Welcome to the final part in our 3-part series on Telling Better Stories In Spanish. Today we tackle the upcoming, but here are links to the other two for your clicking pleasure:

The upcoming

In English, we typically tell stories about the future in two ways:

  • Using the future: I‘ll text you the name of the restaurant in a bit.
  • Using the present continuous (with or without going to): I‘m picking you up (or I‘m going to pick you up) in five minutes, so hurry up.

In Spanish, instead of the future we tend to use the present (with or without ir a):

  • Te mando un mensaje con el nombre del restaurante dentro de un rato.
  • Te voy a recoger en cinco minutos, así que date prisa.

The future tense in Spanish is rarely used to talk about the future. Instead, it’s relegated to making predictions and expressing doubt about upcoming events:

Elon Musk está convencido de que colonizaremos Marte antes del año 2025.
Elon Musk is convinced that we will colonize (prediction) Mars before 2025.

Tengo curiosidad por saber qué harás de comer cuando yo no esté.
I’m curious to know what you will cook (doubt) when I’m not here.

Let’s see how these play out in a real example ( ):

Mañana por fin voy a Veracruz. Mi vuelo llega por la noche, pero por suerte mi amigo Lucas viene a recogerme al aeropuerto. Me ha dicho que me va a llevar a un taller de son jarocho en la Isla Tacamichapan y que vamos a aprender a tocar jarana. Con un poco de suerte iremos también a Tabasco, aunque no si nos dará tiempo. Ya veremos. De todas formas, seguro que me lo voy a pasar de miedo. El domingo te llamo y te cuento qué tal todo.
Tomorrow I’m finally going to Veracruz. My flight lands at night, but luckily my friend Lucas is coming to pick me up at the airport. He told me that he’s going to take me to a son jarocho workshop in Tacamichapan Island and that we’re going to learn to play jarana. With a bit of luck, we’ll also go to Tabasco, although I’m not sure if we’ll have time. We’ll see. Anyway, (I’m) sure I’m going to have a blast. I’ll call you on Sunday and I’ll tell you how everything went.

Some things to pay attention to:

  • , , I know it might be tempting to say (mañana iré, mi vuelo llegará, mi amigo vendrá), but using the future would give these sentences an unwarranted fortune-cookie feel (you will live a long and happy life). When the likelihood that an event will happen is not up for grabs, use the present: mañana voy, mi vuelo llega, mi amigo viene.

  • What’s this present perfect doing here? As we talked about last week, we use the present perfect when the past event feels recent or relevant. The present perfect and the simple present work pretty well together when they appear in the same sentence, since both tenses point towards the present. If you don’t need to make a connection with the present, you can replace the present perfect with the and the present with the . However, this gives the sentence a tragically sad feel:

Me dijo que me iba a llevar a un taller de son jarocho y que íbamos a aprender a tocar jarana. 🙁
He told me he was going to take me to a son jarocho workshop and that we were going to learn to play jarana.

  • , , , Don’t forget the “a” between the verbs of movement (ir, venir, volver) and the infinitive (viene a recogerme, va a llevar, vamos a aprender, voy a pasar).

  • , , You should totally use the future when you want to shroud the upcoming event in doubt or uncertainty (especially when making a prediction).

At first, it might feel a bit weird to use the present to talk about the future, but that’s the way Spanish works. Just remember that «Iré a verte mañana y nos tomaremos un café» sounds as weird to Spanish speakers as “I call you tomorrow and we have a coffee” sounds to you.

What to watch out for: Relative time references

I didn’t want to finish this series without briefly talking about the poorly misunderstood but absolutely essential subjunctive. It comes in handy anytime we want to talk about relative time; that is, time in relation to something else. For example ( ):

Te llamo cuando llegue Clara.
I’ll call you when Clara gets here.

Your brain might trick you into wanting to say Te llamaré cuando llega Clara, but just remember that:

  1. There is no uncertainty or doubt about the fact that the call is happening, which makes the present a better choice than the future.
  2. The time of the call is relative (it depends on Clara, not on the clock hands), which makes the subjunctive a better choice than the indicative.

This relative business is not only restricted to time—it also works when talking about a person, a place, a thing or a way of doing something:

Mañana puedes traerte a quien quieras a la fiesta.
Tomorrow you can bring whomever you want to the party.

Aparcaré el coche donde pueda.
I’ll park the car wherever I can.

Voy a darle a «me gusta» a todas las fotos que Laura ponga en su Instagram.
I’m going to [click “like” on] every picture that Laura puts on her Instagram.

Haré lo que pueda para sacar a tu hermano de la cárcel.
I’ll do what I can to get your brother out of jail.

If you want to get better at noticing relative references, try to turn them into absolutes by getting rid of the verb: puedes traerte a Marcos, aparcaré el coche ahí, voy a darle a «me gusta» a las fotos, haré algo para sacarle de la cárcel.

Okay, you’ve loaded a lot of information into your temporary working memory, now is your chance to turn it into long-term neural synapses:

Spanish Workout 3: Write your own one hundred-word story about an upcoming event.

It can be any upcoming event that you want: an expedition to explore your nearby volcano, the birthday party of your favorite Tibetan monk, or your long-awaited rite of passage into adulthood. Be sure to sprinkle in some doubts, promises and relative references just for fun.

As always, I’m more than happy to read your story (if you spellcheck it in Microsoft Word or Google Docs first). If you email it to me or if you post it in the comments below, I’ll email you back with some general comments. For more thorough corrections, check out HiNative. It’s a great resource.