What Is the Future Perfect?

Cynde Gregory

The average man or woman on the street might think the future perfect is the goal of life. Someone who works hard and saves money, someone who chooses a kind and devoted mate, or someone who gets lucky and wins the lottery is guaranteed a future that will be perfect. Future perfect, however, isn’t a stress-free state, rather it’s one that is in fact, very tense. This is because it’s a verb tense.

One form of future perfect tense combines the past participle of an action verb with "will have."
One form of future perfect tense combines the past participle of an action verb with "will have."

It comes as no surprise that the future doesn’t really exist. It’s a state of potential, for some, a state that suggests hope and, for others, anxiety. In all languages, verbs are the way things in sentences get done. They are words for action or movement, and because things have happened in the past, are happening right now, and will happen in the future, every language has some way of expressing these three periods of time by how the verb is formed.

Anyone over the age of two knows that life gets messy sometimes. Things aren’t always clear, and expressing them requires a fine precision because they aren’t broad states of being. This means that most languages have several ways of discussing action in the past, the present, and the future.

In English, this verb tense is manifested in one of two ways. Ultimately, they both express identical meanings; however, they give speakers options. The first choice is to combine the past participle of the action verb with "will have." The second case is slightly more complex. It is formed by combining the present tense of "to be" with the phrase "going to have" and the past participle of the action verb.

An example of the first case, which is also called the pluperfect, might be spoken by a parent trying to reassure an anxious child about a trip. “By the time you get back home from camp, you will have learned everything there is to know about camping!” While in some cases the simple past is formed in the same way as the past participle, it is not always so. This means, for example, that a statement in the future perfect about eating something would be stated, “You will have eaten” and not, “You will have ate.”

The second case of future perfect is both more complicated and less graceful. It’s not used as often, either, but when it is, the meaning is the same. The parent might tell the child, “By the time you get back from camp, you are going to have learned all about coyotes,” and the hungry individual will be assured that he or she “is going to have eaten” by that point in time.

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