Tips about speaking and writing about the future

For most informal sentences about the future, we can use the construction [ “am” / “is” / “are” ] + [ “going to” ].

 

Deciding at the moment of speaking

  • I’m hungry. I think I’ll cook something.  ✔︎
  • I’m hungry. I think I’m going to cook something.  ✔︎
  • I’m hungry. I think I cook something. (wrong)
  • I’m hungry. I think I’m cooking something. (wrong)

 

Prediction

  • Look at those clouds! I think it’s going to rain.  ✔︎
  • Look at those clouds! I think it will rain.  ✔︎
  • Look at those clouds! I think it rains. X
  • Look at those clouds! I think it’s raining. X  (Wrong, unless it is already raining now.)

 

Something already planned

  • We can’t come because we’re going to meet my Mum this evening.  ✔︎
  • We can’t come because we’re meeting my Mum this evening.  ✔︎
  • We can’t come because we’ll meet my Mum this evening. X  (This sounds wrong in an informal sentence.)
  • We can’t come because we shall meet my Mum this evening. X

 

Timetables

  • The train arrives at 6:31.  ✔︎
  • The train is going to arrive at 6:31.  ✔︎
  • The train shall arrive at 6:31. X

 

Exception 1

For future meaning in formal language, we avoid “going to”, and “-ing” in general. We can use “will” for most formal sentences about the future.

  • We predict that interest rates will peak in the year 2021.  ✔︎
  • The meeting will take place on Monday the 23rd.  ✔︎
  • The meeting takes place on Monday the 23rd.  ✔︎

 

Exception 2

For “first person” questions which allow the answerers to decide what the askers do, we use “shall”.

  • Shall I take your coat?  ✔︎
  • Am I going to take your coat? ??  (The question appears to ask the coat wearer to predict the actions of the other person.)
  • Shall we order a taxi?  ✔︎
  • Shall I be able to find the office? (The answerer can’t control this ability.)

 

Exception 3

With modal verbs, we often have to change the modal verb, if we wish to use future forms with [ “am” / “is” / “are” ] + [ “going to” ]. It is always possible, and easier, to use the bare modal verb.

  • I can come tomorrow.  ✔︎
  • I’m going to can come tomorrow. X
  • I’m going to be able to come tomorrow.  ✔︎

 

  • I must go to London tomorrow.  ✔︎
  • I’m going to must go to London tomorrow. X
  • I’m going to have to go to London tomorrow.  ✔︎

 

  • I ought to pay my tax soon.  ✔︎  (This is difficult to rewrite with future forms.)
  • I’m going to ought to pay my tax soon. X

 

Exception 4

We don’t normally use future forms after “if” and “when”. We use the present simple.

  • When I’m going to play tennis later today, I’m going to feel tired. X
  • When I will play tennis later today, I will feel tired. X
  • When I play tennis later today, I’m going to feel tired.  ✔︎

 

  • If I’m going to play tennis today, I’m going to get tired. X
  • If I play tennis today, I’m going to get tired.  ✔︎

 

More advanced learners

We can use “if” + [be] + “going to” to talk about the necessary conditions, rather than the results, of the main future action.

  • If I’m going to play tennis today, I need to find the right clothes for it.  ✔︎

 

Even more advanced learners:  there is also an “unlikely future” version of the construction immediately above:-

“If I were going to win £1,000,000 on next Saturday’s lottery, I would need to have paid for the correct type of lottery ticket.” ✔︎  (Compare “If I won £1,000,000 on next Saturday’s lottery, I would be able to drink champagne every day.” ✔︎ )