• past-present-future- traditional tenses written on a blackboard - the old warped view of tenses - in jumbled order. This traditional way of looking at English tenses is confusing!

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.

It’s not.

The more natural sentence is:

“What day is it tomorrow?” “Tomorrow is Friday.”

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 people 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.

So, how do people use these sentences in everyday life?

 

People typically say: “Tomorrow is Friday.”

“Tomorrow is Friday” is the more common sentence, used in most situations. Here is some data from the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA):

tomorrow is...day / tomorrow will be...day frequency graph

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…

 

tomorrow will be... tomorrow is... frequency graph

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.

Learning real-life English

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.

But teachers also need teaching resources. Many teachers tend to grab a book and teach from it. “Tomorrow will be…” is in textbooks, so many teachers accept it and teach it.

And this make sense. It is a perfectly grammatical sentence and people understand what you are trying to say if you use it.

But is it what people say?

Think about your own experiences with English. Look at the data above or go to a corpus and have a look for yourself. Is it common to use “tomorrow will be…” to simply refer to what day tomorrow is?

When the goal is to speak with other English speakers in real life, it makes sense to learn and use the same structures that people commonly use.

Getting the basics right

People use sentences the way they do because it makes sense to them to do so. It fits in with their understanding of how the language works.

When students practice basic sentences as they are naturally used, it helps them develop their own sense of how the language works.

After learning vocabulary or a grammar point in class, it often doesn’t really stick until we encounter people using it naturally.

I know that for me (learning Japanese), I often see people use what I learn and think “ah, so that’s how they do it!” Seeing this gives me confidence to use the structure myself.

But when the grammar that students are taught in class and real-life English doesn’t match, it only causes problems. It is hard to make the connection between what we learn and what people say.

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.

A misunderstanding at the basic level is likely to cause bigger problems as students 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?

Resources

Here is a chart for presenting yesterday, today, and tomorrow, and the days of the week to young learners. The sentences are simple and are what people usually use in everyday life.

 yesterday was, today is, tomorrow is: A chart for teaching the days of the week

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