When speaking of the future in English, do you use “will” or “be going to?” Is there a difference?

The quick answer is that “will” and “be going to” are essentially the same. In English, both are tenses used for the Simple Future. (To learn more about the Simple Future, check out our Grammar Lesson of the Month post!) However, even though they are called the “Simple Future” tenses, they are not so simple. (Grammar joke!)

Truthfully, there are slight and very important differences between “will” and “be going to” in English.

Specific uses of “will”

A voluntary action (often, one decides to do something spontaneously)

  • (The phone rings) “I’ll get it!”
  • “You sit. I’ll do the dishes.”
  • “I’ll pick you up!”
  • “I’ll do it.”

A promise

  • “I will never lie to you.”
  • “I promise I will call.”
  • “I will always love you.”

 

Specific uses of “be going to”

To talk about a plan

  • “I am going to Thailand for three months!”
  • “I am going to study English in San Diego next summer.”
  • “I am going to give my presentation in my Level 8 Speaking class on Tuesday.”

 

Situations in which “be going to” or “will” are appropriate

To predict the future

  • “I think it is going to rain a lot this summer.”
  • “I think it will rain a lot this summer.”
  • “You are going to gain weight if you eat fast food every day!”
  • “You will gain weight if you eat fast food every day!”
  • “I am going to learn so much at my CISL classes!”
  • “I will learn so much at my CISL classes!”

 

Practice with “will” and “be going to”

Now that you know the differences between “will” and “be going to,” put your new skills to use! Choose either form of the Future Simple in this paragraph about studying English and living in San Diego.

This summer I (will/am going to) go to San Diego to study English at Converse International School of Languages. I am very excited. I (will/am going to) stay with a host family. I hope I (will/am going to) really improve my English skills by staying with native speakers. My host family sounds really nice: they (will/are going to) pick me up from the airport. I (will/am going to) buy them a present as a “thank you.” My “new” life in San Diego sounds awesome. During the day, I (will/am going to) take classes at the Downtown CISL campus. After class, I (will/am going to) go to the beach all the time! I (will/am going to) stuff myself on fish tacos and delicious In N’Out burgers, but additionally, I (will/am going to) join a gym so I stay healthy during my time abroad. I promised my mom that I (will/am going to) email and text all the time, but I have a feeling I (will/am going to) be so busy that I might forget for a few days. But I (will/am going to) make up for it by sending them lots of cool gifts, like Padres baseball hats and cute stuffed pandas from the Zoo.

 

Answers

This summer I (will/am going to) go to San Diego to study English at Converse International School of Languages. This is a scheduled plan. 

I (will/am going to) stay with a host family. This is also a plan. 

I hope I (will/am going to) really improve my English skills by staying with native speakers. This is a prediction. (The word “hope” gives us a clue that this is not certain.)

My host family sounds really nice: they (will/are going to) pick me up from the airport. This is a plan.

I (will/am going to) buy them a present as a “thank you.” Technically, both can be used here. “Will” could be appropriate because it shows a “voluntary action” or a “promise,” but “be going to” also works because this is a plan. 

During the day, I (will/am going to) take classes at the CISL Downtown campus. This is a plan. 

After class, I (will/am going to) go to the beach all the time! Again, either could be used: you are predicting that you will go to the beach. 

I (will/am going to) stuff myself on fish tacos and delicious In N’Out burgers, but additionally, I (will/am going to) join a gym so I stay healthy during my time abroad. Both are predictions; arguably, “be going to” is more appropriate because these are more “plans” and less “promises.”

I promised my mom that I (will/am going to) email and text all the time, but I have a feeling I (will/am going to) be so busy that I might forget for a few days. This sentence is much more clear. In the first part, “will” is included in the sentence with “promise,” so we know exactly which Simple Future tense to use. In the second part, “I have a feeling” shows a prediction, so either is correct.  

But I (will/am going to) make up for it by sending them lots of cool gifts, like Padres baseball hats and cute stuffed pandas from the Zoo. Again, are you trying to express more of a promise, or a prediction? Either is appropriate, but the meaning slightly changes depending on which of the two you use.