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Will, be going to and the present continuous tense to talk about the future

Posted by Manjusha Filed in English Grammar

We can use three verb forms to talk about the future: will, going to + infinitive and the present continuous tense.

Will + infinitive

The simple future tense (will + first form of the verb) has several functions. For example, it can be used to make a prediction about the future. When you use the simple future tense to talk about the future, you are merely looking at the probability that something is likely to happen.

  • We will win the championship. (The speaker thinks that it is possible.)
  • They will find out the truth someday. (It is possible.)
  • She will get that job.
  • He will marry her.

The simple future tense is also used to announce decisions that are quickly made at the moment of speaking.

  • ĎIím hungryí ĎOK. I will get you something to eat.í (Here the second speaker uses the simple future tense to announce a spontaneous decision.)

As you can see in all of these situations, there are no definite arrangements for these events. None of these decisions were made before speaking.

Be + going to

The structure going to + infinitive is sometimes used interchangeably with will. However, there are some differences. Going to is preferred in cases where there is present evidence.

  • Maria is a bright student. She is going to become a great scholar someday.
  • The sky is overcast. It is going to rain.
  • Susie is pregnant. She is going to have a baby in December.

Of course, the simple future tense is also possible in this case, but the form with going to will sound more natural to a native English speaker. Note that the present continuous tense is not possible in this case. For example, we canít say She is becoming a great scholar someday or She is having a baby in December.

In cases where there is present evidence, use going to.

Going to is also used to talk about our intentions.

  • Iím going to get physically active. I want to get rid of my potbelly.
  • Iím going to see a doctor. I want to get that mole examined.

The present continuous tense

In cases where you have not only decided to do something but also made all the necessary arrangements, you are more likely to use the present continuous tense.

Compare:

  • I am going to take a foreign tour next week. (= You want to take a foreign tour next week, but you havenít made the necessary arrangements. You are simply talking about your intention here.)
  • I am taking a foreign tour next week. (= You have not only decided to take a foreign tour, but also made the arrangements. For example, you have decided where you want to go; you have booked the tickets. In other words, the present continuous tense is only used to talk about pre-planned future events.)
  • I am seeing the minister tomorrow. (I have already fixed an appointment.)
  • I am going to see the minister one of these days. (= I intend to do so. No arrangements have been made so far.)
  • I am starting my new job tomorrow. (I have received the appointment letter and I am supposed to start tomorrow.)
  • I am going to find a new job. (= I have decided to find a new job.)

The simple present tense is also used to talk about the future. This usually happens in cases where we are talking about timetabled future events.

  • The train arrives at 3.30.
  • The college reopens on Monday.

Sections in this article

  • When do we use past verb forms with present or future meanings?
  • Differences between simple past and present perfect tense
  • Verbs not used in continuous forms
  • To as a preposition and an infinitive marker
  • How to combine sentences
  • Using adjective clauses
  • Sentence fragments
  • Common writing mistakes
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