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


mount_oregano: Let me see (Seedlings1)

English has many ways to express the future, with subtle differences. For example:

1. I will meet her tomorrow.
2. I am meeting her tomorrow.
3. I am going to meet her tomorrow.
4. I am to meet her tomorrow.
5. I shall meet her tomorrow.
6. I will have met her tomorrow.
7. I will be meeting her tomorrow.
8. I am about to meet her tomorrow.
9. I might meet her tomorrow.
10. I may meet her tomorrow.

What’s the difference? Note that some expressions can carry more than one meaning.

1. Simple statement of the future. Prediction of an event not already decided or obvious. Announcement of a decision. Threat. Promise. Command.
2. Something already planned, arranged, or decided.
3. Something already planned or previously decided; emphasis on the idea of intention. Prediction about an event outside of one’s control.
4. Scheduled event.
5. Simple statement of the future more common in British than American English. Obligation.
6. Prediction about a completed action at a certain time in the future.
7. Fixed or decided future event, but without a sense of personal intention.
8. Future event very close to occurring in a real or emotional sense.
9. Prediction; unlikely possibility.
10. Prediction; likely possibility.

There’s more to say about future expressions in English, but this covers the main points. I teach English as a second language, and I have to teach these fine distinctions to my students. Native speakers usually know English by memory: they remember words in use rather than thinking through rules, and they understand the meaning by repeated example.

Memory as a grammar guide only works if you’ve been exposed to a lot of accurately used English, so knowing the rules helps ensure precision. It can be dangerous to write on automatic pilot.

— Sue Burke

July 2017

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