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If we were to recognise "she will eat" as a future tense, then we might just as well recognise "he may eat", "she is eating", "he is going to eat" and other combinations as future tenses. Do you agree?
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Comments  (Page 5) 
KooyeenWhy do you need to define what a future tense is?
So that an Anon can take random pot shots at your definition, of course.

But it's a good point. If I am studying Italian, and I decide to translate a lengthy passage of dialogue, I know that "future tense" is merely a convenient label for certain kinds of conjugation. Not every "will/shall" will necessarily map to a "future tense" in Italian; not every "future tense" in Italian will map to a "will/shall" in English.

The label on the box is immaterial, in one sense. It might as well be an X, Y, or Z. All that matters is to know which boxes are available.

MrP
< It might as well be an X, Y, or Z. All that matters is to know which boxes are available.>

Therefore, decing that will/shall is the future tense in English was an arbitrary choice, right?
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<But do you really need to define it in terms of what future tense consists of?>

It has been defined, it's taught in schools all over the world. What do you think of that? Do you think "will/shall" deserves the label "future tense"?
Humans like to classify. Language itself is an act of classification. We can distinguish between informal and formal classifications. When we are cooking, rhubarb is a fruit and an aubergines is a vegetable. A botanist will disagree and insist that the edible part of rhubarb is a stem and that an aubergine is a fruit. When shopping though any sensible botanist will look for rhubarb tart with other fruit tarts and expect to find aubergines in the section with cabbage and potatoes and not with the oranges and pears. The two systems of classification have different purposes. If fruit and vegetables were displayed in supermarkets according to a strict scientific principles no one would easily find what he wanted. When a botanist is describing a plant he is not concerned whether he will eat it as part of the main dish or as a dessert. It may be noted that the non-botanist may be surprised to learn that the different looking vegetables cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and kohl rabi are varities of the same species, but that carrots and parsnips are not only different species, but in different genera.

Even scientific classifications have their problems. One of the ways lepidopterists distinguish between butterflies and moths is that when at rest butterflies close their wings but moths do not. There is however one awkward species where the female closes her wings but the male does not - so the female is a butterfly and the male is a moth! A shrub is defined as a woody plant with more than one stem coming out of the ground and a tree as a woody plant with only one stem. Some specimens of lilac have multiple stems whilst others have only one. Are lilacs shrubs or trees?

If there are problems with scientific classification in the "hard" sciences, they are more acute in the social sciences of which linguistics is one. Any system of classification used in describing languages is a convention. A linguist will hope that his system of classification is based on sound principles, but will nevertheless be faced with the problem that lilacs and male butterflies pretending to be moths (or is that female moths pretending to be butterflies?) abound in language; languages have an annoying tendency to be anarchic and resist analysis and the more analytic a language is the more it resists analysis, since meaning often depends on context.

Anonymous is like an academic conducting a seminar with undergraduates. He poses questions (and they are always interesting) but never answers them except with further questions. This is fine in a seminar where the purpose is to make undergraduates think. Outside the academic world such an approach can be perceived as unhelpful or downright annoying as people are looking for answers. Of course the answers may not be there, but a different approach is needed and those with an academic tendency need to recall what happened to Socrates.

Those faced with a practical task, such as teaching a language, need to be pragmatic and not get bogged down in theory. Whilst one hopes that anyone teaching a language will have at least a basic understanding of linguistics, it is perfectly acceptable if the approach they adopt does not follow the current orthodoxy of linguists which itself is apt to change with fashion. Language teachers should be judged by the results they obtain.

So to get back to the question of whether English has a future tense and if so what form it takes, there are two answers. One is given by the linguist who carefully defines what he means by "tense" and then answers accordingly. The other is given by someone pointing to accepted usage outside the field of linguistics. Both answers are equally valid but are equally based on convention. The really important thing is that both realise this.

Whether or not a language has a future tense is quite a separate question from how that language can or must express futurity in different contexts.
Are you suggesting that it was ordinary language users - or those who do not know that cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and kohl rabi are varieties of the same species, and that carrots and parsnips are not only different species, but in different general - invented the term "future tense" and chose "will/shall" as the candidate for role?
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<Whether or not a language has a future tense is quite a separate question from how that language can or must express futurity in different contexts.>

And, after all that, the question about why you consider shall/will the suitable candidate for the term "future tense" stands.
< Language teachers should be judged by the results they obtain.>

Most of them leave students, years later, asking why "will/shall" are considered "the future tense". ;-)
AnonymousAre you suggesting that it was ordinary language users - or those who do not know that cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and kohl rabi are varieties of the same species, and that carrots and parsnips are not only different species, but in different general - invented the term "future tense" and chose "will/shall" as the candidate for role?

I would suggest only that it is a consensus that has emerged in the general education system.

(I refrain from commenting on whether "ordinary language users" and those unfamiliar with the taxonomy of plants are very broadly in the same class.)
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I would suggest only that it is a consensus that has emerged in the general education system.

"Inspired" by prescritivist grammarians, I imagine.
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