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I am currently going through the Assimil German Language course, and on Lesson 18. There is a part in the dialog that is causing me much confusion. The dialog states:

Oh, das tut mir leid; aber ich bin in fünf Minuten zurück.

Oh, I am sorry; but I will be back in five minutes.

Is it common to express intended future actions, with a state of “being” (bin) in German? Should the verb, werde, be used instead of bin? Or is the Assimil English translation constructed in a way to ease the understanding of English readers?

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  • It's also possible in english: “Oh, das tut mir leid; aber ich bin in fünf Minuten zurück.” – “Oh, im sorry; but I'm back in five minutes.” – Ike Royle Jun 22 '16 at 8:05
  • You might be interested into this answer to a related question. – Em1 Jun 22 '16 at 8:15
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    "Oh, I'm sorry; but I'm back in five minutes." – That would not be acceptable English, though, not in 2017. – Arved Sandstrom May 6 '17 at 13:09
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Your conjecture is correct. Future tense is used rather rarely in German. Most of the time, present tense is used to express future actions (not just intended future actions), in particular if there is some time specification that makes clear that we are not talking about the present:

Ich komme morgen um 10 Uhr.

Die Sonne geht morgen um 5:30 Uhr auf.

Wenn Du morgen abend kommst, können wir gemeinsam essen.

Die Olympischen Spiele beginnen am 5. August.

Nächstes Jahr fahre ich nach Spanien.

In all these sentences, using future tense would be unidiomatic.

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    In some of your examples the English sentence would use present tense, too. Or even present progressive. For the sake of this question, it would've been a good idea to keep to examples that definitely use the will-future in English. – Em1 Jun 22 '16 at 8:21
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It’s not exactly the state of being that is necessarily used. Rather, future tense is used very rarely in German altogether, and present tense pretty much substitutes it in all context. That not only includes state verbs like sein but also verbs of any kind of activity: ‘Morgen packe ich die Sachen aus.’

So note that where your English version includes the future tense of to be, the German prefers the present:

I will be back in five minutes.

Ich bin in fünf Minuten zurück.

(Ich werde in fünf Minuten zurück sein. — possible but very uncommon)

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    It is like saying in English "I'm back in 5 minutes". Much of English is moving toward putting things in the present tense, most commonly when telling a story, as in "So, I'm at the mall right? And this mall cop just totally ruins everything, you know?" – Daniel Williams Jun 17 '16 at 23:29
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According to Miell & Schenke,1

In German, the present tense – rather than the future tense – is normally used to refer to the future, especially when this is clearly indicated by an expression of time:

Ich komme gleich wieder.
I’ll be right back.

In zwei Tagen bin ich in New York.
In two days, I’ll be in New York.

Das Konzert findet morgen statt.
The concert will take place tomorrow.

Sie heiraten nächstes Jahr.
They will get married next year.

Furthermore, they state,2

Frequently used words or expressions to indicate the future include: bald ‘soon’, demnächst ‘soon’/‘before long’, gleich ‘right away’, in zwei Tagen/Wochen/Monaten etc. ‘in two days/weeks/months’ etc., morgen ‘tomorrow’, nächstes Wochenende/nächste Woche etc. ‘next weekend’/‘next week’ etc.


Footnotes

1 Unit 14, p. 103-104

2 Ibid, p. 104

References

Miell, Anna; Schenke, Heiner. Intermediate German: A Grammar and Workbook. New York: Routledge, 2006.

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In a number of languages there is no future tense at all. In my mother language - Estonian - which is otherwise quite complicated, there is no future tense. If you say "mina tulen homme", which means literally "I come tomorrow", there is a pretty clear indication that you'll be there tomorrow, not right now or later today. In other words, the "ma tulen" (I come) is entirely absent of any indication of when I might show up.

If I say in Estonian "ma teen seda", which means literally "I do this", or "ma teen toda", which means "I do that", the tense is essentialy absent. You supply that by saying that you will do it forthwith, or this evening, or next week, or in Arabic whenever.

Oddly enough Estonian does have the usual tenses for the past, pluperfect and past pluperfect and all that good stuff, and we can express an intent to do something in the future, but no need for a future tense.

English is still very odd as a language.

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    How does the fact, that other languages have other grammatical features, answer a question about German tenses? – Hubert Schölnast May 6 '17 at 13:51
  • I thought it would be helpful to point out that expressing the future with the present tense is not uncommon. If you feel that German must be studied in isolation, feel free to discount my comments and any others like it. – Arved Sandstrom May 6 '17 at 21:11

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