Friday, November 15, 2013

Let's talk about the future, part 1

Their neighbors had a nice picnic at a nearby park last weekend, so with the nice weather coming up, they
ARE GOING TO DO the same thing. They've invited some friends, who WILL BRING some sandwiches.

When you learn English in the lower levels, you are taught that the simple future with "will" and the future using "be going to + verb" mean the same thing and that you can use either of them to talk about the future. Do you remember? The following sentences are examples. 
  • The party this weekend WILL BE awesome.
  • The party this weekend IS GOING TO BE awesome.

For a lot of situations, including the examples above, this is true. The simple future and the future with "be going to" are often interchangeable. However, there are times when one of them sounds more idiomatic or more natural than the other.

This is why when you're in the intermediate levels, you start studying the nuances (slight, subtle differences) between these two tenses and learn that in some situations, one is, in fact, better than the other. 

Here are some things to keep in mind. First, an important thing to consider is whether or not the sentence required a lot of thinking. If it didn't require a lot of thinking, the simple future with "will" is preferred, as in the following sentences.
  • I'll be back.
  • She'll take the bus.
  • We'll call you when we're ready.

Notice that in the sentences above, the speaker probably didn't spend a lot of time thinking before saying the sentences. In other words, these are not major decisions.

Another instance when the simple future is preferred is when we show willingness or when we volunteer to do something. The following are examples. 
  • He'll lend you money. (He's willing to do it.)
  • I'll get the door. (He's volunteering.)
  • We'll help you with homework. (They're willing and are volunteering to do it.)

On the other hand, when you are about to say something that required some or a great deal of thinking, it's better to use the future with "be going to + verb." So when you say,"I'm going to move to California," you're implying that you've spent some time thinking before saying it. In other words, it's a big decision. Here are some examples.
  • She's going to change majors and start studying architecture.
  • We're going to sell the house.
  • They're going to extend their vacation.

So to recap (summarize), when it comes to using the simple future or the future with "be + going to," you have to consider the following:
  • Did it require a lot of thinking? If yes, use the future with "be + going to." If not, use the simple future.
  • Is it showing willingness or volunteering? If yes, use the simple future.
  • If it's neither of the above, it probably doesn't matter which one you use. Remember, they are still often interchangeable.

Alright, folks. Next time, we'll look at using the simple present and the present progressive tenses to talk about the future. Stay tuned!

-- Joe Yu, ESL instructor

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