What future?

Most students only use "will" to talk about the future. This is a mistake.

There are three basic future forms:
  1. I'm having lunch with my mother tomorrow. (present continuous)
  2. I'm going to have a party for my birthday. (be going to)
  3. Waiter: Are you ready to order? Customer: Yes, I'll have the steak. (will)

Present Continuous

We usually use this form with a future time expression. Without one, it means that the action is in progress.

  • She is leaving. (now)
  • She is leaving at two o'clock this afternoon.
  • What are you doing? (now)
  • What are you doing next weekend?
We use this form to talk about future arrangements with other people (but you don't necessarily state them); the date and/or place have already been decided.
  • Rangers are playing Celtic in the Cup on Sunday.
  • He's flying to Berlin on Monday morning.
  • Are you seeing your parents later?
  • I'm working until 8 next week.
  • They are getting married on 3rd March.

We can also use the "be going to" form with all of the above examples.

We use Present Continuous for the near future.

Consider the following:
  • I'm reading tonight. WRONG  
  • I'm going to read tonight. RIGHT
  • She is having a cigarette after class. WRONG
  • She is going to have a cigarette after class. RIGHT
The Present Continuous sounds strange with many verbs. You don't make arrangements (date and place) to "read" or "have a cigarette".

Be going to

We use this form to express present intentions and plans for future actions :
  • What are you going to do for your summer holidays?
  • They aren't going to start work until next month.
  • Are we going to have an exam soon?
  • Mark is going to give a speech at the conference.
  • I am going to stay in a hotel.
You can see in some of the above examples that it isn't necessary to have a future time expression (unlike Present Continuous).

We also use "be going to" when the future is evident.
  • She is going to have a baby. ( I can see that she is pregnant)
  • Real Madrid aren't going to win. ( It's the 80th minute and it is 3-0)
  • He's going to drop the box. (It's too heavy for him to carry)
  • We are going to miss the train. (We are late)


We use this form to talk about future facts or things we believe to be true about the future.
  • There will still be 4 million unemployed next year.
  • In 2050 there won't be any newspapers. Everybody will read the news on the internet.
  • I know I won't pass my exams. I haven't studied enough.
  • She'll be angry if you are late.
  • He'll be 40 years old next month.

We often use will with particular verbs; such as - think - hope  - expect - suppose - believe.
  • I suppose I'll be in the same job this time next year.
  • I hope she won't come to the conference next Spring.
  • I don't think the economy will improve next year.
  • I expect he'll arrive late. There is a lot of traffic today.
  • The doctors believe he will walk again.
... and after these particular verbs we often use adverbs such as: probably -  possibly - perhaps to express uncertainty about the future.
  • He's very busy at work. He'll probably finish late.
  • You'll possibly forget the address. You should write it down.
  • Perhaps, it will have subtitles in Spanish.

We use will to make predictions:
  • I think it'll win the Oscar. It was definitely the best film this year.
  • They are always arguing. Do you think they will get divorced?
  • He won't get the job. He doesn't have enough experience.
  • I don't think there'll be many people at tomorrow's meeting.

and spontaneous decisions, offers and promises:
  • I'll love you forever.
  • Shop assistant: Do you prefer the red one or the blue one? Customer: I'll take both.
  • Teacher: Your exam results are disappointing. Pupil: I'll study harder next time.
  • David: Oh no! I left my wallet at home. Paul: Don't worry. I'll pay for these.
  • I'm sorry but he's gone out. He'll call you when he gets home.
The last sentence is a 1st conditional form.

Be going to v will

Be going to is used to express future intentions (decided before speaking) whereas will is used for spontaneous decisions/offers (often made after being told something).

  • I'm going to phone Mary tomorrow because it's her birthday.
  • A: Mary is off sick today. B: Really? I'll phone her to see how she is.
  • We're going to pick her up from the airport when she gets back.
  • A: Her car is at the mechanic's. B: Don't worry! I'll pick her up.
  • I'm going to write to the airline and complain about my flight.
  • Mother: Take care! Son: Don't worry, mam. I'll write you every week.


The Flatmates (BBC) episode 9 - future forms

The Flatmates (BBC) episode 73 - present continuous

The Flatmates (BBC) episode 88  - will for predictions

The Flatmates is a really useful page. Choose from the episodes or language points.

Grammar Challenge (BBC) future predictions with "going to"

Grammar Challenge (BBC) future plans

Grammar Challenge (BBC) will & going to

Here is a list of other Grammar Challenge topics.

Future forms quiz - (esl.about)

will or going to - (esl.about)

Planning a party & comrehension quiz - (esl.about)

Making plans listening quiz - (esl.about)

esl.about has lots of interesting activities to do Intermediate and Advanced

will & going to exercises - (agendaweb)

Agendaweb has lots of vocabulary and grammar activities to do of all levels.


Montse said…
Graham, I read the article.
Graham said…
Ok, have you had a look at any of the BBC / about.com / agendaweb pages?
They are quite useful.
Tong Wang said…
Your article is very organized,thanks.
The Flatmates is interesting,I really appreciate the explanations for each options,I mean in the section “Quiz” .
Graham said…
Hi Tong!

Me? Organized? That'll be a first haha

Could you send me a comment after you read a post? That way, I know what you have done. Thanks.
Cristina said…
Hi Graham! It's Cristina

I've read the post and It's a bit difficult to know which future I have to use in each case, but I suppose that with practise I'll do it without realising (a prediction) :P


Anonymous said…
Hi Graham, I'm Jorge.

Several words are difficult, overall some expressions in the text.

However, I agree with several things the workers say.

Graham said…
Hi Cristina,

Be sure to check out the links too. They should help to make things clearer.
Graham said…
Hi Jorge,

It's Graham. (We use "I'm + name" when we introduce ourselves to someone for the first time)

I suppose you are talking about the Tuesday text. For me, either Tuesday or Wednesday is the worst day of the week.