CGEL by Huddleston and Pullum says on page 171:

8.3 Non-aspectual uses of the progressive


(a) The progressive futurate

[21] i a. The sun sets at five tomorrow. b. #The sun is setting at five tomorrow.


The progressive is restricted to cases where human agency or intention is involved – hence the anomaly of examples like [ib].

By the last line, I think, they mean that the progressive futurate is restricted to cases where human agency or intention is involved. Right?

Also, I was wondering why human agency or intention would need to be involved to express future time with the progressive. Could someone articulate the reason for this?

Finally, I'd like to know if you could ever use these other variations:

c. The sun is going to set at five tomorrow.

d. The sun will set at five tomorrow.

e. The sun will be setting at five tomorrow.

  • 1
    Yes, you're right: they're talking about the progressive futurate that's restricted. The reason is tied to the intrinsic meaning of the tense itself, when used to express the future. Namely, the progressive futurate is used for (fixed) arrangements, and arrangement cannot be made for the sun to set in the future (e.g., not by you). The answer to the last question is yes, all those sentences can be grammatical (and idiomatic) in certain contexts. Each of them emphasizes or means something a bit different.
    – user3395
    May 14, 2017 at 11:51

2 Answers 2


To understand this you need to firstly be aware of how to use the present continuous to talk about the future:

The present progressive indicating a future event speaks about arrangements for events at a time later than now. There is a suggestion that more than one person is aware of the event, and that some preparation has already happened. e.g.

  • "I am playing with John tomorrow" is a one-time planned event (a single-time arrangement for the future).

The present simple is used when a future event is part of a programme or time-table.

The present simple is used to refer to events in the future which are certain because they are facts, or because there is a clear or fixed schedule or timetable.

  • "I fly to Berlin next week." is a fixed event that is scheduled for next week.

Notice! Not every verb can be used to speak about the future (the sentence will sound awkward and generally unacceptable):

  • My friend solves this problem tomorrow.
  • My wife forgets about the party on Sunday.

A futurate is a sentence with unexpected future reference, and in which unplannable eventualities are generally unacceptable.

If we assume that generally a fact, an unchangeable programmed event, or a natural scheduled event can't be changed, the result, if it is, will be awkward. When laws of physics are questioned the sentence becomes really odd and generally unacceptable!

  • The earth is rotating slower tomorrow.
  • The sun is setting slower tomorrow.

However, other futurate uses can only involve human agency or intention (thus the restriction). This mainly means that only due to human intervention a change is made or an event is to be:

  • "The train is leaving at 8am tomorrow." (Normally it leaves at 8:20am but tomorrow due to changes made by human intervention the schedule is changed)
  • "The shop is closing at 5pm on Friday." (Normally it stays open until 7pm but tomorrow due to changes made by human intervention is closes earlier)

To summarise, the proper "progressive futurate" is used with anything that can be changed by human intervention.

The meaning off the progressive futurate unlike that of the "progressive aspect" is not aspectual and thus doesn't show duration.




We use the auxiliary verb 'to be" to express a state.

I am not allowed to enter without tickets.

Yet seemingly in a different tense, the following sentence remains contextually and temporally identical.

They are not allowing me to enter without tickets.

You will be surprised means the same as It will be surprising to you.

We are dealing with semantics, here.

Grammatically, form the future tense, as you normally would, using will+ infinitive without 'to'

I am going to bed early. I will be going to bed early this week.

Some examples including the past tense:

  1. I was walking in the park.

  2. I am walking in the park.

  3. I will be walking in the park.

a) The sun set at 5 b) sets at 5 c) will set at 5.

A. The Sun was setting at 5.

B. The Sun is setting at 5.

C. The Sun will be setting at 5.

I was walking in the park when it started to rain. I am walking in the park under the rain.

As I bought a new umbrella, I won't be soaked again walking in the park under the rain.

I will be prepared next time.

  • We would then have to cite the paper along. But it looks like you can explain what are unacceptable unplannable eventualities and what is their relation to the present progressive and what does this all have to do with the progressive present tense?
    – Specialist
    Jan 24, 2018 at 11:54
  • I appreciate the paper research and cited quotations, but I thought the question was in regard to Grammar, not the assignment topic of English composition 101 .
    – Specialist
    Jan 24, 2018 at 12:08
  • @Specialist It wasn't I who gave myself the bounty, the OP decided that my answer was helpful. It's not easy to grasp the meaning even after reading the book A to Z and, I agree, my citations aren't of that much help without pure logic and reference to books. The futurate is still quite easy to understand if you can make out the meaning of the lot. Jan 24, 2018 at 12:45
  • Could we stay on topic please? My question was: "What are unacceptable unplannable eventualities ?
    – Specialist
    Jan 24, 2018 at 13:13
  • Answers are for answering the question. If you have a question, you should ask it using the Ask Question button at the top of the page.
    – ColleenV
    Jan 24, 2018 at 14:22

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