Feb. 15th, 2017

mount_oregano: Let me see (Let me see..)
As writers — and we’re all writers, whether by profession or necessity — we ought to know the rules of language, just as a football player ought to know the rules of the game. Knowing them gives us the power to use them in our favor.

For example, during a game this last season, Packer quarterback Aaron Rogers knew the rule about 12 men on the field, saw that the opponent was making a substitution, and hurried to snap the ball before the retreating player had left the field. The resulting penalty helped the Packers defeat the Lions and win the NFC North Division. Go Pack!

Yet not all writers study grammar and usage. Some just rely on knowing English as their native language. That means, however, that they learned English entirely by imitating other people: first their parents, then other people around them, and finally other writers — good writers, we hope.

You could learn to play football the same way. Yet pro players study the game in excruciating detail, including the rule book.

So here’s an excruciating grammar detail: the main differences in usage between “will” and “going to.”

Going to/gonna:

  • plans and intentions

  • predictions about the near future

  • events outside people’s control

  • commands


Will/shall:

  • a future fact

  • conditional ideas and expressions

  • speculation

  • requests and offers


“We’ll all die!” might express a future fact — perhaps in answer to the question, “What happens to us in the Keynesian long run?” (Note: the link is to a J. Bradford DeLong article that probably tells you more than you wanted to know.)

“We’re all going to die!” might be a despairing commentary on events outside of the speaker’s control — perhaps uttered on the night of the Trump presidential victory. Perhaps by me.

This explanation only skims the fascinating details of the grammar and usage of expressions of the future in English. Here are links to a couple of lessons a bit more in depth:

http://www.grammarbank.com/will-vs-going-to.html

http://www.perfect-english-grammar.com/will-or-be-going-to.html

The more you know, the better you can write. You can use, bend, and break the rules, but only if you know them cold.

— Sue Burke


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