Hershberger:
[nq:2]The problem with the semantic definition is that English has ... I am going to run tomorrow. (3) I run tomorrow.[/nq]
[nq:1]So English has more than one future tense Emotion: smile[/nq]
Sure: if that rocks your boat, go with it. Your question is why "tense" is defined one way rather than another. The short answer is that most linguists find the one definition more useful than the other. If you conclude that the most useful definition would allow multiple future tenses, then when you write your grammar you can go with that with my blessing, so long as you are clear and consistent about it, and so long as you don't pretend that others are necessarily using your definition.
On the specific question at hand, I think much of the confusion comes from the fact that "tense" is borrowed from Latin grammar, and carries baggage with it. If we used some other term of inflectional time distinction and yet another word for semantic time distinction and didn't use the word "tense" at all, people would be less bothered. The received terminology is perhaps confusing. Don't let the Latin sense of the word distract you.
Richard R. Hershberger
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