In French like in English, two tenses are used to express the future:
1 - The future, called le futur simple in French
In English, you form the future tense with “will” or “shall” - as in: next year, you will speak French fluently.
In French, we form the futur simple tense by changing the end of the verb.
We keep the infinitive of the verb (the “to” form) and add: ai, as, a, ons, ez, ont - as in: l’année prochaine, tu parleras français couramment.
Unfortunately, as often with French verbs, some verbs have an irregular future form that needs to be learnt by heart.
Note however that the endings will always be “regular”
Aller = j’irai, tu iras, il ira, nous irons, vous irez, ils iront
Être = je serai...
Avoir = j’aurai...
Important pronunciation note: In French, the futur simple will always end in a strong R + ending sound. It’s common to glide over the “e” before the “r” (in any), so in pronunciation, “tu parleras” sounds like “tu parlra”. Some regions of France (the south in particular) still distinctly pronounce the “e”.
2 – The near-future construction, called le future proche in French
Admittedly, technically, it’s not a tense... In English, you form the near future with "to be going" + verb in the infinitive, as in: In two months, I’m going to travel to France.
In French, we form le futur proche with the verb to go (aller) in the present tense + verb in the infinitive - as in: dans deux mois, je vais voyager en France.
3 – Future and near-future construction are not used the same way in French and English
Let’s start by saying that the construction is the same when the event is taking place soon:
This afternoon, I’m going to go to the beach = Cet après-midi, je vais aller à la plage.
That is simple enough. Yet, sometimes, the translation gets tricky
In English, using “will” reinforces the idea that you are certain an event will happen = in your mind, it’s almost a sure thing.
Well, in French, to convey this idea, we’d use the near future!
Let’s take an example:
If someone is pregnant, she may say: I still don’t quite realize that in three months, I will have a child.
In French, to convey the same idea, it’s likely she would say: je ne réalise pas trop que dans trois mois, je vais avoir un enfant.
None of this is carved in stone, of course. Nothing grammatically wrong with saying in English “I’m going to” or in French “j’aurai”... However in French, the simple future is not actually used all that much...
4 – When do we use the future simple in French?
In French, the near future construction is used for an upcoming change. The future simple tends to be used for the consequences of this change.
Let’s go back to our example. Contrast:
In three month, I will have a child : I’m going to work part time and I’ll have to find a nanny.
Dans trois mois, je vais avoir un enfant : je travaillerai à mi-temps et je devrai trouver une garde d’enfant.
The French simple future tense is used in some hypothetical constructions (if the weather is nice tomorrow, I will go to the beach) and to make far-fetched plans, like a kid would (when I grow up, I will be President).
Truth be told, we tend to use the near future a lot in French. Is it because it’s so easy to use? Or is it just because it “rolls” nicely off the tongue? I’m not sure, but since there are so many irregular verbs to memorise in the simple future, I can say for sure that this is good news for French students!