Verb tenses, such as the future tense, can ruin your day and take a while to get your head around.
To make things a little easier, I’ve put together this guide to the German future tense.
This is part of a series that will help you make sense of German verbs and their quirks, but it should be able to stand by itself as a resource for beginners.
Let’s get started with the German future.
How the future works in German
The future tense is used to describe things that are yet to happen or are expected to happen.
In German and English, this is done in roughly the same way, by using an auxiliary (or “helper”) verb.
In English, we attach the word “will” to a verb to denote the future; in German it’s the verb werden.
I know it’s weird, but just like with the German past tense, you can use the present to talk about other times than the now.
We do it in English, too, sometimes, but only to talk about the immediate future, and certain dialects won’t do it at all.
Before we talk about the future proper, let’s take a look at the relationship between the present and future in German.
Using the present to the describe the future
When talking about things that are set to happen, Germans will usually use the present tense.
However, there are still some rules to keep things from falling into complete anarchy.
For example, let’s take a relatively simple sentence:
Ich gehe nach Berlin
As it stands, this sentence does only one thing, namely answer the question “what are you doing right now?”
In English, this sentence expresses a habit, so you’re going to Berlin regularly.
To make clear it’s what we’re doing now, we’d use a progressive, so we’d say “I am going to Berlin.”
To make it into a future tense, you’d add “will” to the sentence, so “I will be going to Berlin.”
In German, though, you can just keep the tense as it is, and just add a word expressing time:
Ich gehe morgen nach Berlin
Adding a “time” word like morgen turns the sentence into one that expresses the future and you kind of have to imagine the word “will” in there.
The cool thing is, you can add almost any word for time in there:
Er geht nächstes Jahr nach Holland
This is a year away, for example. You can also be vague, like this:
Wir gehen später ins Kino
You can use this kind of construction in practically any situation, the meaning should always be clear.
The only thing you need to keep in mind is to make sure you specify the time somehow.
Even leaving a vague word like “later” out of the sentence above radically changes its meaning:
Wir gehen ins Kino
So, really, to talk about the future in German, all you need to know is the present simple.
Still, though, there are some uses for the actual future, let’s take a look (also check out our guide to German prepositions to find out why it’s ins Kino).
If the present tense can handle the future, you may wonder why the so very efficient Germans have kept the future tense (called Futur) around.
Well, it’s quite simple: it’s basically there for emphasis, especially in spoken German.
While it’s hard to subdivide the types of emphasis there are (though I’m sure there are linguists who have done so), roughly speaking there are two.
The first is to make sure that somebody understands that something is happening at a certain time:
Der Zug wird auf 8:15 abfahren
There’s no doubt about it: that train is leaving at quarter past eight and not a second later.
It removes any ambiguity by going for the future tense and not using the present tense.
The other way to use the future tense is when you’re assuming something.
Imagine you’re about to go in a trip to the Mediterranean and you’re already looking forward to it:
Das Wetter wird die ganze Zeit gut sein
This type of sentence is kind of hard to explain in a single article like this, you’ll have to feel it out a bit as you speak with Germans and your skills improve.
Eventually, though, you’ll develop and instinct when you should use the future tense and when to stick to the present.
How to form the German future tense
Now that you know when you can use it, let’s take a look at how to form the Futur.
As I said earlier, you have to use the auxiliary verb werden.
This is what it looks like when broken down.
The second part of forming the future tense is to then append the infinitive of the main verb to the end of the sentence.
As with all things German, as the main verb moves to the end of the sentence, the auxiliary takes its place at the beginning.
Anna geht morgen nach Berlin
If we were to put this into the Futur, it would look like this:
Anna wird morgen nach Berlin gehen
Anna is not the only one taking a trip, the verb gehen is, too, all the way to the end of the sentence.
I know it’s cumbersome, so really in most cases you’re much better off doing the “right” thing and using the present to talk about the future.
The future perfect
However, that’s not all we have to talk about: German as one more future tense, imaginatively named Futur II, and though it’s not used all that much, it’s good to talk about it.
Futur II is a future perfect tense.
Like in English, it’s not used daily, but knowing it means you look particularly educated.
Seriously, though, if you’re suffering from informational overload already, feel free to skip this next section as it gets tricky and you’ll use it rarely.
The future perfect is used in both languages to describe things that will have finished in the future.
If that confuses you, think of it as the past of the future.
Here’s one sentence to get us started:
Auf mein Geburtstag werde ich mein Führerschein gemacht haben
To be clear, the speaker expects to have their driver’s license in their pocket by the time their birthday (presumably their eighteenth) rolls around.
If you look closely at the German example, you’ll see that there’s all kinds of stuff going on.
First of all, you still need to use werden, which thankfully keeps the same conjugation as before.
However, the sentence’s main verb, machen in this case, forms a participle and goes to the end of the sentence.
However, we’re still not done and we also need to stick the verb haben behind the participle.
In total, you have three verbs in your new perfect future sentence, like in English, two of which will be at the end.
Your reward for all this trouble is that you get to sound really smart, which is pretty cool, and you get to say stuff like this:
Wenn du kommst, werde ich gearbeitet haben
As I said, though, the Futur II is an entirely optional part of the German language, so don’t worry about it too much if you don’t want to handle it right now.
All in all, expressing the future in German isn’t too hard, especially if you just stick to using the simple present.
I hope this guide was useful to you, check out my article on the German past tense if you feel you have the future under control.
Good luck learning German!