Future Time Clauses

What is a future time clause?

A future time clause is a subordinate clause that contains a conjunction such as when, as soon as, before, after, until, etc. The special thing about these clauses is that they use a present tense to refer to an action or event in the future.

Learn more about future time clauses in English grammar, then put your knowledge to the test in the exercises.

Example

Nora, Rosie and Salim are graduating from university next week. They are discussing their plans for after graduation:

After graduation, Nora will stay with her parents until she finds a good job.

While she is living with her parents, she will save a lot of money.

Her friend Salim has other plans. He will take a gap year before he starts working.

After Salim finishes his gap year, he is going to start a Master’s in law.

Their other friend Rosie wants an adventure. She is going to move abroad as soon as she has finished uni.

Once Rosie has settled in, Nora and Salim will visit her.

They’re already looking forward to their reunion!

Tenses in future time clauses

In sentences that contain a future time clause, the main clause contains a future tense (usually will + infinitive), but the time clause contains a present tense.

Example:
Nora will stay with her parents until she finds a good job.
main clause: will; time clause with until: simple present

We do not repeat the future tense.

Example:
When she finds a good job, she will move out.
not: When she will find

We can use different present tenses in future time clauses: the simple present, present progressive or present perfect simple.

Examples:
Nora will stay with her parents until she finds a good job. (simple present)
While she is living with her parents, she will save a lot of money. (present progressive)
Rosie will move abroad as soon as she has finished uni. (present perfect)

Likewise, we can use different future tenses or even the imperative in the main clause.

Examples:
Salim will take a gap year before he starts working. (will future)
After he finishes his gap year, he’s going to start a Master’s in law. (going to + infinitive)
While Nora is living at home, Rosie will be enjoying life abroad. (future progressive)
When I am settled, come and visit me! (imperative)

Simple present or present perfect?

The simple present and the present perfect simple are sometimes interchangeable in future time clauses.

Example:
Rosie will move abroad as soon as she finishes uni. = Rosie will move abroad as soon as she has finished uni.

However, the present perfect shows that the actions are sequential, not simultaneous.

Example:
Nora will call Salim when she cooks/is cooking dinner.
chatting on the phone and cooking at the same time
Nora will call Salim when she has cooked dinner.
first dinner is finished, then she makes the phone call

Punctuation in future time clauses

Sometimes we can reverse the order of future time clauses. The meaning doesn’t change, but when the time clause comes first, it is separated from the main clause by a comma.

Example:
Once Rosie has settled in, Nora and Salim will visit her. (comma)
Nora and Salim will visit once Rosie has settled in. (no comma)

Conjunctions in future time clauses

Read on for a list of the most common conjunctions used in future time clauses:

when, as soon as

  • When means at the time that.
    Example:
    They will tell Rosie when their flight lands.
  • When signifies that we are certain that an event will happen in the future. In some languages, when is a false friend and is often confused with if. Learn the difference between if and when.
    Example:
    They will tell Rosie when their flight lands.
    not: if their flight lands
  • As soon as is similar to when, but it emphasises that the main clause will happen immediately following the action in the time clause.
    Example:
    I promise that I’ll call you as soon as I have more information.
    = the minute that I have more information

before, after, once

  • Before means that the action in the main clause must be completed prior to the action in the time clause.
    Example:
    Salim will take a gap year before he starts working.
    first he does a gap year, then he starts work
  • After is the opposite of before; the action in the main clause happens second.
    Example:
    After they have graduated, the three friends will go their separate ways.
    first they graduate, then they go their separate ways
  • Once has a similar meaning to after.
    Example:
    You’ll feel better once the exams are over.
    = after the exams are over

while, until

  • While shows that two actions happen simultaneously in the future.
    Example:
    Nora will save money while she is living with her parents.
  • Until means from now up to a specific time point in the future.
    Example:
    Rosie will live abroad until she gets bored.

Read more about conjunctions in English grammar.