The going-to future is a grammatical construction used in English to refer to various types of future occurrences. It is made using appropriate forms of the expression to be going to. It is an alternative to other ways of referring to the future in English, such as the future construction formed with will – in some contexts the different constructions are interchangeable, while in others they carry somewhat different implications.
Constructions analogous to the English going-to future are found in some other languages, including French and Spanish.
OriginThe going-to future originated by the extension of the spatial sense of the verb go to a temporal sense. The original construction involved physical movement with an intention, such as "I am going to harvest the crop." The location later became unnecessary, and the expression was reinterpreted to represent a near future.
The colloquial form gonna and the other variations of it as mentioned in the following section result from a relaxed pronunciation of going to. They can provide a distinction between the spatial and temporal senses of the expression: "I'm gonna swim" clearly carries the temporal meaning of futurity, as opposed to the spatial meaning of "I'm going to swim", or "I'm going to swim".
FormationThe going-to idiom, used to express futurity is a semi-modal verb that consists of a form of the copula verb be, the word going followed by the word "to", for instance is going to. Like other modals, it is followed by the base infinitive of the main verb It can be put into question and negative forms according to the normal rules of English grammar.
- The boys are going to fight.
- I'm going to try the wine.
- He's not going to make it.
- Are you going to bring Sue?
- Aren't they going to wear coats?
- We were going to tell you earlier.
- Yes I'm going to..
That the verb go as used in this construction is distinct from the ordinary lexical verb go can be seen in the fact that the two can be used together: "I'm going to go to the store now." Also the lexical use of going to is not subject to the contractions to gonna and similar: "I'm gonna get his autograph" clearly implies the future meaning, and not the meaning "I'm going to get his autograph."
UsageThe going-to future is one of several constructions used in English to refer to future events. The basic form of the going-to construction is in fact in the present tense; it is often used when the speaker wishes to draw a connection between present events, situations, or intentions and expected future events or situations, i.e. to express the present relevance of the future occurrence. It may therefore be described as expressing prospective aspect, in the same way that the present perfect is said to express retrospective aspect.
There is no clear delineation between contexts where going to is used and those where other forms of future expression are used. Different forms are often interchangeable. Some general points of usage are listed [|below].
- The going-to future is relatively informal; in more formal contexts it may be replaced by the will/shall future, or by expressions such as plan to, expect to, is/are expected to, etc.
- The ordinary present tense can be used to refer to the future when the context indicate futurity, and the reference is to some planned action: "We are painting the house tomorrow". It is usually the present progressive that is used, as in the preceding example, but the simple present can also be used, particularly for precisely scheduled events: "My train leaves at 4.15."
- When the expression of futurity is combined with that of some modality, such as obligation or possibility, a modal verb may be used: "We must/can do it tomorrow." There is also the expression am to etc., which implies obligation or expectation as in "He is to deliver it this afternoon", and the expression to be about to, implying immediacy.
- The going-to form sometimes indicates imminence, but sometimes does not; and it sometimes indicates intention, but sometimes does not.
- The will future is often used for announcing a decision at the time when it is made, while going to is more likely for a plan already in existence: compare "All right, I'll help her" and "Yes, I'm going to help her".
- The will future is used more often than going to in conditional sentences of the "first conditional" type: "If it rains, youll get wet".
- In some contexts the going-to form can express unconditionality while the will form expresses conditionality. But in some contexts the reverse can be true.
The ''be + to'' construction
The meaning of this construction is to indicate that something is expected to happen at a future time, as a result of either some duty or some set plan. For example:
- Im to report to the principal this afternoon.
- The Prime Minister is to visit the West Bank.
- Troops are to be sent to war-torn Darfur.
Compared with the will future, the be + to construction may be less expressive of a prediction, and more of the existence of a plan or duty. Thus "John will go..." implies a belief on the speaker's part that this will occur, while "John is to go..." implies knowledge on the speaker's part that there exists a plan or obligation entailing such an occurrence. The be + to construction may therefore resemble a renarrative mood in some ways.
When was or were is used as the copula, the plan or duty is placed in past time. It may also be used simply as a way of expressing "future in the past". For example:
The construction also appears in condition clauses:
When the verb in such a clause is were, it can be inverted and the conjunction if dropped: "Were he to speak,..." For details of these constructions, see English conditional sentences.
Expressions of relative futureThe going-to construction, as well as other constructions used in English refer to future events, can be used not only to express the future relative to the present time, but also sometimes to express the future relative to some other time of reference.
Some reference points appear more suitable for use in relative future than others. The following are universally attested:
- Future relative to a reference point is formed using the past tense of the copula, e.g. "I was going to eat dinner". This may express past intention or prediction.
- Ongoing intention or prediction existing up to the present time is also attested, based on the present perfect progressive of the copula. For example, "I have been going to do it for some time" or "It has been going to rain all afternoon". Similar sentences can be formed on the past perfect progressive.
- Future relative to a past subjunctive is attested in a condition clause: "If I was/were going to eat..."
- Future event relative to a future reference point. In theory, one could string two going-to futures together, or, to more easily disambiguate them, use the modular future for the reference point. A strong example might be one that incorporates the precise difference in time between the reference point and the event: "We can't visit Louise in June, because she'll be going to have a baby three weeks from then."
- *However, it is not clear that English speakers would agree on the naturalness of this construction or on the interpretation. In fact, some have argued that such a construction does not occur in English or other natural languages with the intended meaning; the latter "going to" in these constructions may signify the main verb to go as in "to move from one place to another."
- *Others have speculated about this grammatical lacuna. Hans Reichenbach's scheme of tenses identifies a sequence S-R-E, i.e. speech act followed by reference point followed by event, but it does not correspond to an English tense in a strict sense. Latin had a form that may have corresponded to this use, e.g. in the phrase "abiturus ero", which could be translated "I shall be one of those who will leave." Other authors have argued that the future of the future is "not attested in natural languages." The South Indian language Kannada has a posterior future tense that might correspond to this usage, but reportedly denotes "to need to."
- *Some have speculated that the lacuna, if it exists, may have a semantic origin; that is, the future is already difficult to specify, and there is simply little occasion in human experience for using a future event as a reference point for a further future event.
- Future relative to a hypothetical state: "I would be going to eat." A similar interpretation to future relative to future may arise instead: "I would be going to eat."
- Future relative to unspecified time: the infinitive of the copula can be used, e.g. "To be going to die is not a good feeling." The infinitive can be used in a variety of constructions, in line with the normal uses of the English infinitive; for example, "He is said to be going to resign." Speakers may differ on the interpretation of such constructions.
Periphrastic phrases may be able to express some relative future meanings that are otherwise unattested. For example, the phrase "to be about to" means that in the very near future, one will do something. Hence, "I will be about to leave" expresses a future event relative to a future reference point.
Another construction, "to be to", also has similar denotations in some constructions, e.g. "I was to see the Queen the next day." However, its use is restricted to simple finite forms of the copula, namely the present indicative, the past indicative, and the past subjunctive.
Related forms in creolesSome creole languages have a marker of future time reference modeled on the verb "go" as found in the going-to future of the English superstrate.
Examples include Jamaican English Creole /de go hapm/ "is going to happen", /mi a go ɹon/ "I am going to run", Belizean Creole English /gwein/ or /gouɲ/, Gullah Uh gwine he'p dem "I'm going to help them", Hawaiian Creole English /Ai gon bai wan pickup/ "I gonna buy one pickup", /Da gai sed hi gon fiks mi ap wit wan blain deit/ "The guy said he gonna fix me up with one blind date", and Haitian Creole /Mwen va fini/ "I go finish".
Analogous forms in other languagesSimilarly to English, the French verb ' can be used as an auxiliary verb to create a near-future tense. For example, the English sentence "I am going to do it tomorrow" can be translated by Je vais le faire demain. As in English, the French form can generally be replaced by the present or future tense: Je le fais demain or Je le ferai demain.
Likewise, the Spanish verb ir can be used to express the future: Mi padre va a llegar mañana. Here the preposition a is used, analogous to the English to; the French construction does not have this.
In Welsh, a Brittonic and Celtic language, the verb mynd is used much like the English verb go. In the sentence dw i'n mynd i' wneud e yfory mynd is followed by the preposition i which is itself followed by the verb gwneud in mutated form. This forms a going-to future'' as found in English.