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Natives & Tenses: Chapter 8. Future 1: Plans and Intentions

[All information copyrighted to EnglishAdam.com]

Part 8. Future 1: Plans and Intentions
When we look at the FUTURE we can divide its uses into:

When we describe the PAST and PRESENT (without using modals) we are only describing it. It could be considered....

...OBJECTIVE. Simply a description of events that did or didn't happen,

Click me!

But of course when we talk about the FUTURE, it is almost completely...

...SUBJECTIVE. It reflects a lot about how the speaker views or sees it.

Click me!

This SUBJECTIVITY coupled with the complicated NATURE OF WILL makes for a great challenge for students!

But DON'T PANIC (yet)

Click me!

Let's start with Plans and Predictions.
What do you think is meant by 'FIXED PLANS'?

A FIXED PLAN is typically something like a plane/train arrival or departure time. It could be a date for an election, or when a company or school opens or closes.
It feels fixed, impersonal.
It involves many people perhaps.

Click me!

And what tense do we use?
The plane _________(to leave) at 7pm on Friday.

The planes LEAVES at 7pm on Friday.

Click me!

The new museum ________ (to open) next year.

The new museum OPENS next year.

Click me!

The TV programme ______ (to start) in 5 minutes.

The TV programme STARTS in 5 minutes.

Click me!

Ok, and what have we said the PRESENT SIMPLE describes?
Firstly, specifically, what TIME does it describe?

Well I said it describes, the PAST, PRESENT and FUTURE.
Sorry? But then why is the PRESENT SIMLE used for the FUTURE?

Click me!

If we look at this sentence:
"The planes LEAVES at 7pm on Friday."
When does the ACTION start?

It does not start at 7pm on Friday!!!
The plane just doesn't go at 7pm!
Before that it has to arrive from another airport,
it needs a pilot to be scheduled,
it needs to be cleaned,
it needs tickets to be sold for it, etc etc etc
Leaving is just the very LAST ACTION!

Click me!

So a question... When you stand up... when does the action START?
Does it START when you stand up OR when you....

...DECIDE to stand up.

Click me!

So, when does the plane START to leave?

A plane starts to leave when it is scheduled months before, when tickets are sold, when space is organized at the airport, when staff are organized... all these things and more!

Click me!

And WHEN were these things done for our plane that leaves at 7pm on Friday?

They were done in the PAST!
Using the PRESENT TENSE communicates that idea of the PAST, that this is something organized before!!
So in terms of TIME, it includes the PAST, PRESENT and FUTURE.

Click me!

And how do we FEEL about this Future Action? It feels F....

It feels FIXED because of the PRESENT SIMPLE. (It's a FIXED PLAN.)

Click me!

Can the flight be stopped easily?
If the pilot's cat starts vomiting, and she wants to stay at home, does the flight leave?

Yes. There are systems in place to make sure the plane leaves in all but the most extreme circumstances.
In this case another pilot is organized.

Click me!

Is the choice of Present Simple a reflection of the ACTION itself?

Well... ACTIONS don't think, so no.

Click me!

Is the choie of Present Simple a reflection of the speaker's VIEW / PERCEPTION of the action?

Yes, of course.
The tenses we use for the FUTURE reflect how we VIEW the action.

Click me!

So why do we NOT use the Present Simple for Actions that are by 'people' rather than 'organizations' (eg Timetables, Schedules etc)?

Because we consider people to be more flexible, less guaranteed, more unpredictable, less rigid.
There is an impersonal element to using the PRESENT SIMPLE for the future which can feel strange if applied to individuals.

Click me!

Secondly we have SEMI-FIXED PLANS.
What do you think is meant by 'SEMI-FIXED PLANS'?

SEMI-FIXED implies that the plans can be changed. They are not completely rigid.
So these are going to be plans that perhaps have been organized, but also involve individuals.
And so when people are involved we shuold be a little more flexible.

Click me!

And what tense do we use?
I ______ (to fly) to India in 2 weeks.

I AM FLYING to India in 2 weeks.

Click me!

We _____________ (to have) a party on Saturday.

We ARE HAVING a party on Saturday.

Click me!

I _____________(to see) my doctor at 3.

I AM SEEING my doctor at 3.

Click me!

If we look at this sentence:
"I AM SEEING my doctor at 3."
When does the ACTION start?

It does not start at 3 o'clock!!
I do not just walk in at 3pm and everything starts!
Firstly I have to call to make the appointment!
Not just before the appointment, but before I can even say I have an appointment!

Click me!

Or if we look at this sentence:
We are having a party on Saturday.
Does the party just happen?

No, we have to send invites, clean the house, buy the food etc etc
The start of the party is the very last action!

Click me!

So when does the party start to start?

Well just like when you stand up, it starts to start when you make the DECISION!

Click me!

And when was the party decided?

In the PAST.
So we have the PAST, PRESENT and FUTURE.

Click me!

But unlike the 'plane leaves at 7pm', how do we FEEL about the doctor's appointment, or the party?
Can we stop them?

Yes we can if we really want.

Click me!

If my cat starts vomiting, can I cancel the doctor's appointment? Can I cancel the house party?

Yes, I can. And this possibility is reflected in using the PRESENT CONTINUOUS.

Click me!

Think about the two sentences...
"He walks to the door."
"He is walking to the door."
Can you interrupt both actions?

You can't really interrupt the first sentence.
It happens. It is true because it is finished, not during.
The second sentence can be stopped.

Click me!

So using the PRESENT CONTINUOUS for the future communicates the idea that it was organized...

...in the PAST...

Click me!

...but that it can be...

...cancelled. Stopped. Interrupted.

Click me!

There is another interesting aspect to the idea of using the Present Continuous.
If you imagine the sentence:
"I am walking to the door."
In order to interrupt finishing the action, what do you need to do?

Well, you need to STOP. You need to decide and act.
If you do not stop yourself, you will walk to the door!

Click me!

So if you want to stop a SEMI-FIXED FUTURE PLAN, you will need to ACT!
What happens if you don't act?

Well, by using the PRESENT CONTINUOUS, we have indicated that this future event is COMING TOWARDS US.
By using the PRESENT CONTINUOUS we are saying that we have organized something
(and in fact the "USES OF VERBS" state 'something organized with other people')
that we would need to ACT in order to STOP it.

Click me!

So if you don't cancel the doctor's appointment?

The doctor will wait for you and you will have missed the appointment!

Click me!

So if you don't cancel the party?

Your guests will start arriving while you are still cleaning up the cat vomit!

Click me!

This idea is what separates SEMI-FIXED PLANS (Present continuous) from INTENTIONS.
If you want to stop an INTENTION, you don't need to...


Click me!

So again, is the choice of using the PRESENT CONTINUOUS a reflection of the ACTION or of the Speaker's PERCEPTION of the action?

Again it reflects how we VIEW this future action.
We feel that it is a FUTURE EVENT that has been 'set in motion' in the PAST and will happen in the FUTURE unless we stop it!

Click me!

So let's look Thirdly at INTENTIONS!
What do you think is meant by 'INTENTIONS'?

An INTENTION is typically something you have decided you will do in the future
but possibly have not done anything concrete about yet.
It remains mostly an idea in your head.

Click me!

And what tense do we use?
I _______ (to retire) when I'm 50.

I AM GOING TO RETIRE when I am 50.
We use the structure GOING TO.

Click me!

Tomorrow we _________ (to have to) work very hard to finish it!

Tomorrow we ARE GOING TO HAVE TO work very hard to finish it!

Click me!

I __________ (to start) a diet next week.

I AM GOING TO START a diet next week.

Click me!

When we look at the form of GOING TO, for example:
I am going to call you later.
How many actions would you consider are in that sentence?


Click me!

So the "I AM GOING" part includes what TIME?

So this part of the sentence includes the PAST.
The 'journey' towards the CALL includes the PAST.

Click me!

And when is the CALL?

The CALL is in the FUTURE,
the ACTION is indeed in the FUTURE
but there was a decision in the past to make the call.

Click me!

But how much of the CALL itself is in the past?

All we have in the PAST is the first action, the decision.
That is why we use the GOING TO structure to reflect an INTENTION.
The second action, the CALL, is unstarted in the FUTURE.

Click me!

So if the action is unstarted in the Future, do we need to act to stop it?


Click me!

And again, does this choice of GOING TO, reflect the ACTION or the Speaker's PERCEPTION of the Action?

Again it reflects the PERCEPTION / VIEW of the speaker.
By using GOING TO, the speaker communicates that there is a second action that is intended to be done but has not been started yet.

Click me!

Is this getting confusing?

PROBABLY!!! But there is some GOOD NEWS!!!!!

Click me!

So we have seen that the CHOICE of tense/structure for PLANS & INTENTIONS depends on...

...depends on the Speaker's PERSPECTIVE not the ACTION ITSELF.
So for example, all of the following are possible:
Tomorrow I start a diet.
Tomorrow I am starting a diet.
Tomorrow I am going to start a diet.
Next week she flies to Australia.
Next week she is flying to Australia.
Next week she is going to fly to Australia.

The difference is what information the speaker is communicating by using the different structures.

Click me!

We can always choose to give people LESS information.
So instead of communicating how FIXED a plan is with the PRESENT SIMPLE, we can use...

We can use the PRESENT CONTINUOUS or even GOING TO.
The film starts in an hour.
Can become:
The film is starting in an hour.
Or even:
The film is going to start in an hour.

By being more 'relaxed' you are including LESS INFORMATION,
and possibly you are also CHANGING THE EMPHASIS.

Click me!

By saying the 'film is starting' or 'is going to start', where has the emphasis moved to?

Well now we are really talking about us, not the film.
Perhaps we are late, perhaps we might not want to watch it.

Click me!

We can also replace the PRESENT CONTINUOUS with GOING TO.
And in fact this is very common.
But again there is some loss of information perhaps.
So what might the difference in information be between:
I am seeing that film tonight with John.
I am going to see that film tonight with John.

Well by using the PRESENT CONTINUOUS I imagine that it has been arranged with John, perhaps you even have tickets!
However by using GOING TO, I don't know if you have invited John or not. I don't know if you have tickets or not.

Click me!

So what facts might separate these two sentences?:
I am flying around the world next year.
I am going to fly around the world next year.

Well, the certainty of the PRESENT CONTINUOUS would make me think you probably have a ticket.
GOING TO indicates that possibly it's just an idea still.

Click me!

So the good news is that you can always use....

...GOING TO! But you may be communicating less information.

Click me!

Imagine this situation:
Kim calls Sam for a date:
Sam replies A) "Sorry tonight I am studying."
Sam replies B) "Sorry tonight I am going to study."
How would Kim feel after reply A?
How would Kim feel after reply B?

Well, with reply A, perhaps Kim will feel that they were not rejected. That Sam had plans already made, perhaps a big test to study for.
WIth reply B though, Kim doesn't know, Sam has an intention to study, that is all Kim knows for sure.
So Kim feels that Sam has simply chosen to study instead of accepting the invitation.
Kim probably feels very sad about reply B....

Click me!

And after the GOOD NEWS, let's have some more confusing news... or rather fantastic news if you prefer!
We can be more relaxed or more vague by always using GOING TO, or using Present Continuous for the Simple.
And we can be more rigid, more disciplined by going in the other direction too!
Consider these:
Tomorrow I start a diet.
Tomorrow I am starting a diet.
Tomorrow I am going to start a diet.
Which one is the 'classic text book choice/answer'?

Tomorrow I am going to start a diet.
Starting a diet can only be an INTENTION surely!

Click me!

But what can this mean?
Tomorrow I am starting a diet.

Well perhaps it means you have a fridge full of the diet food?
Perhaps you are part of a dieting group?
Perhaps YOU ARE JUST VERY DISCIPLINED! Because you have made a contract with yourself.

Click me!

And this?
Tomorrow I start a diet.

This sentence is just an even more disciplined and programmed approach.
Here you are using the PRESENT SIMPLE to make the plan IMPERSONAL and FIXED.
Perhaps you are forced to do the diet by a hospital, or you are super disciplined, or this is a life or death situation.
What is important here is to notice how the TENSE or STRUCTURE communicates this extra information about how the speaker PERCEIVES the future event.

Click me!

Ok, is that clear? Everything covered?

What? What? What about WILL???????

Click me!

What is happening here?
Scenario 1
Jon “It’s Adam’s birthday today!”
Ben “Is it? I’ll buy him a book!”
Silvia “Where are you going Ben?”
Ben “I’m going to buy Adam a present.”

Well at 8.00 Ben has a new plan, and he uses WILL.
At 8.01 that plan is already old, and now it has become an INTENTION, so he uses GOING TO.

Click me!

And here?
Scenario 2
The doorbell rings “Ding dong”
“I’ll answer it!”
“No no, it’s for me I’m going to get it.”

Well the doorbell rings, and the first person has a new idea, to answer the door, so they use WILL.
However the second person knew about the visitor and planned, had the INTENTION, of answering it so they used GOING TO.

Click me!

Finally here?
Scenario 3
Waiter “Are you ready to order Madam?”
Wife “Errr… I’ll have the… lobster.”
Waiter “And for the young lady?”
Daughter “I’d like the tiger prawns please.”
Waiter “Oh, I’m terribly sorry, the tiger prawns are finished.”
Daughter “Oh well, I’ll have the lobster too then.”
Waiter “And for sir?”
Husband “I’ll have the lettuce salad, thanks”

Well here again you can see people making new plans.
And with new plans you use WILL!

Click me!

So in terms of TIME, when we use WILL for PLANS, what time are we DESCRIBING?

We will look at this better shortly, but in essence WILL has NO PAST.
It has no before.
So for plans it describes the NOW and FUTURE. No past.

Click me!

[Sourced: EnglishAdam.com]

Test Your Knowledge!


When we talk about the FUTURE, it is almost completely Subj...

Theory Test

Click to show



It reflects a lot about how the speaker views or sees the action more than the action itself.


Click to show


No specific notes on this question yet, sorry.



Practice Your Knowledge!

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