The US small arms market will sell $3,985,000,000 worth of firearms in 2020: the future tense in French

The Crystal Ball, by John William Waterhouse. La boule de cristal, in French. Picture attribution: John William Waterhouse [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
I’ve been reading predictions about the United States and France in 2020.  The Euromonitor International website says that the US had the largest economy in the world in 2010, but will have slipped to #2 (behind China) in 2020; it says that France had the 7th-largest economy in 2010, but will have been displaced by Brazil to drop to #8 by 2020.  According to the Congressional Research Service, France got 10.3% of its energy from renewable sources in 2005, and has a target of 23% by 2020. thinks that the US small arms market will sell $3,985,000,000 worth of firearms in 2020, and that the total population of France (currently 64.21 million) will be 65.7 million.  (The US should be a bit above 330 million.) Americans are projected to eat 5,404 metric tons of cheese in 2020; cut me off before I could get the relevant numbers for France, but revenues from cheese sales in France last year should have been about $37.71 billion.

Talking about any of these predictions requires that we be able to use the future tense.  And, there’s no time like the present to talk about the future, right?

For starters, let’s look at the inflection of a regular verb or two. Well: three… We’re going to concentrate on the particular future tense called simply the futur, as opposed to the futur proche.  As the French Crazy web site explains it: while the futur proche or “near future” tense (the one formed with the verb aller) is used to refer to “events that are certain to occur and are happening relatively soon”, the futur “is used to talk about more general or distant future events. These events are slightly more uncertain because the amount of time needed to elapse is greater than the near future.”  Here is the paradigm for the futur.  I recommend that you listen to the pronunciations of even the regular -er verbs on the Tex’s French Grammar web site. For your convenience, I’m going to use the same examples as Tex:

nager (to swim) réfléchir (to think) rendre (to give back)
je  nagerai  réfléchirai rendrai
tu  nageras  réfléchiras  rendras
on  nagera  réfléchira  rendra
nous  nagerons  réfléchirons  rendrons
vous  nagerez  réfléchirez  rendrez
ils/elles  nageront  réfléchiront  rendront

It’s way too easy to confuse the future with the conditional, and we’re going to need both of them to form the compound tenses that we’ve been talking about lately, so let’s look at the potential points of confusion between the two.

The potential problem comes from the fact that both the futur and the conditionnel maintain the r sound of the infinitive.  One of the linguist’s best approaches to everything is to look at “minimal contrasts,” so let’s try that.

In the first person singular (je), the futur and the conditionnel sound the same.  This screws me up constantly when I’m listening to someone else.  In writing, though, they are differentiated by the presence of a (silent) s in the conditional:

nager (to swim) réfléchir (to think) rendre (to give back)
Future je nagerai je réfléchirai je rendrai
Conditional je nagerais je réfléchirais je rendrais

The tu and on (first person singular informal and third person singular) inflections are not very confusable, but the nous (first person plural) inflections are.  Here the difference is that the conditional has an i:

nager (to swim) réfléchir (to think) rendre (to give back)
Future nous nagerons nous réfléchirons nous rendrons
Conditional nous nagerions nous réfléchirions nous rendrions

There’s a similar “minimal contrast” in the vous (second person singular formal or second person plural) inflections:

nager (to swim) réfléchir (to think) rendre (to give back)
Future vous nagerez vous réfléchirez vous rendrez
Conditional vous nageriez vous réfléchiriez vous rendriez

The ils/elles (third person plural) forms are pretty distinct, so we’ll skip those, too.

There are tons of verbs that are irregular in the future, so we’ll come back to the future in a future post.  (Sorry.)  There are also a number of differences in when the future tense versus the present tense get used in English versus French, and we’ll come back to those, too.  In the meantime: I’m going to have a cup of coffee.  (How many different ways have I formed the English future tense in this paragraph?)



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