Friday, September 18, 2020


In grammar, a futurate is a present-tense sentence that expresses a future temporal reference. For example:

  • The Red Sox play the Yankees tomorrow. (futurate.)
  • The Red Sox will play the Yankees tomorrow. (synonymous futurate-tense sentence.)

This is rarely relevant in Japanese, but it occurs in sentences like this:

  • gakkou wa yasumi da
    The school is at rest. (literally.)
    There's no school. (present.)
    *There will be no school. (no future interpretation.)
  • ashita gakkou wa yasumi da
    Tomorrow, the school is at rest. (a futurate.)
    There will be no school tomorrow.
Future temporal reference plus present tense equals futurate. Example: ashita Tarou ga koko ni iru 明日太郎がここにいる, Tomorrow, Tarou is here. Where ashita/tomorrow is a future temporal reference, and iru/is is a present tense word.


The term futurate has been defined as:

Prince ms. 1973 uses the term futurate for present-tense sentences that can occur with future time adverbials.(Goodman, 1973:76)

A "future time adverbial" typically refers to words like "tomorrow."

Although the definition above is accurate for English, it's not accurate for Japanese. In Japanese, there are futurates that occur without adverbs, and instead derive the temporal reference from context.


In the Japanese tense system, a verb in nonpast form can only express a future temporal reference on its own if it's an eventive verb. All statives (adjectives, stative verbs, habituals) can only express a present temporal reference.

For example(鈴木, 1965:6, excerpts from 山本有三 波 27; 川端康成 舞姫 23):

  • ima, hi wo okoshimasu
    [I] will light up the fire now. (eventive verb.)
  • shiroi koi ga imasu
    There is a white carp. (stative verb.)

Typically, an eventivizer such as naru なる is used to turn a stative into an eventive to express a future temporal reference.

  • Tarou wa tabako wo suu
    Tarou smokes cigars. (present habitual.)
    *Tarou will smoke cigars. (no futurity.)
  • Tarou wa {{tabako wo suu} you ni} naru
    Tarou will become {in a way [that] {smokes cigars}}.
    Tarou will start {smoking cigars}.
    Tarou will {smoke cigars}. (futurity.)

Only in rare and exceptional cases a stative has a future reference through a futurate. However, the existence of futurates in Japanese explains how sentences such as this make sense:

  • ashita shigoto wa yasumi da
    Tomorrow, [my] job is at rest.
    I don't have work tomorrow.

Contextual Futurates

Unlike English, Japanese allows futurates to derive a future temporal reference from context, which is probably what makes classifying Japanese futurates as futurates problematic.

For example(Ogihara, 1995:4):

  • ashita kite-kudasai.
    Tarou ga koko ni imasu.
    Please come [visit us] tomorrow.
    Tarou will be here.(translation by Ogihara.)

In the sentence above, iru いる, which is a stative existence verb, has been translated as "will be" instead of "is," which means the English translation doesn't have a futurate.

Indeed, if you tried to translate it as "is," it wouldn't make sense.

  • Please come visit us tomorrow.
    Tarou is here.

Above, "Tarou is here" at time of utterance, in the present, not in the future. It's not a futurate. A futurate would be:

  • Tomorrow, Tarou is here.

English futurates require the temporal adverb (tomorrow) to be in the same clause as the present tensed word (is).

One conclusion we can derive from this is the Japanese example we saw isn't actually a futurate, given it doesn't behave like an English futurate. In other words, that iru いる, and other stative verbs, can express a futurity by themselves, just like eventive verbs.

However, there are reasons to believe that conclusion is incorrect. If we remove the first sentence, we no longer have a futurity:

  • Tarou ga koko ni imasu
    Tarou is here. (present.)
    *Tarou will be here. (no future.)

This means that it's not possible for iru いる to translate to "will be" by itself. Only when we have an appropriate context that interpretation becomes possible.

As it turns out, the "context" doesn't even require a temporal adverb to have been explicitly uttered in the discourse, merely the presupposition that the predicate will take place in the future is enough.

For example(鈴木, 1965:6, excerpt from 舞姫 180):

  • Shinako, eki de matte-ite......
    Shinako, wait at the station......
  • hai, Yokosuka-sen no hoomu ni imasu.
    Okay. [I] will be at the Yokosuka Line's platform.

In the sentence above, it doesn't make sense for Shinako to answer "I am at the platform," specially given that the hai uttered previously means that she will do as asked. Therefore, imasu can only be understood as "will be" here.

Note that Prince's definition of futurates in English was made in 1973, while Suzuki's research is from 1965. Before Prince's definition was available, Suzuki(鈴木, 1965:6) wrote:

  • kono baai, genzai de aru ka, mirai de aru ka no chigai wa, genzai-mirai-kei ga arawasu nodewanaku, bunmyaku ya bamen ya, jikan wo arawasu ren'you-shuushoku-go (joukyou-go) nado ga shimesu no de aru. (jissai no shiyou-rei dewa, genzai no joutai wo sashite-iru baai ga attou-teki ni ooi you de aru ga.)
    In this case, the difference of whether it's present or future isn't expressed by the present-future-form, but by the context, situation, adverbs that express time, etc. (in actual examples, it seems cases where present state is expressed are the absolutely majority.)
    • Note: genzai-mirai-kei 現在未来系, "present-future-tense," is what Suzuki calls the "nonpast form," hikako-kei 非過去形.
    • The term ren'you-shuushoku-go 連用修飾語 refers to adverbs. A shuushoku-go 修飾語 is a "modifier," while ren'you 連用 means literally "connective use." This latter term is probably related to the ren'youkei 連用形, which is the adverbial form for adjectives.
    • The term joukyou-go 状況語 means "situation word." It refers to adverbs of time and place.

What Suzuki is describing by "adverbs that express time" are futurates, but in Japanese "context, situation" are also included.

The part that says in most cases the present state is expressed leads us to believe that expressing the present is the default for stative verbs, and the future temporal reference is only available through "context, situation, adverbs that express time, etc.," in other words, through futurates.

Progressive Futurates

In English, futurates are available to the progressive form.

For example(Copley, 2009:26).

  • The Red Sox are playing the Yankees tomorrow. (progressive.)
  • The Red Sox play the Yankees tomorrow. (simple present.)

Typically, the English progressive form translates to the Japanese ~te-iru ~ている form. For example:

  • hashiru
    To run.
  • hashitte-iru
    To be running.

This leads us to believe that the English progressive futurate would also be available in Japanese through the ~te-iru form. This isn't really the case.

To begin with, the English progressive futurate is typically used when we want to assert that we're certain something is going to happen.

  • I'll do it.
  • No, you won't.
  • I AM DOING IT. D:<

In the last sentence above, "I am doing it" doesn't mean I'm actually doing something right now, but that I've absolutely decided to do it, and I'll be doing it later. In other words, the progressive is bound to the present.

This doesn't translate to Japanese at all. When the ~te-iru form is used in a futurate, it simply expresses a progressive occurs in the future, so the progressive will be bound to the future.

For example(adapted from Sugita, 2009:24n9):

  • ashita Marii ga hashitte-iru
    Tomorrow, Mary is running.
    • This sentence means the same thing as "Mary was running," except in the future: "Mary will be running." There will be sometime tomorrow in which Mary is running is actualized.
    • It doesn't mean, "Mary IS running tomorrow," as if we're absolutely certain that "Mary will run" tomorrow.


  1. 鈴木重幸, 1965. 現代日本語の動詞のテンス―言いきりの述語に使われたばあい―. 国立国語研究所 ことばの研究, 2.
  2. Goodman, F., 1973. On the semantics of futurate sentences.
  3. Ogihara, T., 1995. Tense, Attitudes, And Scope.
  4. Copley, B., 2009. The semantics of the future. Routledge.
  5. Sugita, M., 2009. Japanese-TE IRU and-TE ARU: The aspectual implications of the stage-level and individual-level distinction. City University of New York.

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