Talking about predictions in English
When my students talk about the future, I often notice that they have a favourite future form (often ‘will’), which they use for almost everything.
On a basic level, this works – people will understand that they are talking about the future. The problem with this strategy is that you lose the ability to communicate your ideas in more specific and detailed ways.
Making predictions about the future is a good example of this. To make predictions in English, we can use both will + verb and going to + verb, depending on the kind of prediction we are making.
In this exercise, I’ll explain the difference between will and going to for future predictions using a few micro-listening exercises. Feel free to ask any questions if you are unsure about anything. Good luck!
Going to + verb
Use going to + verb to make a prediction based on evidence.
This evidence is often something visible. We can almost ‘see’ the future from the present.
Listen to this sentence and fill in the gaps to see an example:
In this example, the speaker makes a prediction (the rice burning) based on something she can see (e.g. the heat is too high, no one is paying attention, etc). She can ‘see’ a possible future from the present.
Will + verb
We use will + verb when we make a prediction based on knowledge, opinion, feeling and so on – basically anything that isn’t evidence. You can’t ‘see’ the future from the present, but you have some reason to predict something.
Try this micro-listening to hear an example:
In this example, there is no physical, visible evidence for the prediction. Instead, the speaker makes her prediction (Tom burning the rice) based on her knowledge of him (e.g. he is a bad cook, he always burns food, he is distracted at the moment, etc.).
Here are some more micro-listening examples of future predictions using will and going to.
1) My carsick sister
When I was growing up, we used to go on holiday to Corfu. Every year, we took a taxi from the airport to the place we were staying. It was a long journey with lots of twists and turns, and the drivers used to go pretty fast. Every year, my little sister would be sick – not the best start to a holiday.
With this in mind, imagine you hear these two sentences. What is the context of each one? What is the prediction based on?
In the first sentence (going to), the prediction is based on evidence – it sounds like the speaker is looking at my sister, and makes the prediction due to the fact that she looks ill, pale, nauseous etc.
In the second sentence, my sister might look fine. This might even be before the car journey. The prediction is based on previous experience, and the knowledge of my sister’s regular carsickness.
2) A football match
Imagine I’m watching my favourite team (Arsenal). We’ve started very badly. After 5 minutes, I say to my friend:
I’m basing my prediction on the evidence of the first 5 minutes – Arsenal are playing badly, so I predict a loss.
My friend feels a bit more confident though:
My friend knows about the team and the way they play. She’s ignoring the evidence of the first 5 minutes, and is basing her prediction on her knowledge or experience of the team. She could also be basing her prediction on a feeling, or a sense of optimism.
When making future predictions in English, remember the following basic rule.
- Use going to + verb to make predictions based on evidence.
- Use will + verb to make predictions based on knowledge, experience, feeling, etc.
If you can apply this to your English, it will make a big difference.
Hopefully that all makes sense, but feel free to ask if you have any questions!
If you want to continue learning about future forms in English, try this exercise on future plans.