future of probability ["will" indicating probability]

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Thomas Tompion

Senior Member
English - England
Something someone said today suggested, to my surprise, that what I call the future of probability isn't as common in AE as in BE.

Question: Where are the children?

Answer: Oh! They'll be in the garden.

They will be in the garden means they are almost certainly in the garden


Is it really unusual in AE?
 
  • JamesM

    Senior Member
    I don't think it's that unusual, and I didn't get the impression from that other thread that the person was saying it was unusual.

    Parents, when imagining what children are doing on a school trip, for example, will often say, "It's 10:00 a.m. They'll be walking into the zoo entrance right about now."

    An old song from 70s is written in very casual conversational language and it's filled with this type of future tense:

    By the time I get to Phoenix she'll be rising
    She'll find the note I left hangin' on her door
    She'll laugh when she reads the part that says I'm leavin'
    'Cause I've left that girl so many times before

    ("By The Time I Get To Phoenix" sung by Glen Campbell, written by Jimmy Webb and Glen Campbell)


    [edit]Hmm... now that I think about it, the lyric may not actually fall into that same category. It is talking about a future event. I think you're talking about a present event being referred to in the future, like the zoo example.)
     

    Prower

    Banned
    Russian
    I have noticed that Future Simple and Future Perfect can both express this "the future of probability" however each seems to have its own prescription. What I mean is that


    1) Future Simple expresses "the future of probability" with the verb to be

    - Where's Emma? Oh she'll be in the garden attending to the silkworms. (not She will have been)

    2) Future Perfect expresses "the future of probability" with other verbs.

    He won't have done it by tomorrow - I think he won't (probability)
    He won't do it by tomorrow - I know he won't do it (it's a fact)


    Do you think I got it right?
     
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    boozer

    Senior Member
    Bulgarian
    I think, prower, you're you're getting the wrong impression. The "future of probability", as opposed to the indefinite simple future, is a way to express an educated guess as to either what is happening at the moment of speaking (1) or what has already happened (2), i.e. present and past hypotheses:

    (1) She'll be reading a book now. - I suppose right now she is reading a book.
    (2) She'll have already finished her breakfast - I suppose she has already finished her breakfast.

    It so happens that the verb "to be" does not take the present continuous to express "being" at the moment of speaking. Nothing more complicated than that, I think...

    Where's Emma? Oh she'll be in the garden attending to the silkworms. - pay attention to the red word in your own example. Because both verbs speak of what is right now, logically, the sentence should be:

    Oh she'll be being :cross: in the garden attending to the silkworms. - this one is wrong because the verb "to be" cannot take the future progressive like this. However, both verbs are a guess as to what is happening right now.

    I would like to be corrected if I'm maing a mistake or if I'm missing something. :)
     

    Prower

    Banned
    Russian
    The "future of probability", as opposed to the indefinite simple future, is a way to express an educated guess as to either what is happening at the moment of speaking (1) or what has already happened (2), i.e. present and past hypotheses:
    Not always i guess. Future is included

    He won't/will have done it by tomorrow. - (there is still some time for him to act. So his actions haven't happened yet. )

    Otherwise what's the point of using Future Perfect here when we could simply use Future Simple?


    (1) She'll be reading a book now. - I suppose right now she is reading a book.
    (2) She'll have already finished her breakfast - I suppose she has already finished her breakfast.
    I agree with these examples. But I think they differ from mine.

    It so happens that the verb "to be" does not take the present continuous to express "being" at the moment of speaking. Nothing more complicated than that, I think...

    Where's Emma? Oh she'll be in the garden attending to the silkworms. - pay attention to the red word in your own example. Because both verbs speak of what is right now, logically, the sentence should be:
    I don't think that present participle has anything to do with it. It could be

    Oh she was in the garden attending to the silkworms.

    Let's shorten the sentence.

    She will be in the garden!

    -------------------
    Compare these ones.

    - This will be the man you've been looking for. (Future Simple - probability)
    - He will be our candidate. (Future Simple - Fact)

    Conclusion - Future Simple with the verb to be can express either a fact or probability.

    -----------------
    If we take another verb, then Future Simple can't express probability any more as it does with to be

    He won't do it by tomorrow - I know he won't do it (it's a fact/not probability) Right?

    However, it is still possible to express probability by means of Future Perfect with other verbs.

    He won't have done it by tomorrow - I think he won't (probability)

    This is what I find to be interesting. I might be wrong of course)))
     
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    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    I think it's worth taking a step or two back, Prower.

    "Will" has three main meanings in English:
    (1) 'futurity' (future time) as in John will go to London next week
    (2) volition/intention/willingness, as in Will you come this way please? or I've asked John twenty times, but he won't do his homework.
    (3) prediction/deduction/probability, as in Who is at the door? Oh, it'll be the postman - he always comes at two o'clock.

    Note that (2) and (3) do not relate to future time: "will", in both, has a present meaning.
    So:
    John won't do his homework means John refuses (or is refusing) to do his homework {now}
    It'll be the postman means I am confident {now} that it is the postman.

    (One of the implications of this is that TT's term for what he is describing in post 1 is, to my mind, a misnomer: what we have in post 1 is "will expressing probability" not "the future tense expressing probability". TT himself is plainly - post 3 - looking for a different name for it other than his 'future of probability'.)

    Taking this one step further in the direction of your question, and focusing in on my category (3), let's look at the difference between two conversations:
    (i)
    Andrew: I can hear someone knocking at the door - I wonder who it is.
    Beatrice: Oh, it'll be the postman - he always comes at two o'clock.

    (ii)
    Colin: I heard someone knocking at the door yesterday afternoon - I wonder who it was.
    Diana: Oh, it'll have been the postman - he always comes at two o'clock.

    "Will" in both of these still has a present meaning. In the red conversation, Beatrice is saying "I am confident {now} that it is the postman who is knocking"; in the blue conversation, Diana is saying "I am confident {now} that it was the postman who knocked yesterday".

    So, turning to your examples, whether or not will is followed by the verb "be" makes no difference:

    Your first example
    (with added names;))
    Edward: Where's Emma?
    Frances: Oh she'll be in the garden attending to the silkworms.
    (Frances is saying "I am confident {now} that Emma is in the garden".

    We could easily turn this into a conversation about the past:
    George: Where was Emma yesterday afternoon?
    Harriet: Oh she'll have been in the garden attending to the silkworms.
    (Harriet is saying "I am confident {now} that Emma was in the garden yesterday".

    Your second example needs tweaking in order to turn it into a clear example of will=probability rather than will=future time.
    So let's do some tweaking:
    Ian: Do you think John has done his homework?
    Jennifer: Oh, no, he won't have done it yet.
    (Jennifer is saying "I am confident {now} that John hasn't done his homework".)

    Another tweaked version:
    Keith: Do you think John did his homework yesterday?
    Linda: Oh, no, he won't have done it yesterday - he's got another week before the deadline.
    (Linda is saying "I am confident {now} that John didn't do his homework yesterday".)
     
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    zopqwe

    Senior Member
    Spanish (Arg)
    Please, bear with me a little more. I still got the feeling that the "future of probability" is not that common an occurrence in AmE. So, comming back to the original question, does this, for example, sound at all strange to American ears:

    - What is Lucy doing in her room?
    - I don't know, she'll be reading a book or something.

    As opposed to the, to my mind, much more common in AmE, she must be reading a book or something?
     

    Prower

    Banned
    Russian
    Loob I have no words to express my gratitude for your tremendous work. It's huge.
    I think it's worth taking a step or two back, Prower.
    "Will" has three main meanings in English:
    You have mixed together Modal Will (which is auxiliary) and Auxiliary Will (which is not modal.)The latter one is used in Future Perfect not the first one.

    (3) prediction/deduction/probability, as in Who is at the door? Oh, it'll be the postman - he always comes at two o'clock.
    It's interesting to mention that you are using here the word - prediction. I am quite sure that we predict things which are going to happen in the future.

    Note that (2) and (3) do not relate to future time: "will", in both, has a present meaning.
    I am not sure about it.

    Oh, it'll be the postman - he always comes at two o'clock.

    Ok. Then it means that you can't be mistaken because it's happening in the present. You know it now that this is a postman. What a surprise! The man turns out to be a plumber. This is why I can't completely agree with you here that it's all about the present.

    So:
    John won't do his homework means John refuses (or is refusing) to do his homework {now}
    It'll be the postman means I am confident {now} that it is the postman.


    I agree that - I am confident {now}
    But I don't agree that - that it is the postman

    It should be

    I am confident {now} that it will turn out to be the postman.
    ---------------------

    The rest of your examples express the past meaning in the first place.
    I am struggling with the future meaning

    He won't do it by tomorrow - I know he won't do it (it's a fact/not probability)

    He won't have done it by tomorrow - I think he won't do it(probability)

    PS I am not sure that you got my point. May be I failed to explain it properly.
     

    Prower

    Banned
    Russian
    - What is Lucy doing in her room?
    - I don't know, she'll be reading a book or something.

    As opposed to the, to my mind, much more common in AmE, she must be reading a book or something?
    I am also not sure that Future Continuous is a good means to convey it.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    I am struggling with the future meaning

    He won't do it by tomorrow - I know he won't do it (it's a fact/not probability)

    He won't have done it by tomorrow - I think he won't do it(probability)

    PS I am not sure that you got my point. May be I failed to explain it properly.
    I understand your question.

    My answer is that:

    1. Your two "by tomorrow" sentences are equally factual.
    2. Both are examples of will=future.
    3. In the terminology you are using, they are examples of auxiliary will, not modal will.
     

    boozer

    Senior Member
    Bulgarian
    I understand your question.

    My answer is that:

    1. Your two "by tomorrow" sentences are equally factual.
    2. Both are examples of will=future.


    1. I wholeheartedly agree. This is the usual use of "will" to talk about the future. This is not like making a guess about the present or past with the help of "will".

      Perhaps I should add that prower is talking about specific tenses and grammar forms as though they were more important than the three basic concepts of time - past, present and future. The specific grammar forms are called present simple, perfect, continuous, etc., but the general concepts of future <-> non future are of importance here. When "will" is used to make a guess, that guess may take the form of future simple/continuous/perfect, etc., but the concept of time in the speaker's mind remains non-future.

      The verb "to be" is a small exception in that it simply refuses to take continuous form...
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Ok. If they are both factual how would you modify them to make them indicate probability?
    I wouldn't.

    PS. Nicely put, boozer (post 15):thumbsup:
    .........
    (EDIT: Oops, I meant 14!:D)
     
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    Prower

    Banned
    Russian
    So you are saying that there is no way to express probability for this sentence.

    I am pretty sure that he won't do it tomorrow. ( He won't do it by tomorrow)
     

    sandpiperlily

    Senior Member
    So you are saying that there is no way to express probability for this sentence.

    I am pretty sure that he won't do it tomorrow. ( He won't do it by tomorrow)
    There are a lot of ways to express varying levels of probability...

    I doubt he will do it tomorrow.
    I don't think he will do it tomorrow.
    I'm not sure if he will do it tomorrow.
    I'm not convinced that he will do it tomorrow.
    Maybe he will do it tomorrow, or maybe he won't.
    He might not do it tomorrow.

    etc...
     
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