Did you know that English doesn’t really have a future tense?

According to most linguists, that is. I know, I was shocked too.

I learned this in one of my “Modern English” lectures and I thought I would share with you today how a lecture on linguistics unintentionally turned philosophical.

Let’s face it: sometimes I wonder about the real-life implications of what I’m studying in university, especially for something incredibly abstract, like syntax and the like.

As much as I love linguistics, it’s easy to feel silly when you’re spending half an hour in class discussing whether people pluralize the word ‘roof’ as ‘rooves’ vs. ‘roofs’.

Anyway, as I was saying:

Technically, English only has two tenses: past and present.

We inflect verbs to indicate the past tense using -ed ending for regular verbs, as in the case of “She talked” as opposed to “She talks”, in which we inflect the verb “to talk” by adding the ending -s, when talking about the third-person singular present. Interesting, right?

However, English lacks future tense inflections, unlike the examples that I mentioned above.

When we say that we intend to do something in the future, we use the auxiliary verb “will”, as in “She will talk” or “going”, as in the case of “I’m going to call her later”.

We can talk about what we would like to do in the future but we are always talking about it in relation to the present. When we say “I will talk to her tomorrow”, what you’re really saying is that right now, you wish to talk to her tomorrow…….I hope that made sense.

Our professor explained it this way: ultimately, we simply don’t know what’s going to happen in the future. We can make predictions based on what we know from past experiences and we can plan as much as we want but the only thing that’s certain is that we know nothing. And that’s terrifying. Or comforting. Depending on how you look at it. 

Live in the moment

The phrase “live in the moment” is thrown around so much it almost means nothing to me anymore. Yet somehow, after learning this interesting fact about the English language, it became much easier to for me to understand and live by this tenet.

As a self-proclaimed worry-wart, this neat little linguistic fact got me thinking about the whole notion of living in the moment. The uncertainty of the future, no matter how scary and uncomfortable for some people, is embedded in our language and we don’t even realise it.

What am I going to do with my life?

As students, we are always worrying about what’s next. What’s life after Glendon? after graduation? Should I pursue a Master’s or join the workforce? Should I take some time off and travel or should I continue my studies while the momentum is still there?

These are the questions that I’m sure has haunted most of you in some way shape or form. You don’t even have to be a student. It’s just life.

The truth is, life isn’t something that’ll happen one day. It’s happening right now. Whatever you may be feeling, be it sadness or happiness or whatever, what matters is that right now you’re alive. When you can reach that inner peace no matter the circumstances, congratulations. You’ve figured out how to live in the moment.

Moral of the story? Take “Modern English” Hehe, it’s a cool course if you’re interested in Linguistics! Just breathe and be and allow life to take you where you need to go.

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