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The systematic elements underlying the expression of futurity in English: an ESL perspective

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posted on 28.03.2022, 12:33 by Judith Anne O'Byrne
The acquisition of the English Tense/Aspect (TA) system has long been identified as a source of ongoing difficulty for students of English as a Second Language (ESL). It is particularly complex where futurity is concerned, given the ten or more means of conveying eventualities in this temporal zone. A review of ten ESL grammar texts indicates that students are often led to believe that some futurity forms are interchangeable. A further problem is seen in the common ‘silo’ approach that fails to distinguish between the meaning/s and use/s of forms, thus allowing a confusing degree of implied overlap to remain unaddressed. The goal of this theoretical research is to explicate and disambiguate six futurity forms by means of a set of ten criteria aimed at creating an individual profile for each structure. These are meaning/use, temporality, modality, context/genre, aspect, schedulability and pre-determinability, agency, locus of control, register, and the possible requirement of a temporal adverbial. The findings here indicate that no two futurity forms are interchangeable. Moving beyond the notion that temporal location and grammatical rules can account for the range of forms available, central to this discussion is the primacy of speaker perspective. In other words, the speaker brings a perspective to any utterance, which allows for a degree of structural choice. Given the inherently unactualised nature of the future, they have a range of available viewpoints on any propositional content, e.g., ranging from strong epistemic force to weak prediction, or from a sense of personal control to one of externally imposed agency. This research claims that an understanding of English tense and aspect must address the concepts underlying the system as a whole, most especially those not easily discernible from input. The purpose here is ultimately to ease students’ learning load by creating six individual futurity-form profiles, so that ESL students can disambiguate these structures and move beyond the common belief that will + V is the default means of communicating future propositions. It is hoped that this will contribute towards enabling learners to create and access future temporal meaning accurately and effectively, i.e., assist them in taking possession of the English language and expressing their own meaning.


Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Introduction -- Chapter 2. Literature review of ESL texts -- Chapter 3. Concepts of time, tense and aspect -- Chapter 4. Matters of futurity -- Chapter 5. Futurity forms -- Chapter 6. A selection of teaching proposals -- Chapter 7. Concluding comments.


Bibliography: pages 286-306 Theoretical thesis.

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


PhD, Macquarie University, Faculty of Human Sciences, Department of Linguistics

Department, Centre or School

Department of Linguistics

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Rosalind Thornton

Additional Supervisor 1

Stephen Crain


Copyright Judith Anne O'Byrne 2017. Copyright disclaimer: http://mq.edu.au/library/copyright




New South Wales


1 online resource (xvi, 309 pages) illustrations

Former Identifiers

mq:70175 http://hdl.handle.net/1959.14/1260990