DESCRIBING future plans, predicting and speculating

In the speaking test, especially in Part 3, you may be asked to describe your future plans or predict or speculate on future situations e.g. social changes, public transport etc. You'll need future tenses, conditionals and modal verbs expressing possibility. First, let's recap on ways of expressing the future:


Will/shall + verb



To give or ask for information about the future; to predict the future (say what we think, guess or expect to happen). When speaking, usually used in contracted form (I'll, we'll etc); "will not" contracted to "won't".



It'll be our anniversary soon.

The exams will take place in the main hall.

I don’t think Manchester United will win the Premiere League.

I shall go to the ball!

You won't like it!


To be "going to" + verb



To talk about plans, decisions and firm intentions, especially informally. e.g. They're going to sell their house and buy a caravan. Also 'going to' is often used to predict the future using present evidence.



I'm going to give up smoking.

She's going to have a baby. (she's obviously pregnant)

It's going to rain (there are black clouds)


Present continuous/progressive tense



To talk about personal arrangements and plans. Often used with a time, date or place.



What are you doing tonight? I'm meeting a friend and going to the cinema.

We're having sausages for lunch.

She's leaving to study in Europe next October.


Present simple tense



Only to talk about timetable, schedules and routines.



The train leaves at 6 p.m.

Semester starts on September 1st.

They spend every winter with us.


Which form is best?


The four forms above are the most common ways of talking about the future and often, more than one can be used to talk about the same event. The present forms emphasise present ideas, such as plans, intentions and predictions based on outside evidence. Will/shall is more common when present ideas are not being emphasised or for predictions based on internal beliefs, knowledge, personal opinions etc.


Two other future forms are also worth recapping:


Future continuous/progressive tense



To say that something will be happening at a particular time in the future.



We'll be thinking of you during the exams.

This time next year, I'll be working in China.


Future perfect tenses



To say that something will be completed at a particular time in the future.



I'll have finished my Master's degree by December of next year.

In two months he'll have lived on Ma Wan for 4 years.


Future perfect continuous/progressive



To say how long something will have continued by a particular time in the future.



I'll have been working here for 10 years next August.

By Christmas, they'll have been living together for 2 years.


When predicting things or speculating on what may happen in the future, we can also use the conditional tenses.


First conditional


The first conditional consists of a present tense in the 'if' phrase and the 'will/shall' future form in the conditional phrase. It is used to express a speculation or hypothesis that seems likely to happen (probable).



If she doesn't stop drinking, she'll be dead in 5 years.

With his luck, if he tries to learn to ski, he'll break a leg.

It will snow if it gets any colder.


Second conditional

The second conditional consists of a past tense in the 'if' phrase and the 'would' form in the conditional phrase. It is used to express a speculation or hypothesis that seems unlikely to happen (improbable). It is also used to make polite requests.



If Hong Kong were less polluted, there'd be fewer cases of allergies and asthma. [there'd be is the spoken form there would be]

I wouldn't be in Obama's shoes if you paid me.

What would you do if you failed your final exams?

If you travelled to Beijing during winter, you'd likely be cold? [you'd is the spoken form of you would]


Finally, modal auxiliary verbs are used to speculate or hypothesise, by indicating possibility or likelihood of something happening in the future.


Could, may, might

They are the most common forms for this usage.



More pay cuts could mean some people leave the company.

We can't decide where to go on holiday; we may go to Malaysia or perhaps Thailand.

She might get the job but it's hard to tell without meeting the other candidates.

If I don't find work soon, I might end up doing a Master's degree.



Example 1

Example 1 (transcript)


Record yourself talking about what you would do if you won a million dollars. After you have finished listen to yourself. Think about your use of vocabulary, your fluency, and your intonation. How could you improve?