3 Ways to Talk About the Future in English

Dear Teacher, I am studying how to speak about the future, but I am confused —
when do I use ‘will’, when do I use ‘going to’ and when do I use ‘the present continuous’?

Thanks so much, Andre from Brazil.

Great question Andre! There are many ways we can talk about the future. Choosing to use ‘will’, ‘going to’ or the present continuous depends on the situation. Read the explanation below and listen to the ILAC Radio Podcast before testing yourself at the end of the article to see that you understand.

1. WILL & BE GOING TO  (Future intentions): 

  • ‘Will’ (future simple) is used to express future intentions that have been made at the moment of speaking (spontaneous offers, decisions and promises).

For example: Come on, do not worry, I will help you study for the test (seeing that someone is struggling to understand).

Or the contracted form: Come on don’t worry, I’ll help you study for the test

Notice the structure: I (subject) + will + a verb in the base form (or infinitive form)

In this case the verb is ‘help’. 

Studying

  • Alternatively, ‘be going to’ is used to express future intentions that have been arranged before the moment of speaking.

For example: I can not help you with your homework tonight. I am going to see a movie with my friend (referring to a plan that the speaker has made in the past).

Or the contracted form:  I can’t help you with your homework tonight. I’m going to see a movie with a friend. 

Here the structure is as follows: I (subject) + am (verb ‘to be’) going to + a verb in the base form (or infinitive form)

In this case the verb is ‘see’.

2. WILL & BE GOING TO (Predictions)

  • ‘Will’ (future simple) is also used for predictions that are based on personal judgement, opinion or intuition.

For example: I am positive that you will have an amazing time in Toronto.(Opinion)

Or the contracted form: I’m positive that you’ll have an amazing time in Toronto. 

Same structure here as in the example of ‘will’ above.

CN Tower

  • ‘Be going to’ is used to make predictions which are based on present evidence. The predicted event will happen very soon (and can be seen) or seems sure to happen.

For example: Look at those dark  clouds! It is going to rain! 
Or the contracted form: It’s going to rain!    

The structure is the same as ‘be going to’ mentioned above.

3. BE GOING TO & The Present Continuous (future plans)

  • ‘Be going to’ refers to future intentions which have been decided but haven’t been fully planned.

For example: We are going to visit Disneyland (referring to a past decision).
Or the contracted form: We’re going to visit Disneyland

  • However, the present continuous tense refers to fixed future events and emphasises that plans or arrangements have already been made.

For example: We are visiting Disneyland next weekend (the trip to Disneyland has already been arranged).
Or the contracted form: We’re visiting Disneyland next weekend.

Disneyland - Partners Sunset

To summarize, both ‘be going to’ and ‘the present Continuous’  are used for decisions and plans, but ‘the present continuous’ is used with more concrete (or fixed) plans.

Listen to the ILAC Radio Podcast and learn more about how to talk about the future in English!

Joshua Mover


 

 

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