The Future – ‘will’ vs ‘going to’

Talking about the Future

When talking about an event that is going to happen in the future, there is more than one possibility. Most often, you will use the phrases will or going to in order to refer to an upcoming event, but sometimes students of the English language can become confused over which one to use and when.

Welcome To The Future Green Road Sign with Copy Room Over The Dr

Both forms refer to the future and there is a difference between the two, even though in some cases they can be used interchangeably with no difference in meaning. 

So, how would you describe the difference?

Will vs Going to

In English grammar, both will and going to are used to express future tense but they do not have the same meaning. Look at the examples and explanations below. 

Someone asks me: “Are you busy this evening?”

If I haven’t made plans, and I am thinking in this moment, then I could say: “I don’t know, I will probably stay at home and watch TV.” 

If I do have a plan that I made earlier before I was asked the question, then I can respond: “Yes, I‘m going to go to the movies.”

– A decision made at the moment of speaking.
– A reaction to a situation happening now.

– A decision made before the moment of speaking.
– A plan or an intention.

Will + infinitive Be going to + infinitive

Mike: There’s no milk.
Jenny: Really? In that case, I‘ll go and get some.

(The phone rings)
Julie: I‘ll get it!
(‘I’m going to get it’ makes us think that Julie knew the phone was going to ring before it did).

Mike: There’s no milk.
Jenny: I know. I‘m going to get some in the shop when this TV programme finishes.

‘I‘m going to buy a new car next week.’
(‘I’ll buy a new car next week’ makes it sound like you’ve only just decided at that minute. Of course, this is possible, but normally we plan these things more in advance!).

Look at the video for a very simple example of the difference between the two tenses.

Will is also used: to make a promise, an offer, a threat or refusal. These all agree with the idea of a decision made at the moment of speaking, or reacting to a situation.

A promise: I promise I won’t tell anyone you broke the window.

An offer: I‘ll take you to the airport tomorrow.

A threat: I‘ll tell your parents what you did.

A refusal: No, I won’t cook your dinner, you can cook it yourself.

New Year’s Resolutions

Going to is the best tense for those all-important New Year’s resolutions!



Will and going to are both used for predictions but with a slightly different meaning.

Will is used for: General predictions.
Going to is used for: Predictions based on evidence, something we can see (or hear) now.

Will + infinitive Be going to + infinitive

I think it will rain later so take an umbrella with you.

I think Ireland will win the next World Cup. (I don’t really have any evidence… just hope!)

It‘s going to rain. Look at those black clouds!

Sinn Fein are going to win the election. They already have most of the votes.


Other points about the future

We use the present continuous for definite future arrangements. Often, it doesn’t really matter if we choose going to or the present continuous. In the following example, there is really very little difference in meaning:

  • I‘m going to the cinema tonight.
  • I‘m going to go to the cinema tonight.

In some cases, there is a difference, for example, where present continuous is used for arrangements, something that has been already organised, whereas going to is just a general plan or intention, it hasn’t been organised yet.

  • I‘m flying to Paris on Tuesday. (I already have the tickets)
  • I‘m going to travel around South America next year. (I haven’t organised the trip yet.)

We use the present simple for a timetabled event in the future, like public transport or the start of a class:

  • My train leaves at six tonight.
  • His class starts at 9am tomorrow.

* The good news about the two future forms will and going to is that, even if you misuse them, a native speaker is probably going to / will probably understand you without any problems!

What tenses do you find most difficult in English? 

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