Going-to future

"Gonna" redirects here. For the Blake Shelton song, see Gonna (song).

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.[1] It is an alternative to other ways of referring to the future in English, such as the future construction formed with will (or shall) – 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.


The going-to future originated by the extension of the spatial sense of the verb go to a temporal sense (a common change, the same phenomenon can be seen in the preposition before). The original construction involved physical movement with an intention, such as "I am going [outside] 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 [in order] to swim".


The 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 (compare with "ought to".) (An alternative description is that it uses the verb go in the progressive aspect, most commonly in present progressive form, serving as an auxiliary verb and having the to-infinitive phrase as its complement. However this description fails to take into account sentences in which the main verb is ellided, such as "Yes, he's going to.") It can be put into question and negative forms according to the normal rules of English grammar.

Some examples:

The going to of this future construction is frequently contracted in colloquial English to gonna, and in some forms of English the copula may also be omitted. Hence "You're going to like it" could be said as "You're gonna like it" or just "You gonna like it". In the first person, I'm gonna may further contract to I'm'n'a /ˈmənə/ or I'mma /ˈmə/, or frequently /ˈəmə/. (For derived forms found in English-based creole languages, see below.) This is true even when the main verb is ellided, as in "Yes, I'm/you're/etc. gonna (do that)."

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 (intention), and not the meaning "I'm going [somewhere] [in order] to get his autograph."


The going-to future is one of several constructions used in English to refer to future events (see Future tense § English). 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.[2] It may therefore be described as expressing prospective aspect, in the same way that the present perfect (which refers to the present relevance of past occurrences) is said to express retrospective (or perfect) aspect.

There is no clear delineation between contexts where going to is used and those where other forms of future expression (such as the will/shall future, or the ordinary present tense) are used. Different forms are often interchangeable. Some general points of usage are listed below.

The be + to construction

English has a construction formed by part of the copula be followed by to and the bare infinitive of the main verb (i.e. the copula followed by the to-infinitive). This is similar in form to the going-to future, with the omission of the word going. In the be + to construction only finite, indicative (or past subjunctive) forms of the copula can appear – that is, the copula used cannot be be itself, but one of the forms am, is, are, was, were (possibly contracted in some cases).

The meaning of this construction is to indicate that something is expected to happen at a future time (usually in the near future), as a result of either some duty (deontic modality) or some set plan. For example:

In headline language the copula may be omitted, e.g. "Prime Minister to visit West Bank".

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 latter statement will not be falsified if John ends up not going). 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 (and quite often implies that it was not carried out). It may also be used simply as a way of expressing "future in the past" (see the following section). For example:

I was to visit my aunt, but I missed the train. (past plan, not in fact fulfilled)
This was the battle at which they were finally to triumph. (future in the past, also: they would finally triumph)

The construction also appears in condition clauses:

If you are to go on holiday, you need to work hard. (i.e. working hard is necessary for going on holiday)
If he was/were to speak, it would change things significantly. (also if he spoke)

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 future

The 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 (see relative tense).[5]

Some reference points appear more suitable for use in relative future than others. The following are universally attested:

The following relative futures are more nebulous:

Relative future is also possible for a limited number of uses of the modular "will" or "shall" in their so-called past tense forms, respectively "would" and "should" (see future in the past).

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 ("I am to do it"), the past indicative ("I was to do it"), and the past subjunctive ("if I were to do it" or "were I to do it"; these last have somewhat different implications, as described at English conditional sentences).

Related forms in creoles

Some creole languages have a marker of future time reference (or irrealis mood) modeled on the verb "go" as found in the going-to future of the English superstrate.[12]

Examples include Jamaican English Creole[13] /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[14] /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[15] /Mwen va fini/ "I go finish".

Analogous forms in other languages

Similarly to English, the French verb aller ("to go") can be used as an auxiliary verb to create a near-future tense (le futur proche).[16] For example, the English sentence "I am going to do it tomorrow" can be translated by Je vais le faire demain (literally "I go it to do tomorrow"; French does not have a distinct present progressive form, so je vais stands for both "I go" and "I am going"). As in English, the French form can generally be replaced by the present or future tense: Je le fais demain ("I am doing it tomorrow") or Je le ferai demain ("I will do it tomorrow").

Likewise, the Spanish verb ir ("to go") can be used to express the future: Mi padre va a llegar mañana ("My father is going to arrive tomorrow"). Here the preposition a is used, analogous to the English to; the French construction does not have this.

This construction can be found in non-Indo-European languages as well, such as Hebrew and Tamil. For example, in Tamil, நான் வண்டி வாங்க போகிறேன் ("I am going to buy a car"); in Hebrew same sentence reads "אני הולך לקנות מכונית", which literally means "I am walking to buy a car".

See also


  1. Fleischman, Suzanne, The Future in Thought and Language, Cambridge Univ. Press, 1982.
  2. Fleischman, pp. 18–19 and 95–97.
  3. Fleischman, pp. 86–89.
  4. Fleischman, p. 92.
  5. Fleischman, p. 65.
  6. Michaelyus (January 12, 2015). "Are there any languages with a plufuture for tense sequencing?". Linguistics Stack Exchange. Retrieved June 15, 2016.
  7. Hackmack, Susanne. "Reichenbach's Theory of Tense and Its Application to English" (PDF). University of Bremen. Retrieved June 15, 2016.
  8. Jan Christoph Meister, Wilhelm Schernus (2011). Time: From Concept to Narrative Construct: A Reader. de Gruyter. p. 10. ISBN 978-3-11-022208-1.
  9. Edited by Louis de Saussure, Jacques Moeschler, Genoveva Puskás (2007). Tense, Mood and Aspect: Theoretical and Descriptive Issues. Rodopi. p. 10. ISBN 978-90-420-2208-9.
  10. Bhat, D. N. Shankara (1999). The Prominence of Tense, Aspect, and Mood. John Benjamins. p. 24.
  11. JLawler (October 13, 2014). "Linguistics Stack Exchange Answer Comment". Linguistics Stack Exchange. Retrieved June 15, 2016.
  12. Holm, John, An Introduction to Pidgins and Creoles, Cambridge University Press, 2000, p. 188.
  13. Holm, pp. 93–95.
  14. Sakoda, Kent, and Siegel, Jeff, Pidgin Grammar, Bess Press, 2003, pp. 38, 55-72.
  15. Turnbull, Wally R., Creole Made Easy, Light Messages, 2000, p. 13.
  16. Fleischman, pp. 98-99.

External links

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