When to use the German Future Tense

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When to use the German Future Tense

With the holidays (die Weihnachtszeit) just around the bend many of us are busy making plans of what we’re going to do before the family arrives and what we’ll do once they get here. Talking about the future in English is very clear: either use “going to + infinitive” or “will + infinitive”. 

Here are the “simple” rules for these two forms:

  1. When we want to talk about future facts or things we believe to be true about the future, we use ‘will’. ex. The President will serve for four years. I’m certain you’ll master the German language.
  2. If we are not so certain about the future, we use ‘will’ with expressions such as ‘probably’, ‘possibly’, ‘I think’, ‘I hope’. ex. I hope you’ll visit me in Zurich one day. She’ll probably be a great success.
  3. If you are making a future prediction based on evidence in the present situation, use ‘going to’. ex. Not a cloud in the sky. It’s going to be another warm day. Look at the queue. We’re not going to get in for hours.
  4. At the moment of making a decision, use ‘will’. Once you have made the decision, talk about it using ‘going to’. ex. I’ll call Will to let him know. Amanda, I need Will’s number. I’m going to call him about the meeting.

You’re probably thinking, simple? Well, you’re right it’s a little complicated. But here’s the great thing: German is easier! Yes, when it comes to tenses, German is far less complicated.

In general Germans don’t use a specific future tense when they talk about the future. They use our good friend the present simple and say when they’re going to do that action, or the context of the conversation/text means you can deduce that it is something that will happen in the future. REMEMBER: the German simple present can and is often used to express the following English tenses: present simple, present progressive, and future.


  • Morgen gehen wir Einkaufen. (We’re going shopping tomorrow.)
  • Meine Grosseltern kommen erst am Heiligabend zu uns. (My grandparents will only first get to ours on Christmas Eve.)
  • Später machen wir noch Zimtsterne. (We’ll make cinnamon stars.)

Review your adverbs of time here.

Does that mean that there is no explicit German future form? No, not at all, just we don’t use it as often as English would. Let’s see it’s form and when we use it.


werden + Infinitiv


Werden acts like haben/sein when we build the perfect. That means that in main clauses (Hauptsätze) we conjugate it and it goes in the second position and the infinitive comes at the end. In dependent clauses (Nebensätze) the conjugated verb (werden) comes at the end after the infinitive.


  • Hoffentlich wird der Schnee anhalten. (Hopefully the snow will stay.) [Hauptsatz]
  • Meinst du, dass es über Weihnachten viel schneien wird? (Do you think it will snow lots over Christmas?) [Nebensatz]

Watch out though when using modal verbs though. In these constructions werden precedes the double infinitive construction in the Nebensatz.


  • Du, ich glaube nicht, dass Tante Johanna dieses Jahr zum Weihnachtsfeier wird kommen können. (You know, I really don’t think Aunt Johanna will be able to make it to the Christmas celebration this year.)

4 Uses for the German Future Tense

Here are the four cases in which using the werden + infinitive construction is really a good idea and sounds natural.

1. To emphasize assumptions or intensions.


Er wird aufbleiben und auf den Weihnachtsmann warten. (I assume) He’ll stay up and wait for Santa.
He intends on staying up and waiting for Santa.
Er wird bestimmt wieder zu viel Wein trinken.He’s definitely going to drink too much wine again.

2. To refer to states or actions in a relatively distant future.

If we compare these sentences you’ll see how this works.

Was macht sie während der Weihnachtstage?What’s she doing during the Christmas days?
What will she do during the Christmas days?
Was wird sie wohl in den kommenden Jahren machen?What will she do in the coming years?

In the first sentence we are talking about a future event that is coming up soon. In the second sentence we are talking about something further away in the future.

3. To distinguish future states or actions from present states or actions.

Wer jetzt allein ist, wird es lange bleiben.Whoever is alone now will remain so for a long time.

4. In combination with the particles wohl or schon to express present probability.

Das wird schon stimmen.That’s probably right.
Die Trauben werden wohl zum Ernten reif sein.The grapes are probably ripe for the harvest.

Review your German particles here.


Those are the four cases in which you want to be able to use the werden + infinitive construction of the German future tense. In most cases though you can get around the future and it sounds more natural to use the present simple and the time that you’ll do that action.


  • Ich kaufe den wein heute Abend. (I’ll buy the wine tonight.)
  • Ich schreibe die Weihnachtskarten später. (I’ll write the Christmas cards later. / I’m going to write the Christmas cards later.)

One last caveat. Do not mix us the German werden (will) for wollen (to want). This is an easy mistake, but completely changes the meaning. See here for more info.


Write this short story in the future tense.

Herr und Frau Künzle erzählen, was sie mit ihrem Lottogewinn machen werden. Sie sprechen im Präsens.

Herr und Frau Künzle

Mit unserem Lottogewinn von 1’000’000 Franken machen wir erst mal eine Reise nach Kanada. Unser Sohn reist auch mit. In Montreal kaufen wir uns einen Chevrolet, denn dort kostet er weniger als bei uns, und wir fahren quer durch Kanada nach Vancouver. Dann fliegen wir zurück in die Schweiz, und kaufen ein kleines Haus auf dem Land. Danach ist das Geld wahrscheinlich alles weg.

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  1. German-is-easyGerman-is-easy12-03-2012

    Großartiges Thema!!!!! Eine Kleinigkeit… sagt man in der Schweiz wirklich “wachen” im Alltagskontext? Ich würde da aufbleiben sagen 🙂

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