Generally, we use the Present Continuous tense to talk about actions taking place now or around now. But English speakers often use the Present Continuous to talk about pre-arranged plans or events.
When we use the Present Continuous with this meaning, it is necessary to add a time reference (tomorrow, tomorrow evening, on/next Sunday) so we know it refers to the future and not to the present:
- Jane is working at the moment (Present Continuous refers to present activity) but in the evening she is playing tennis (Present Continuous refers to planned activity in future).
|Note: We can often use ‘going to’ instead of the Present Continuous to indicate future meaning. |
– Nick is spending time with his family tonight.
– Nick is going to spend time with his family tonight.
How to form Present Continuous
To make the Present Continuous with future meaning, we use:
am / is / are + the ‘-ing’ form of the verb (Present Participle) and add a time marker.
- I’m staying at home tonight.
- She isn’t working on Thursday.
- We’re meeting at two o’clock.
- John and Samantha are getting married tomorrow.
We form the negative by adding ‘not‘ to either the full form or short (contracted) form:
am / is / are + not + the ‘-ing’ form of the verb
- We’re not having a meeting this afternoon.
- =We aren’t having a meeting this afternoon.
- =We are not having a meeting this afternoon.
- I’m not coming to the party tonight.
- = I am not coming to the party tonight.
To form a question, we rearrange the word order, placing the verb ‘be’ before the subject:
am / is / are + subject +the ‘-ing’ form of the verb
- Are you going to the concert tomorrow?
- Is your mom joining us for dinner next week?
When to use Present Continuous with future meaning
We often use the Present Continuous to talk about future arrangements. A future arrangement is a plan that we have decided and organised with another person, a group of people or a company:
- I’m working over the New Year. (this arrangement is between the speaker and his/her employer)
- We are staying with friends when we get to Boston.
- We’re meeting Helen at 3 o’clock tomorrow afternoon.
It is not always necessary to state who the arrangement is with:
- I am leaving tomorrow. (I’ve already bought my train ticket.)
- So what are we all doing at Christmas?
We often use the Present Continuous to talk about things we are about to start doing. This is especially common with verbs of movement, such as go, come, leave, etc.:
- I’m going to bed now – goodnight.
- Will you help me finish the housework? – Sorry, I can’t: I’m leaving for work now.
Certain verbs, actions or situations cannot be used with the Present Continuous with future meaning because they are not part of a plan, an arrangement or an intention. The present continuous tense for the future can only be used when an action or situation can logically be planned in advance:
My leg’s hurting tomorrow. Is NOT possible He’s having an accident in March. Is NOT possible It’s snowing next week.Is NOT possible
Here’s a good video from To Fluency explaining the difference between ‘will’, ‘going to’ and Present Continuous for future actions and events: