Future Tense in Japanese
No Future Tense
Actually, English also does not have an actual ‘future tense’ we simply tack on ‘will’ before the verb. We aren’t actually conjugating that verb, we’re just throwing on a helping verb right before it. But yes, by doing this we CAN communicate a future action, intention, having or being, etc.
What about in Japanese?
Interestingly, the Japanese typically DO NOT tack on a special helping verb to make it communicate future action. (typically). The more usual way is to just leave the verb in its present tense form!
So… what do you get? You get the present tense of the verb (just the plain form of the verb, un-conjugated) either meaning future or present.
Ho ho ho! Now things are getting weird!
How do you differentiate!?
Let me explain further.
The Japanese present tense, isn’t typically used to communicate present action!
YES! The more typical way for the Japanese to communicate present action is to use the present progressive form!
Ok, let’s make some examples before your head explodes.
English: I will eat (future)
English: I eat (present, habitual action)
Japanese: ringo wo tabetteiru (I am eating an apple OR I eat apples) (written as present progressive form, means eating is done habitually or eating is happening right now)
Japanese: ringo wo taberu (I will eat an apple OR I eat apples) (written as present tense, but means future intention OR eating apples is habitual)
As you can see, it is very interchangeable. And therein lies the challenge and trouble for the foreigner.
The MAJORITY of the time (not always) you will use present progressive to communicate a present time habitual action, or present time action in progress.
(I eat apples OR I am eating apples = ringo wo tabetteiru)
The MAJORITY of the time (not always) you will use present tense to communicate a future intention or future action.
(I will eat apples = ringo wo taberu)
NOTE: We are leaving off the subject ‘I’, as it is implied.
Firm it up
There are some words we can use, as foreigners to make it very clear we are talking about the future. Just like we use ‘will’ in English. Japanese has several words WE can use; it is just that the NATIVES don’t use them! They will understand when you say them, but they themselves typically will just use the present tense form for the verb to mean future intention/action. They don’t often use the helper verbs.
Here they are:
Verb + tsumori desu (intend)
iku tsumori desu (I intend to go)
Verb + yotei desu (plan to)
hanasu yotei desu (I plan to speak)
Verb + no sa (gonna)
taberu no sa (I’m gonna eat)
“No sa” has a very young ‘tokyo hip’ feel to it. It is slang basically.
Of course you can always make it VERY clear you are talking about the future if you simply use words like: "later, tomorrow, one day". You can put these at the beginning of your sentence just to make sure the person listening really gets that you are talking abou the future and not the present
ato de, ringo wo taberu
Later, I will eat apples