In this post I’d like to discuss a few ways of talking about the future in Japanese.
To begin with, one of the first words students students learn about the future is 未来 (mirai), which can be used to talk about something that has not occurred yet. Let’s use this word in a simple sentence:
- 未来は予測出来ない (mirai ha yosoku dekinai)
- (You) can’t predict the future.
However, 未来 can’t be used in all situations. Let’s say you want to talk about what someone wants to do when they get older.
- 未来、何になりたいの？ (mirai, nani ni naritai no)
- In the future, what do you want to be?
Why I think your statement will still be understood, it’s not proper Japanese because the word 将来 (shourai) should be used for this case.
- 将来、何になりたいの？ (shourai, nani ni naritai no)
- In the future, what do you want to be?
You can think of 将来 as meaning “someone’s future” as opposed to the future in general.
Another good related word to know is 将来性 (shouraisei), which can be used to express a person being “promising”. However, it is not an adjective like “promising”; the word 将来性 isn’t something you are, it is something you have (or not). Let’s see this in use:
- 彼は将来性のある男です (kare ha shouraisei no aru otoko desu)
- He is a promising man.
You can think of this as meaning “he is a man with promise” to help you understand the grammar better. (By the way, if you had trouble understanding the particle の in the above sentence, it means the same thing as が.)
But let’s get back to words that mean “future”. There is an even simpler, more down-to-earth word that can be used to mean the future in a general sense: こんど (kondo). I actually touched on this word briefly in this past post, but will give another example here:
- 今度どうしたい？ (kondo dou shitai?)
- What do you want to do?
While the English translation doesn’t explicitly have “in the future” here, it is implied by the word こんど in this case. Be careful though, こんど can also mean “this time” as well. (ex: 今度は俺の勝ちだ）
Another similar word that is a little more formal sounding is 今後 (kongo):
- 今後、気をつけます。 (kongo, ki wo tsukemasu)
- I’ll be (more) careful next time.
By the way, to talk about something continuing into the future with the word 今後, you can say 今後も or 今後とも (see this post in Japanese which talks about a subtle nuance difference between the two).
Another word is これから (kore kara), which means literally “from this” and is used to talk about the future beginning now.
- これから何が起こるんだろうね (kore kara nani ga okoru n darou ne)
- I wonder what will happen in the future.
If you want to express something continuing into the future, you can add も and get これからも (kore kara mo):
- これからも頑張りましょう (kore kara mo ganbarimashou)
- Let’s keep trying.
You can also say “今から” in place of ”これから” which means basically the same thing (though “これから” sounds a little more formal to me).
Finally, let’s not forget the very commonly used word 後 (ato), which essentially means “later”. For example,
- 後で映画を見よう (ato de eiga wo miyou)
- Let’s watch a movie later.
Note that unlike the other words above, あと is generally followed by the particle で when talking about the future. Also, like the English word “later”, it has a connotation of doing something later that day, as opposed to days or weeks later.
Finally, keep in mind that Japanese doesn’t have a future verb tense, unlike English which has “~will” (ex: “I will go”). Here are two examples where the verb する (suru, “to do”, in the non-past tense) can be used to express something for the present or for the future.
- いま頭痛がする (ima, zutsuu ga suru)
- I have a headache now.
- 明日、買い物に行ったりする (ashita, kaimono ni ittari suru)
- Tomorrow, I will go shopping and do some other things.
Fortunately, in most cases if you pay attention to the context you should be able to figure out if a verb in the non-past tense is talking about the present or the future.
Interesting, I guess I’d instinctually known the difference between 未来 and 将来 just from hearing it all these years but never thought about the abstract/personal distinction before.
A few notes:
また今度（ね）is often used to say something like “See you next time.”
今後ともよろしくお願いいたします。(referenced in that Chiebukuro post) is a set phrase everyone should know and use.
後・後は (ie. NOT 後で)
Used at the beginning of a sentence to mean “Also, …” or “What’s more…”
Thanks for the comments, all good points!