I've got a bunch of examples dealing with the same issue. I have had some opinions on them but some of the opinions are controversial. So, I hope to get a better picture from you. The issue deals with the usage of the present simple for the future actions.

A person has arranged an appointment with the lawyer recently and wants to tell about it:

1) I see my lawyer tomorrow. (not as part of habitual actions) 2) I am seeing my lawyer tomorrow.

I know that 2 is what is said most often, but sometimes, I can read or hear people say 1. Could you give some guidelines which would help to understand when 1 could/should be used?

3) Do you know what you are doing every day this summer? 4) Do you know what you do every day this summer?

Sentence 3 is fine. I wonder whether 4 is completely wrong. Most of the people say it is wrong. However, one person considers it possible explaining it "It is usually a rhetorical question, and is a lead in to a description of a repeated task; possibly as a complaint, possibly as an order. "

What do you think of 4? Does that explanation hold water? Are there any circumstances when you would see how it could fit to be used? I have googled and found a few examples from literature of this sentence "What do you do next year?" For example, 'But what do you do next year?' I asked. 'Yes. That is the problem,' he replied. ' I suppose, that there must be some situations when 4 may fit. Or am I wrong?

1 Answer 1


This is why the linguists insist that English has two tenses: past and non-past!

These uses of what we ordinarily call “present” tense, simple or progressive, with future reference (instead of the explicitly futurive will) tend to be restricted to definite plans. They say in effect “This is what is on my schedule”.

Q: Sherry, is Bob free sometime tomorrow for a quick review?
A: Let me look at the book ... He’s in meetings til noon, and he’s out for lunch, but he can see you at three?

So sentences 1 and 2 are both acceptable, and there's no real difference between them. Discourse context will contribute to determining which you use (or whether you use will), but there's no rule you must follow.

Similarly, your final example, ‘But what do you do next year?’ I asked. ‘Yes. That is the problem,’ he replied is pretty ordinary. Questions of this sort arise, typically, when someone has described an action to be taken in the present or near future and you want to know what action will be taken in the longer term to account for the first action’s consequences. In effect, it asks “Do you have a plan for next year?”

The two questions, 3 and 4, are a bit different, because the phrase every day establishes a different sort of context for use of “present” forms. As you know, these forms are ordinarily used to describe habitual and repeated actions; every day reinforces that interpretation, and collides with a futurive reference. So these sentences are very unnatural. You might just get away with 3, Do you know what you are doing every day this summer?, if you are trying to find out if your interlocutor's calendar is fully booked. But I cannot imagine a context in which 4 would be natural; it suits better with a present referenc, something like this:

Do you know what you do every day? You leave the cap off the toothpaste every goddamn day!

  • Thank you. I see what you mean. The only thing I find difficult to understand is that why "But what do you do next year?" allows to interpret it as "Do you have a plan for next year?" while "Do you know what you do every day this summer?" doesn't mean "Do you have a plan for every day of this summer?". I'll need to think about it.
    – user1425
    Commented Jun 5, 2013 at 14:14
  • @user1425 Because "do every day" plays into the ordinary habitual use of "simple present" and has to be wrenched away from that when you add a future reference. The natural way to express "Do you have a plan for every day" is "Do you know what you are going to be doing*" or "**will be doing". Commented Jun 5, 2013 at 14:21
  • This happens in Italian too: I could use the present tense when talking of something I will do tomorrow, as in Domani vado al cinema. (literally, "Tomorrow I go to the cinema."). That doesn't mean Italian doesn't have a future tense. :)
    – apaderno
    Commented Jun 5, 2013 at 15:04

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