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Sorry if it seems silly, but I have a question:

I sometimes find myself asking if I should use "will" when talking about future plans.

For example: "We'll talk about it later today, when 'we/ we will' speak on the phone."

Using "will" in this case sounds clumsy to my ears. But the person is talking about something that will happen in the future, so I see no good reason to omit it.

So, what is the right grammar here, and why?

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    You don't need "will" in the subordinate clause. Future-time meaning is made clear by the use of 'll" (i.e."will") and the temporal expression "later today" in the matrix clause. – BillJ Sep 10 '17 at 18:19
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We'll talk about it later today, when 'we/ we will' speak on the phone is a first conditional example which is often used to talk about what might happen in the (near) future.

  • This simple form has a main clause which does stand alone and has will + V. inf {we will talk about it later today} and a subordinate clause which doesn't stand alone and begin with either a subordinator if, when, until, although,.... plus present simple tense as in your example{when we speak on the phone}, 3rd form of verb *left,shouted... * or ing-form of verb *being, sitting... *

  • Your example is right but without adding will in the subordinate clause and a comma in the middle. It has to be : we'll talk about it later today when we speak on the phone

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This all comes down to certainty. The word will in this case is used as an indicator of certainty. When using will in a sense of future plans, it can seem clumsy because it implies no choice. The example given can be changed to, We should talk later. The difference is huge, too. We'll talk later is a command given or statement of what will happen. We should talk is a suggestion or statement of what should happen. Will in this context usually only works on things you know will happen, or futures that will occur and can be fact checked. Let us take knowledge of a book for example. If you have read the book, you could say to someone, That book is great! Did you know in chapter four John will finally call his dad?. Compared to if you hadnt read that far in the book, I'm loving the book, but John should really call his dad.

  • 'We'll talk about it later today' may be used as an encouragement/guarantee as well as a command. Modals are notoriously flexible. 'Will' does not demand certain knowledge about the future (or it wouldn't be usable very often). – Edwin Ashworth Sep 10 '17 at 23:39

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