Latin Future Tense Verbs: An English Comparison
The tense of a verb indicates when an action takes place. Actions that have not yet taken place but are expected to take place any time after the present use the future tense. The future tense of both Latin and English function identically. However, an understanding of the standard future tense paves the way to understanding another future tense.
The Future Tense of English
The future tense simply indicates an action that will happen in the future. Of course, unlike the tenses of the present and past, there is no way of knowing whether the action will actually take place. In both Latin and English, the future tense is used just like the other tenses; they state the future action as if it will definitely take place. Theoretical or idealistic actions are expressed with the subjunctive mood. There is no future subjunctive mood because something can not be grammatically theoretical or ideal and at the same time be expected to happen in the future. One or the other must be chosen.
The words “will” and “shall” are the auxiliary words used to indicate the future tense. Some scholars believe that “shall” is reserved only for first person verbs and “will” is to be used with the second and third person, as in:
I/We shall go to the field.
You (singular and plural) will go to the field
He/She/It/They will go to the field
However, “shall” is falling into disuse. Often, both “will” and “shall” are shortened to “’ll”, as in:
I’ll go to the field
You’ll go to the field
He’ll go to the field
Since “’ll” can be used in place of both “will” and “shall”, a writer or speaker can avoid choosing.
The Future Tense of Latin
To express actions of the future, Latin relies on inflections rather than auxiliary words. One issue that gives students problems is the formation of the future tense from conjugation to conjugation. The first and second conjugations add a –bi– between the stem of the verb and the personal ending where the third and fourth conjugations add an –e– between the stem and the ending. For example:
1st conjugation: ambulabit (He will walk)
2nd conjugation: monebit (He will warn)
3rd conjugation: aget (He will lead)
4th conjugation: audiet (He will hear)
Other than this problem, students usually find translation of the future tense quite simple. For example:
Caesar in agro ambulabit (Caesar will walk in the field)
Caesar virum monebit (Caesar will warn the man)
Caesar copias aget (Caesar will lead the troops)
Caesar virum audiet (Caesar will hear the man)
The Latin and English future tense performs the same function; they indicate any action that will take place after the present. The change in inflected form from the first and second to the third and fourth conjugations often make identification of the future tense difficult after students have gotten used to the telltale sign –bi– of the future tense in the first two conjugations. Students are often taught the –i– in –bi– should be likened to the –i– in “will” to remember the formation of the future tense. No such luck, however, when the third and fourth conjugations are learned. In, fact, that method of identifying the future tense at the early stages of a Latin course of study only makes the impact of the change in the other conjugations that much more foreign when students tend to carry it with them into intermediate and advanced Latin study.