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WILL and GOING TO English Future Forms: How to Use Them in Conversations

Welcome back to another Practical English Grammar lesson where we talk about Future in spoken English and how to sound fluent and natural when talking about future events!

In the previous video we looked at how to use Present Progressive Tense – also called Present Continuous – for describing future events. The most important bit of information from that lesson is to perceive Present Progressive as the basic grammar tense for describing future.

You know – in 9 times out of 10 foreign English speakers use the traditional WILL + verb in infinitive Future Tense when speaking about future events, but it transpires that this grammar form is being massively overused 😯

Many future events we talk about on a daily basis have been arranged prior to the conversation, so we can confidently use Present Progressive instead. For instance, you have to say “Sorry, I’m watching a very interesting TV program tonight” instead of “I will watch a very interesting TV program tonight” if you have a conversation with your friend and he asks you if you can go out with him tonight.

By now you’re probably getting slightly confused over my ramblings on future in spoken English. Judging by the previous video, one might think that WILL + verb and GOING TO future forms are redundant and there’s no need to use them.

Especially if you take into account that I said that you’d be better off overusing Present Progressive rather than the WILL Future Tense – to many it may sound as if I’m saying that you can speak English and use Present Progressive ONLY when it comes to talking about future events. Well, it’s not so. Other Future forms are also necessary; you just need to know WHEN to use them ❗

So today let’s look at the traditional English Future Tense – WILL + verb in infinitive and also the GOING TO Future form and how to use them in conversational English.

WILL + Verb in Infinitive Future Tense

❗ Firstly, we can use this traditional English Future Tense when we make an instant decision, as opposed to an arranged event when we use Preset Progressive.

Typically such decisions are preceded by words “OK” and “All Right” in conversations. For example, when you’re asked if you could do something for the other person, you’d reply with something like “OK, I’ll do it, no problems.” Another example – “All right, I’ll bring this parcel up to the 3rd floor.” Can you feel a difference between this sentence and the following one “I’m bringing this parcel up to the 3rd floor later on”?

The difference is the following. The Present Continuous tense is used when you’ve made the decision about bringing the parcel up BEFORE the conversation. So when I asked you about it, you already knew that you were bringing it up later on, so you can confidently tell me “I’m bringing it up later on”. But if you hadn’t the intention of performing that action, you’d have to use the standard Future Tense – “OK, I’ll bring it up”.

So make it your habit to use the WILL Future Tense whenever you make instant decisions, or you offer to help someone out with something – like “Hold on, hold on, I’ll lift it up there, it’s too heavy for you!”

“OK, I’ll do the report for you, but please bear in mind it’ll take me at least 2 hours!”

Will you help me, please?”

I’ll make sure it never happens again, please give me the second chance!”

❗ The second application is to express your ATTITUDE towards reality. In real life it would be used with words like I think, I reckon, maybe, probably, I don’t think.

Whenever you start your sentence with such words and similar, most likely you’ll follow it up with WILL Future Tense. Bear in mind, however, that to use this Future Tense your statement must be purely based on your own reasoning, there would be no actual evidence you would base your opinion on. So you can use it whenever YOU think something will or won’t happen, in other words – whenever you PREDICT something.

I think the sales figures will go up next year.”

Maybe it will be sunny, maybe it won’t, how can I know?”

“My mom will always act the same, I can’t change her!”

You see – all the sample sentences I just used to depict the Future Tense usage express the speaker’s attitude towards reality. For example, in the first sentence I’m expressing only my personal opinion and it’s not backed up by any real data, or anything, it’s just something that I believe is true, therefore I use the WILL Future Tense.

GOING TO Future Form

If the conversation takes place after I have looked at some sales figures, it would be a different story. Then I’d use the GOING TO Future form because I would have some external evidence that the sales figures might go up and I would say “I think the sales figures are GOING TO go up next year.”

You see – it’s not always that you use the WILL + verb future form to express your attitude, as I just said – if your opinion is formed by some external evidence, something that you can see or something that someone has told you – then you have to use the GOING TO future form ❗

Look back at this sentence – “Maybe it will be sunny.” Most likely you’d say such a thing even without looking at the sky. Let’s say, a phone call wakes up early in the morning and your friends offers to go to the beach during the day. As there are no indications yet as to what the whether will be like, you can just say – “Maybe it will be sunny” because in this case you’re just voicing your own opinion.

If you look out the window and you see clear sky without a single cloud, it’s more or less obvious that the day is GOING TO be beautiful. So now you can definitely say “Hey dude, it looks that it’s GOING TO be sunny, I’ll start packing my bag!” But now comes the interesting part – actually it wouldn’t be wrong if said the same thing using the standard Future Tense – “Hey dude, it looks it’ll be sunny, I’ll start packing my bag!”

You see, in spoken English you can use either WILL or GOING TO when you predict something, because on many occasions it’s not so easy to draw a line between your own opinion and an opinion that has been formed based on some external factors!

You would nearly want to analyze every sentence you speak to make sure you use the perfect future grammar form for the particular situation, and that would make it impossible to communicate normally. Every time you’d want to voice your opinion about something, you’d start thinking whether your statement is based purely on your own logical conclusions or you actually did use some other indicators to come to that conclusion.

For example, your supervisor asks you if Mark is coming to work today. If you do know that he’s definitely not coming – like if he told you that on the phone, or you spoke to him the night before, you’d use the Present Continuous – “No, Mark’s not coming in today.”

But if you don’t know if he’s coming or not, you can use the standard Future Tense – “No, I don’t know if he’ll come.” However, you might also be slightly suspicious that Mark had gone out the previous night and he’s sick this morning, and that would count as external evidence, right? So you can also say “No, I don’t think he’s going to come in today.”

But now think about it deeper. All right, you kind of think that Mark might have gone out and had a few more beers than he can handle, but does it make it hard evidence? Maybe he didn’t go anywhere, and he’s on the way to work stuck in the traffic! So were does it leave you with choosing the proper future form? Are you really going to analyze every life situation in depth and spend five minutes before answering every question just to make sure you’re using the correct future grammar form?

That would be insane, my friend, so here what I suggest you do! 😉

What to Do When in Doubt

1) For instant decisions and offers to help use the WILL + verb future as we looked at first thing today. “Don’t worry, I’ll help you!”

2) When making statements about something that is obviously GOING TO happen, which means that you have real hard evidence, use the GOING TO future form without much thinking. For example, if you’re watching a soccer match and your team is two goals down and the match has gone into the 80th minute you can definitely say “Well, looks like they’re not going to win.”

You can also substitute the “going to” part with more casual “gonna” – and make it “Well, looks like they’re not gonna win.

But listen to the following sentences.

“I don’t think we’re going to have a meeting today.”

“Do you think she’s gonna tell her friend about what happened?”

“He’s gonna lose, that’s for sure!”

If you used the WILL Future form instead in all those sentences, they would still sound OK:

“I don’t’ think we’ll have a meeting.”

“Do you think she’ll tell her friend?”

“He’ll lose, that’s for sure!”

3) So I’d say on many occasions you can use both WILL and GOING TO Future forms during conversations when it comes to voicing your opinion regarding to what’s GOING TO happen. In spoken English these WILL and GOING TO forms are interchangeable, but bear in mind – there are those specific situations which demand that you use the standard Future Tense.

As I said previously – instant decisions and offers to help go with WILL Future Tense, and also those statements when you obviously use only your own judgment to express your opinion. It’s more when you express your feelings towards the fact – like “I think (believe) he’ll make it this time.” But if you actually see that person performing the action and it’s more or less obvious that he’s GOING TO make it, then yes, you can also say “He’s GOING TO make this time!”

GOING TO Future Form with Future Plans

The GOING TO Future form is also used to talk about planned future activities. Let’s say you intend to join yoga classes in the local gym, and now you’re announcing this news to your family – “You know I’m going to do yoga classes in the local gym.”

Suzy is going to help me with homework; she’s very good at math.”

We’re going to have another baby in a couple years.”

I’m going to move to another house, I can’t stand these crazy house parties every weekend!”

All these sample sentences talk about future plans, and please note that these decisions have been made before the conversation so I’m not using the WILL + infinitive verb Future form. Also these plans aren’t arrangements yet, so I’m not using Present Progressive Tense either ❗

They are just general intentions, something that you’ve been planning or discussing with someone but you haven’t arranged an exact time yet.

You spoke to Suzy, and she agreed to help you out with your homework. Now you’re chatting with your sister and you’re telling her “Suzy is going to help me with my homework.” This plan becomes an arrangement the moment you and Suzy agree on an actual time and date. Then you can use Present Progressive – “Suzy’s helping me out with my homework tomorrow!”

You see – it’s very interesting how future forms work in the English language, you always have a few of them to choose from. A few minutes ago we looked at how you can choose between WILL and GOING TO future forms when expressing your opinion towards future, and now we’re looking at how to choose between Present Progressive and GOING TO Future when talking about future plans.

But there’s a huge difference between those two. While the WILL and GOING TO future forms are conversationally interchangeable when it comes to making conclusion as to what will or what’s GOING TO happen, future plans and arrangements are more distinct.

It’s quite simple to distinguish between something that you or someone else is just planning to do and something that has already been arranged for a specific time in the future.

Let’s Wrap It All Up!

As a conclusion, let’s go back to all Future Tenses in English so that you can clearly see what is what! 😉

So first, right at the moment when a decision is made, you use the WILL + verb Future Tense – “I’ll visit my grandma; I haven’t seen her a long time”.

After the decision has been made, but if the time for the visit hasn’t been made clear yet, it becomes a plan. So the next time you mention this fact to someone, you use the GOING TO future form because this is already a plan of yours, you’re not making the decision now – “I’m GOING TO visit my grandma.”

When you decide on exactly when you’re visiting your grandma, the plan becomes an arrangement and now you can say – “I’m visiting my grandma tonight!”

At last, we have those situations when you express your attitude towards future by voicing your opinion and as we concluded previously, in conversational English WILL Future form is as good as GOING TO on most occasions.

And when you’re having an informal chat, don’t hesitate to use “GOING TO” colloquial form “gonna.” “Sooner or later it’s gonna happen” – it’s a perfect example of how you can make simple judgments and assumptions about future without fretting too much over which Future form to use – WILL or GOING TO.

On the finishing note, I have one more concern to address. Remember when I said in the last video lesson that you should perceive Present Progressive Tense as the basic grammar tense when talking about future actions? If you’re wandering why I said so – here’s the reason behind it.

Assuming that you live in an English speaking country or at least work in an English speaking environment, you’re spending much of your time at work communicating with colleagues, costumers and superiors. The majority of future references you’re making on a regular basis are arranged events – phone calls, technicians’ visits, and just about any other future event you’d discuss in work-related communication would be some sort of an arrangement or pre-planned action. That’s why I’m telling to regard Present Progressive Tense which would be used to describe these sorts of future actions as the main one.

Also, I just want you to get rid of the habit of using WILL Future Tense on every occasion, and as I said in the last lesson, you’d better overuse Present Progressive than the standard Future Tense!

Robby

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • It surprised me too… The particular sentence had been tweaked three times – No, Marku2019s not coming in today; No, I donu2019t know if heu2019ll come; No, I donu2019t think heu2019s going to come in today; and it was done with the purpose of showing that in spoken language Present Simple and Going To forms are interchangeable. I just didn’t pick the best example sentence and obviously didn’t pay enough attention to how it sounds in Present Tense.

  • Anonymous

    but it’s an example from your video, which surprised me.

  • This is one of those occasions when you should use Present Continuous – “I don’t know if he’s coming”. You see, you’d use such a sentence most likely when you’re waiting on someone to show up, and someone asks you if that person is coming or not. It would be an arrangement and that’s when Present Continuous is used to describe future actions.nn”I don’t know if he’ll come” doesn’t sound quite right, but personally I wouldn’t say “I don’t know if he comes” either. Perhaps the grammar construct is correct, but it’s not used in real life, in spoken English you’ll hear “I don’t know if he’s coming” used by native English speakers.

  • Anonymous

    Is it possible to use “will” after “if” (“I don’t know if he’ll come”) ?

  • Hi Tomas,nnI have a strong feeling you didn’t read the whole article and you missed my point completely. This article combined with the previous one http://englishharmony.com/forget-about-will-future-tense-use-present-progressive-instead/ tries to eliminate overusing of WILL + infinitive form as the MAIN way of describing future events, that’s all. nnI’m not dwelling on technical terms here, so I don’t particularly care if WILL + infinitive is called a tense or whatever. The simple fact is that in all English Grammar Tense tables you’ll see WILL followed by verb in infinitive under the Future Tense and foreign English speakers are mislead in believing that it’s the only Future form in English.nnAlso I can’t see how I am adding to the confusion by going into the very depth on how different forms – Present Continuous, WILL and Going To are used in spoken English when talking about Future.nnAnd if it’s me making a big deal out of something which can be communicated simpler… well… English Grammar books have failed to communicate the same message EXACTLY because they’ve oversimplified it by putting WILL + verb in infinitive Future form (see – I don’t call it Tense any more so that academics like you don’t get annoyed) in the spotlight and only briefly touching other forms which are used way more often in spoken English.nnOn the finishing note – I never claimed that WILL isn’t a modal verb and I never called WILL a tense.nnThanks for your comment,nnRegards,nnRobbynP.S.nSome other foreign English speaker might take it as an offence being told they haven’t studied grammar academically. I take it as a complement because it’s the academical English studies that inhibited my progress as an English SPEAKER.

  • You don’t have to publish this but you can tell you haven’t really studied grammar academically. There is in fact no future tense, WILL is a modal verb which has different uses, it’s certainly not a tense. So you’re just adding to the confusion. You’re also making a big deal out of something which can be communicated simpler. There’s no need either for having a ‘default future form’ – the continuous is for arrangements, while WILL is for decisions which we make now, usually in the ‘LL form rather than the WILL form.

  • You’re welcome!

  • Walied_011

    Thanks. You’re right. It’s really helpful.