Talking about future plans in English
Talking about the future in English is difficult. We don’t have a future tense, but use a variety of different structures to talk about the future in different ways.
These structures include the future forms will, going to and present continuous.
This is challenging for students – you have to be careful to choose the correct form for a specific context.
Will, going to and present continuous can all be used to talk about future plans and future, but with a difference in meaning.
This exercise contains 4 micro-dictations in which people use will, going to, and present continuous to talk about future plans. See how much you can understand, and then read the explanation for why a specific future form is used.
Feel free to ask any questions if you are unsure about anything. Good luck!
Imagine you’re at work and it’s about 12.30. One of your colleagues comes up to you and asks you the following question:
I’m going to the cafe to get a sandwich for lunch, do you want anything?
Now listen to three possible answers to this question. Each answer uses a different future form, and communicates a different kind of future plan.
We use ‘going to + verb’ to talk about a future plan or intention.
In this example, the speaker has already made a plan for lunch. Maybe he has brought his own lunch to work, or he has decided to spend another hour at his desk and then go to the cafe. He made this decision before the moment of speaking.
Accent: England (RP)
We use ‘will + verb’ to communicate a spontaneous decision about the future.
In this example, the speaker does not have a plan for her lunch. Maybe she hasn’t thought about it yet, or maybe she is just indecisive. When she is asked the question, she answers with a decision she makes at the moment of speaking – a spontaneous decision.
Accent: North America
We use the present continuous to describe a future arrangement.
This is similar to a future plan, but is something that is more fixed and definite – maybe we have agreed a time and place, made a reservation, booked tickets, bought a flight, or something like that.
In this example, the speaker doesn’t want anything from the cafe because they have already made an arrangement for lunch. They are meeting a friend, and have probably agreed the time and place with them. They communicate the fact that this is an arrangement by using the present continuous.
Now listen to this final sentence – it contains all three future forms. Can you explain why she uses each one?
Accent: Northern England
I’ll pick the kids up…
The speaker uses ‘will’ because she is making a spontaneous offer to collect the children. This is not something that she had already planned – she has formed the plan as she speaks.
I’m not going to go out…
The speaker uses ‘going to’ because she is not planning to go out – it is not her intention. She has previously formed this plan, so it is not a spontaneous decision.
I’m starting work at 6…
This speaker uses present continuous because she is describing a fixed or previously agreed future plan – a future arrangement.
When you’re describing future plans in English, remember the following rules:
Use going to + verb to describe a future plan or intention.
e.g. I’m going to play tennis on Saturday = I’m planning on playing tennis on Saturday.
Use will + verb to describe a spontaneous decision about the future.
e.g. There aren’t any tennis courts available. Oh well, I’ll go to the cinema instead.
Use present continuous to describe a future arrangement – something that is fixed in some way.
e.g. I’m playing tennis with Mike at 3pm on Saturday afternoon – I reserved the court last week.
Any questions? Feel free to ask!
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