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Going To Or Present Continuous?

There are lots of ways to talk about the future in English, so which one do you choose?

Many times you can use more than one way – and you’ll still be grammatically correct. But there are some changes in meaning and focus.

Read on to get a clever hack to know when to use “going to” or the Present Continuous tense to talk about the future!

Will / Going To / Present Continuous

As you probably know, we use “will” generally in spontaneous or unplanned situations. For example, “I’m cold – I think I’ll put the heating on”. We use it also for predictions. For example: “Who do you think will win the match?”

Instead, we use the “going to” future often for planned futures. For example, “I’m going out for a walk. Do you want to come with me?” I’ve already decided that I want to go out for a walk – it isn’t a spontaneous decision.

We also use the Present Continuous tense for planned, decided futures. For example, “I’m working in the office tomorrow” or “He’s teaching a lesson after lunch”.

So what’s the difference between “going to” or the Present Continuous?

Here’s an easy way to remember….

Remember the rhyme:Thought and Talked

If you’ve thought about it, use the “going to” future.

But if you’ve talked about it, use the Present Continuous.

Why?

Very often, we use the Present Continuous for arrangements that we make with other people. For example, “I’m working in the office tomorrow” – I’ve probably planned this with someone else. Or in the example “He’s teaching a lesson after lunch”, he’s already arranged this with his students.

But with the “going to” future, there isn’t necessarily the idea that we’ve discussed it with someone else. You can use the “going to” form even when you’ve decided it yourself. (You also use it to talk about things that are likely to happen based on present evidence, as in “It’s going to rain”, but this is a slightly different use.)

Going to go
If you’ve planned to go somewhere with another person, we generally replace “going to go” with “am / are / is going” (Present Continuous). For example:
“We’re going to go to Spain on holiday” becomes “We’re going to Spain on holiday.”
“I’m going to go to the office tomorrow” becomes “I’m going to the office tomorrow.”

More examples

In the examples below, all the sentences are correct, but they mean slightly different things.

“I think I’ll take the train to London.” (I’ve only decided this now – at the same moment or just before I speak.)
“I’m going to take the train to London.” (I’ve thought about it and decided that the train is the best choice.)
“I’m taking the train to London.” (I decided this before and probably talked about it with someone. Maybe we discussed the train times or ticket cost.)

“I hope you’ll come to my party.” (I’ve only thought about this now / just before I speak.)
“Are you going to come to my party?” (Have you decided to come to my party? Is it your intention?)
“Are you coming to my party?” (We’ve talked about it, and I want to know if it’s on your calendar.)

Summary
If you rarely use the Present Continuous to talk about the future, remember this little rhyme:

If you’ve thought about it, use “going to”.
If you’ve talked about it, use the Present Continuous!


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