When do I know that the present tense has a future implication not a present one? For instance:

  1. We are making some changes to the speech and we are losing the ‘ocean’ part.

Does the verb losing here in this context imply the future as in any of “They are going to lose it” or “They will lose it” or “They are to use it”, or does it imply only the present as in “They are right now this moment already in the process of losing it”?

Add to that many other scenarios where with the present tense doesn’t seem to make clear whether it’s by implication referring to the present time or to some future time like in this second example.

Imagine you are at an airport travelling to the USA and you ask about the plane you are supposed to board; now which one should you use?

  1. Excuse me, which plane goes to the USA?
  2. Excuse me, which plane is travelling to the USA?
  3. Excuse me, which plane is going to travel to the USA?
  4. Excuse me, which plane is going to be travelling to the USA?

My whole point is that I’m very, ᴠᴇʀʏ confused when it comes to the present tense (using the continuous aspect) and its possible time implications, so could someone please point me out to like a fact or something that I can use so that I’m no longer ᴛʜɪꜱ super-confused about it?

Okay guys last one, what about this example:

  1. I’m placing a new order right now.

I find this sentence in particular even more confusing than the preceding two because even though it has a time adverbial (right now), it’s not obvious whether the speaker is saying they are doing it right now as in they are in the middle of the process, or whether they are going to do it right now as in the immediate future.

  • Isn't it that when the changes are effected, it results is loss of substantial part of it?
    – Ram Pillai
    Feb 5, 2020 at 9:56
  • 1
    I think this is a largely American usage meaning 'cutting out'. The whole process is a now-and-near-future concoction. It could well be that the speech has already been adjusted, or that the adjustment will take another couple of days. Feb 5, 2020 at 11:01
  • yeah @EdwinAshworth that's actually the whole point, which one of both scenarios is the speaker implying? Has the speech already been modified or will the modification take place in the future ? Thanks! Feb 5, 2020 at 11:59
  • 1
    This is like someone saying "I have more than six sandwiches, but less than nine" and you asking "How can we tell whether he has seven or eight?" Feb 5, 2020 at 16:52
  • 1
    We frequently use language loosely (as I'm sure every person using any language does at times). 'This bottle is full' doesn't mean it couldn't hold 3 more molecules of water. Your new example can in practice have either of the senses you mention (I'm aware that many people are far better multitaskers than I am). The way most people actually use language trumps the way some people think they should do. I bet there are even cases where someone says “I'm placing a new order right now” but never gets round to it. Feb 6, 2020 at 16:24

3 Answers 3


You can't tell.

Often (but not always), if it's not obvious and it makes a difference, a native speaker will add a time adverb to the sentence.

For your example,

we are making some changes to the speech and we are losing the ocean part,

what real difference does it make to the listener whether they are doing it at this very moment or if they are planning on doing it tomorrow? Why does the speaker need to specify one or the other?

For your example,

excuse me, which plane is traveling to the USA?

it's clear from context that you are asking about a near future event, so the speaker doesn't need to specify that it's future.

It does make it very inconvenient if you're translating the phrase into a language where you have to choose either a future or a present verb to translate it with, but that's one of the challenges of translation.

  • For one thing, this doesn't happen with present-tense verbs only when the continuous aspect is also involved; consider I leave tomorrow and I see the doctor tomorrow. But for another, even languages with actual future-tense inflections often use the present tense to indicate future events. Both Te veo mañana and Nos vemos mañana use the verb for "to see" in the simple present tense in Spanish when referring to a future event happening tomorrow. Spelling it out with a formal future like Yo te veré mañana sounds too formal for a simple "I’ll catch you tomorrow" type of utterance.
    – tchrist
    Feb 16, 2020 at 19:30
  • @tchrist: we don't know that there aren't some languages where people never use a present tense for future events, and we also don't know what the OP's first language is. Feb 17, 2020 at 21:32

Test whether you can add a future time adverb, like "tomorrow", without changing the time sense. For your example, try "We are losing the 'ocean' part tomorrow". That's still okay, so this can be a future reference. However, you could also add "right now": "We are losing the 'ocean' part right now", so it could also be a present time reference.

  • first of all thanks Greg for your answer but you haven't really answered the question you just repeated my words whether this sentence is referring to the present or the future . now what I`d like to know is that which one is it referring to , a present time reference or a future one ? Thanks again Greg! Feb 5, 2020 at 12:36
  • Evidently, it could be either Present or Future.
    – Greg Lee
    Feb 5, 2020 at 19:34

It's grammatically ambiguous. As in many other case, context and common sense are used to disambiguate.

In your airplane example, if you're at the airport and trying to determine which gate to go to, it would be obvious that you're talking about now and the immediate future. But if you're calling a travel agent, you're most likely asking just about the future.

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