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to measure; to evaluate; to determine; to estimate
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focus
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gauge
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Newsletter August 28 - 2008FREE email English course

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Guess who wrote this?

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,


Yes it was our old friend, Bill Shakespeare. It's a speech made by Macbeth in the play of that name. This was obviously when Mac was not in the best of spirits and is virtually saying that life just goes on day after day and life is a vain experience, full of nothing and we poor mortals are soon forgotten when we've gone. But then we're not all Macbeths, are we? And you have to remember that Macbeth has just lost his wife, has murdered his way to become the new king and realises that he has gained nothing.

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But enough of depression. What I am trying to concentrate the mind on is that word 'tomorrow', which is of course what is going to happen next. For some of us that can be daunting, off-putting and also frightening. We don't really want to think about tomorrow and we indulge in what is called procrastination — a wonderful word grabbed from the Latin bit by bit and a rather elaborate way of describing our putting off (not, you'll note off-putting) till the next day what we should be doing today. And then before you know what's happened, tomorrow has become today. And it's a time to which we have given the name 'future'.

In itself it's a versatile word because it can be both adjective and noun just like its relatives — present and past. Some will tell us not to worry because they say that the future is big enough to look after itself. An attitude that others would claim is simply burying your head in the sand — you don't want to know what's going to happen and so you close your eyes to what's going on around you.

The English language is going to disappoint you because unlike its geographical language neighbours it has no future. No, don't panic, I'm not talking about the language itself but the future tense. Other languages simply take the stem of a verb and create a special future tense. English sadly has just never got round to doing it. So what does it do? Well, it blags it as we say. This is a slang word describing what someone does when they pretend to know something (which they don't) and give the impression that they do. So you could be in a country foreign to you and you want people to believe that you know the language. What do you do? You look serious, you make the gestures, you shake or nod your head and say the odd word in the language now and again. And that's roughly how it is with English and the future tense. We fall back on the old favourites 'shall' and 'will' and when we're not quite sure which one to use, we contract them and say things like "We'll", "I'll" and "They'll". It gets away with it because 'will' and 'shall' do tend to sort of point to the future. But beware! You have to use them wisely. They both had fairly distinctive meanings originally. 'Will' has the sense of wishing and intending and 'shall' goes one step further and expresses not only the idea of wanting but also adds a flavour of determination. In the marriage ceremony both parties announce with the words 'I will' that they want to marry each other. If we take 'shall' and align it with the second or third person, effectively we are telling that person what they are going to do. In other words we are giving them an order. As in the army: All personnel involved in the parade on Sunday shall report to the square at 11.00 today. You may know the story of the man who drowned because he didn't know his grammar. Imagine the scene: Dr Dryasdust, an eminent grammarian (just the sort of revered person you might well bump into on one of our forums!) was strolling along the river bank on a fine summer day, probably pondering on the niceties of the English language like the difference between 'dumb' and stupid' for example when he hears a man's voice calling out: Help! Help1. The worthy grammarian calls back to the man: What seems to be the trouble, my good man? The man calls back: I will drown. Dr Dryasdust replies: I see and walks on by. Another person arrives too late on the scene just to see the victim go under for the third time and drown. He accosts the great Dr and asks: Why didn't you dive in and save him or at least get help? Our grammarian turns on the other man and replies: He said 'I will drown' and I ascertained form that piece of information that such was the good man's wish. Had he said: 'I shall drown' I would certainly have attempted to save him but I have no wish to thwart another man's wishes!. So don't forget when you're in difficulties in an English speaking country, make sure you get your grammar right. One very good reason for signing on to www.english-test.net.

So what do we do about our non-existent future tense? Well, we can use 'will' and 'shall' with caution. If you're sure about something like when your birthday is, you can announce with conviction: (assuming it's true) Tomorrow will be my birthday. You could make a sudden offer to do something. Take a situation where nobody's offering to do the washing up after a meal. If you want to be goody-two-shoes, you can say: All right, I'll do it. By the way this title was given to a poor orphan who went by the name of Margery Meanwell who only owned one shoe. She was rather good at hopping and didn't complain. Then one fine day some kind gentleman seeing her hop all over the place gave her a fine pair of shoes. Well this went to her head and the shoes went to her feet. The trouble was every time she met anyone, she sang out: I've got two shoes. And from that day forth she was known as goody-two-shoes and now that's what we call someone who is very good and pious. And as I said above, 'I will' is the promise to marry someone. Then confusingly we go back to the tense store cupboard and take out the two present tenses — simple and continuous as our next substitutes. My train leaves in five minutes. This is a time that is stated according to a timetable, something that has been arranged beforehand.. We are looking for an interesting English language website today. That is our intention. Or we can also use 'going to' to express another similar future intention. We are going to find the best one that there is. And of course you must know which one that is! For something that is important and has been officially agreed, we use 'is to/are to' as in: The Olympic Games are to take place in London in 2012.

You might conclude that you are, I hope, as they say in the world of business now, future proofed — prepared for the use of this tense that doesn't really exist. If you see what I mean. At the same time I would hope that you are what could be called 'future perfect' — thoroughly clued up (well informed about) on all uses of the future in English. Oh dear I shouldn't have used those words 'future perfect' because it's another tense that I didn't mention, did I. But I'm sure you've had enough of tenses for the time being. Let's talk about that on another day — tomorrow perhaps?

Dear Friend, if you have any questions or comments regarding this article, please click here.


Hush hushEnglish goes to America
How good are you at managing your time?All about poets
Figuratively speakingTake your time
Looking aheadMore haste, less speed
I didn't mean to do that, honestlyA bit of a laugh
Come fly with me 
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