‘In the future’ vs. ‘in future’ in British and American English

by Jakub Marian

Tip: See my list of the Most Common Mistakes in English. It will teach you how to avoid mis­takes with com­mas, pre­pos­i­tions, ir­reg­u­lar verbs, and much more (PDF Version).

“Future” can be either an adjective or a noun. When used as an adjective, it doesn’t take any article itself; it is preceded by the article of the noun it modifies:

The card will be sent to you at a future date.
This policy will affect the future course of action.
We do it for future generations!

Of course, the logic stays the same even after the preposition “in”, which is probably the most confusing case for non-native speakers:

I would like to address this issue in future articles.

When “future” is used as a noun, the situation gets a little more complicated. When “future” means “the time or the events that will come after the present”, it is always used with the definite article:

No one knows the future. (correct)
No one knows future. (wrong)
You should start thinking about the future. (correct)
You should start thinking about future. (wrong)

The phrase “in the future” in AmE and BrE

The phrase “in (the) future” has two meanings. When it means “at a future point in time”, it is used with the definite article:

I would like to move to Spain in the future. (correct)
I would like to move to Spain in future. (wrong)

However, when it means “from now on”, there is a divide between American English and British English. An American would still say “in the future”, as in the previous case, whereas a Brit would likely say “in future” (with no article). Thus, “from now on, please, be more careful” could be rephrased as

In future, please, be more careful. (British English)
In the future, please, be more careful. (American English)

If you speak American English, you don’t have to care about the distinction. However, if you speak British English, using “in future” instead of “in the future” can completely change the meaning of a sentence. Compare

Human beings will live on the Moon in the future.
(Human beings will live on the Moon at some point in the future.)

and

Human beings will live on the Moon in future. (British English only)
(Human beings will live on the Moon from now on.)
The latter statement is definitely false, while the former one is probably true.

By the way, if you haven’t read my guide on how to avoid the most common mistakes in English, make sure to check it out; it deals with similar topics.

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