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Future Tense

February 12, 2003 |

Dear Garrison,

Since I regard you as the Commanding General of English Majors, I hope you can explain the demise of the future tense. Why do I so frequently hear broadcasters say, "We are back in thirty seconds," or some similar expression of what WILL occur in a minute, or two, or three, but phrased in the PRESENT tense rather than in the future tense? I suppose this is "nit-picking" at its worst, but it bugs me.

Nancy Wilson

Nancy, I haven't heard that, but don't feel sheepish about the fact that it bugs you. Usage and syntax are of interest and a person's style of English speaks volumes about him/her and THIS IS A PASSIONATE SUBJECT. Well, not to me, so much, but it's okay that you have STRONG FEELINGS about it. I'm a writer, and therefore tend to be passive about speech ---- if I heard a broadcaster say that, I'd make a mental note that that's how people in radio talk, and I'd use it in a story, one more tiny detail from real life. I'd feel much more exercised if I were a teacher and heard my students talk that way ---- it's my job to try to bring them into the glories of the castle of English and not spend their lives camped in the parking lot. Good for you that you're irked. So many people apologize for language passion, afraid it's neurotic or small-minded or that it betrays class bias, but there's no need to worry.

And when you get to my age, Nancy, you will start to feel less apologetic in general.

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