English is full of different types of clauses, and learning them all at one time can be overwhelming for ESL students.
Perhaps that’s why so many teachers choose to cover just one specific type of clause at a time with their students. In that vein, this article looks at future time clauses. These clauses can be tricky since they talk about the time of future events and display verb tense changes – always something ESL students need instruction on. So if you are ready to walk your students through the use of future time clauses, read on for essential information as well as exercises you can do in class with little to no preparation.
Teach Clauses Using These Simple Ideas
Time Clauses in General
Time clauses are dependent clauses that give specific information as to when something will happen. Because they are dependent clauses, they must be joined to an independent clause in a sentence. As with any other clause, time clauses contain a subject and a verb and generally start with a subordinating conjunction. In English, time clause subordinating conjunctions include until, till, as soon as, before, after, when, and while. Time clauses can also begin with a time expression such as the minute or the moment. (E.g. I will call you the minute he comes home.)
Practice: For general practice on time clauses, try this busy teacher worksheet.
In English, the verb tenses in time clauses are not what your students might expect. Since future time clauses talk about events in the future, ESL students might wrongly assume the verbs in future time clauses are written in the future tense. However, that is not the case. In a simple future time clause, a sentence will talk about two events that happen in the future – one before the other. Either event can be expressed in the time clause depending on which subordinating conjunction you use in that clause. When writing the sentence, one event is expressed in the main clause using a future tense. The other event, the one expressed in the future time clause, is expressed in the simple present, NOT the simple future.
- I will study until I know every answer.
- I will call you when I get home.
- Before you go, would you give me your phone number?
Even though the knowing every answer, getting home, and going are all events that take place sometime in the future, we use the simple present tense in the time clause. (This construction is similar to that of if-clauses in English.)
Practice: To practice verb tenses in future time clauses, have your students work with two or three others to list ten to fifteen events that will happen next week. Then have the groups write down one thing that will happen right before or right after those events. Finally, have student put the two events into one sentence using a time clause: one event should use the simple future tense while the event in the time clause will use the simple present tense. Students should use the subordinating conjunctions before and after to start their time clauses.
Sometimes, a time clause expresses an event that happens at the same time as another future event. In this case, the verb in the time clause is expressed in the present progressive.
- I will clean the kitchen while you are doing your homework.
- While she is getting ready, he will be warming up the car.
In each case, the event in the time clause (getting ready or doing homework) is happening at the same time as the other event. The subordinating conjunction that expressed this idea is while. Because these events occur at the same time, you can write the sentences with either event in the time clause without changing the meaning of the sentence, but you do have to change the verb tense.
- You will do your homework while I am cleaning the kitchen.
- She will get ready while he is warming up the car.
Practice: Have your students return to the list of future events they wrote in the previous exercise. For each of the events they listed, have students list an event that could be happening at the same time as the original event. Then have students work together to write sentences using time clauses – two for each pair of events – making sure the event in the time clauses is expressed using the present progressive tense.
Other Future Time Clauses
Occasionally, your students might want to express an event in the future progressive or future perfect in a time clause. These verbs, in the time clause, should be changed to the present progressive and the present perfect as in the following examples.
- I will be sleeping. You will get home.
- You will get home while I am sleeping.
- I will have taken the test tomorrow. Then I will go to the party.
- After I have taken the test, I will go to the party.
When the Time Clause Is the Object of the Verb
Be careful. Sometimes noun clauses look like time clauses, specifically those that start with when. Though the noun clause is a dependent clause and may start like a time clause, the grammar of these clauses is different. In such cases, future events are expressed in future time.
- I don’t know when she will introduce us.
Even though the introducing happens in the future, the event is the object of the verb know and is therefore not a time clause nor does it follow the rules for verb tenses in time clauses.
Future time clauses in English are a complicated subject, and your students will benefit from a single lesson devoted to this specific type of dependent clause. When you do, be sure to cover the specific structures mentioned here, and your students are sure to be successful.
At what level of ESL proficiency do you teach future time clauses?
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