An Interesting Use of the Future Tense

rogersgeorge on February 28th, 2017

I generally advocate not using the future tense in expository writing, saying that you should use the present tense for customary actions no matter when the action happens. But here’s a usage that I haven’t seen for a while. It hinges on context, in this case temporal context. First the quote:


Pope Julius II dies. He will lay in rest in a huge tomb sculptured by Michelangelo.

First, of course, let’s ignore that they used the wrong verb, “lay.” It should be LIE in rest!!! harrumpf.

Okay, on to the lesson.

This is a line from a this-day-in-history-type post from another site. In effect, the line says “Today five hundred years ago…” Also in effect, the sentence is a headline. Both of these usages pull the chronological context to now, and in terms of now, he won’t be interred for at least a day or so.

So in that context, the interment is in the future, and it certainly won’t be a customary action but a, well, once-in-a-lifetime event, so you can get away with using the future tense.

You would also be perfectly correct casting the whole sentence in the past tense, keeping yourself in the 21st century:

On this day in 1513, Pope Julius II died. They intered his body in a huge tomb sculptured by Michaelangelo.

But that doesn’t convey the hint that it was a while before the body entered the tomb, which wasn’t completed for more than 30 years. And today the body is in St. Peter’s Basilica. I’m not certain that he ever even occupied the tomb! Not that that has anything to do with grammar…

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