Do we really say, “Tomorrow will be Friday”?
Tomorrow will be Friday. It’s a simple English sentence. Sentences like this are very common in English language teaching, but is this something a native English speaker would typically say?
Early in a child’s study, they are taught the days of the week. Teaching the days of the week often includes drilling questions and answers like this:
“What day is it today?” “Today is Thursday.”
“What day was it yesterday?” “Yesterday was Wednesday.”
“What day will it be tomorrow?” “Tomorrow will be Friday.”
Any student in a class like this would think that this is how native speakers typically talk about days of the week.
Many teachers have been asking questions like “What day will it be tomorrow?” for as long as they can remember. But, if we stop and think, when do we actually say, “Tomorrow will be Friday”?
Well, it is possible, but quite unusual.
This raises the question of what we teach. Do we teach what the book says is “correct”, or teach the language that people use in everyday life? My students want to develop skills to communicate with people in real life. For me it’s a no-brainer.
So, how do people use these sentences in everyday life?
We typically say: “Tomorrow is Friday.”
Here is some data from the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA):
Although chanting different patterns for past, present and future questions and answers may seem like a nice idea, in real life tomorrow will be… is not usually used to simply express what day it is tomorrow.
98% of the examples use Tomorrow is… to refer to a day of the week. These sentences simply say what day tomorrow is:
ROBIN ROBERTS: Death At A Funeral opens in theaters tomorrow, tomorrow’s Friday, TGIF.
CHRIS ROCK: Tomorrow’s Friday, yeah.
Even when we’re not talking about days, Tomorrow is… is far more common and useful than Tomorrow will be…
The examples of tomorrow will be… in COCA typically refer to predictions or decisions for tomorrow, such as:
Tomorrow will be a good/better day. – prediction
Tomorrow will be a day of (mourning/prayer). – decision
Although will is less common in the sentences and graphs above, it is a very useful word in English. So when teaching, we should provide students with examples of how will is really used. In English there are many expressions that are used when talking about the future. When we give students authentic examples, they can develop a sense of how people use will and what it really means.
Drilling students with unusual English will only make things more difficult
If the student’s goal is to communicate with people in real life, it makes sense for the teacher to teach the English that people use in real life.
From the data above, we can clearly see that in real-life English it is unusual to use “tomorrow will be…” to simply refer to what day tomorrow is. But, teachers keep seeing it in textbooks, so many accept it and teach it.
I’m a big fan of getting the basics right so that learners can build upon their knowledge. Having clear knowledge of the basics helps learners find patterns as they progress in their studies.
But when the grammar they are taught in class and real-life English doesn’t match, it’s only going to cause problems. We shouldn’t be surprised that many students have trouble making sense of English tenses and other grammar, because they’re often fed strange sentences from the beginning of their studies that simply don’t match real-world usage.
In my view, this can cause many problems. Teaching this to students is only going to warp their understanding of English because it provides them with the wrong framework from the beginning.
This is likely to cause more problems as they progress in their studies. Students will have trouble understanding more complex grammar simply because they haven’t understood the basics.
If a structure doesn’t fit the situation, so why lead students to believe that it does?
We can continue to follow tradition and teach will as a future tense marker, but at what cost?