English speakers put the definite article "the" before the word "future" when they refer to the future (no pun intended). For example:

In the future, everyone will have access to clean water.

Does that imply that the English-speaking world believes in hard determinism, at least unconsciously? Does language in this case reflect the speakers' beliefs?

  • 2
    LOL. In the future, people will say, "In a future ..."
    – user4894
    Commented Feb 1, 2015 at 1:34
  • well, unless we go with the Many worlds theory of reality, one of those futures will turn out to be the future. i'm pretty confident asserting "In the future, the Sun will rise in the east." I'm more confident of that happening at least once than a future where everyone will have access to clean water. The latter may never happen, while the former is certain to happen for someone existing on planet Earth and not too far from the equator. Commented Jul 5, 2015 at 19:24

5 Answers 5


No, you are over interpreting the use of of the definite article and the use of informal natural language. Here the statement could be one of intent - "We intend that in the future ...", or one of wishful thinking - "We hope that in the future ...", or expectation - "We expect that it will be the case that in the future ..." and so on. In none of these cases is this the assertion "It is the case that in the future ...". That might be what the speaker intends but it is not the only meaning that the speaker could intend.

Informal natural language can be/often is ambiguous and need the context to clarify what is intended (and sometimes not even then). This is why quoting out of context is such a common rhetorical device, you can always/often find snippets of someone words/writing .. where they appear to contradict the meaning intended for the whole piece.

  • It is not so much about sentences in which the phrase "the future" is used, it is more about the phrase itself.
    – user132181
    Commented Jan 30, 2015 at 8:07
  • Natural language is sloppy, full of ambiguity and contradiction .. Commented Jan 30, 2015 at 8:40

In its most literal sense, "The Future" refers only to events yet to happen - whatever they may be, and however they are decided, so it doesn't say anything about determinism.

Bu .. Isn't it more about anticipation ? If it's used in a sentence like "I have saved money for the future" then to an extent the person uttering that is taking control over future events. While that might not be hard determinism, it is an anticipation that one aspect to events to happen will be that there will be some cash lying about.

Actually I think it would be more fun if things were as you suggest. To avoid implying determinist, we could say things like "I'm saving for the futures" or "I am prepared for a future" which would probably raise a few eyebrows.

Or it could in some possible futures. Gulp.

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    "In a future, people will have access to clean water". That's actually a pretty powerful statement as it underlines that it's not inevitable. If language like that became more commonplace, it might make people think a bit more about the possible futures. Commented Jan 30, 2015 at 10:41
  • Your construction "I am prepared for a future [where...]" seems pretty commonplace to me.
    – Dave
    Commented Jan 30, 2015 at 20:21
  • @user2808054 Saying 'in a future' would go against the implied persuasive intent of the statement, claiming that this will almost surely emerge no matter what common events arise. The speaker doesn't have real knowledge of the future, obviously, so it is implied that this is guesswork. 'The future' can just be regarded as shorthand for 'the bulk of nebulous imagined futures in my mind'. Likewise, it might be a logical continuation, 'The sun has always risen, and it will rise in the future'. It's still just probabilistic.
    – dwn
    Commented Jan 31, 2015 at 5:03
  • @Dave .. perhaps that's subjective. It doesn't seem too common to me. Commented Feb 2, 2015 at 12:34
  • @dwn yes. The point of my comment was that it underlines that actions must be taken to exact that future, as opposed to that future happening regardless of what one does. Commented Feb 2, 2015 at 12:41

Yes and No. Yes, we are all determinists when we refer to the future. No, the word the is not the issue. It is not the cause, but the effect. To take an example of Aristotle's, either there will be a sea battle tomorrow or there won't be. If there will be a sea battle tomorrow, this is the future. If there won't be a sea battle tomorrow, that is the future. Either way there is only one future. Therefore it is naturally called the future.


Quantum physics has several interpretations. One of them is the "many worlds interpretation," where every yes or no choice creates two universes, one where the answer was yes, one where it was no.

Even in this case, which very clearly admits multiple valid paths forward from the past through the present, we refer to "the future." However, "the future" now refers to "the set of all possible futures."

English users switch to "a future" when thinking about only a small portion of possible outcomes. It becomes "the future" once we no longer have a reason to believe there are any futures outside of it.


You've actually asked several questions in your OP.

If we define "the future" as meaning the entire probability set of multiple futures, then we've done away with any specific determinism (although we are still assuming there will be a future of some kind, which of course we do not really know). Thus I would answer your primary question with a simple "No" or at least "It's inconclusive" because it's easy for me to infer this definition of the "the future" from your example statement.

However, your latter question is what I think is most interesting. You asked:

Does language in this case reflect the speaker's beliefs?

To that inquiry, I respond "Yes". This is primarily because I think we are always revealing our beliefs when we speak (a pat answer I admit). However, when I think of the possible unconscious beliefs operating when someone makes a statement such as...

In the future, everyone will have access to clean water.

...I see some underlying considerations including:

  • "I believe there will be a future."
  • "I believe the future will be qualitatively better than the present."
  • "I believe clean water is qualitatively better than dirty, grey or no water."
  • "I believe that sustaining and qualitatively improving human life is a valuable teleological objective."

These might actually be beliefs the majority of us humans share. I simply thought it might be helpful to look at some of the implications in your example scenario since you asked a question about beliefs.

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