Which should you use: GOING TO or WILL?

Going to vs. will
Looking to the future

We sometimes use going to to speak about the future, and other times we use will. Do you know why? The difference is important. Consider this dialogue:

A. I’m going to see the new Spiderman movie on Friday night. I heard it’s amazing!
B. It is! I saw it yesterday. You should buy tickets soon—it’s opening week so I think they are going to sell out.
A. Good idea! I’ll buy my tickets online now. Thanks for the heads up.
B. My pleasure—I’m sure you'll love it!

In simple terms, going to is used:

  1. to talk about future events that have been planned in advance, and;
  2. to make predictions about the future based on a first-hand experience in the present moment.

Will is used:

  1. for instant decisions;
  2. to make predictions about the future based on thoughts or feelings, and;
  3. to make offers and promises.

Both will and going to are auxiliary verbs, meaning they are used with a main verb to help define it. 

Going to—future events that have been planned in advance

Let’s start with going to.

  • Jane and I spoke yesterday and we’re going to take the train to the theater on Friday night.
  • I’m not going to stay out late on Friday night. I have a lot to do on Saturday morning.

There are a lot of scenarios in everyday life where a situation is planned in advance. This could mean it was scheduled two days in advance, or two months in advance. The time period is not important. What’s important is that the decision to do something in the future was pre-decided.

Think about your plans for the future. When you talk about each of these plans, you should use going to

In fact, going to is used so often, native speakers often shorten it to "gonna", pronounced /GUH-nuh/. 

Going to—predictions based on first-hand experience (evidence) 

Now let’s look at how to use going to to make predictions about the future based on first-hand experience. Think about predictions that are made based on something that you can see, hear, feel or experience in the present moment.

  • Look at the line-up at the ticket counter. The theater is going to be packed inside!
  • There are only 2 minutes left before the movie starts. We’re definitely going to be late.

You may be wondering what the difference is between the predictions that we make with going to and the predictions that we make with will. There is some overlap with this point so don’t worry too much about which one to use for predictions.  

Will—instant decisions

Use will to talk about instant decisions. We often use contractions in these scenarios since quick decisions tend to be more casual.

  • I wish the movie was louder. I’ll go ask them to turn up the volume.
  • Oh, there’s no more popcorn left—that’s disappointing. I’ll have some chocolate instead then.

Will - predictions based on thoughts and feelings (no evidence)

Think of it this way—we use use will for predictions without any evidence, and going to for predictions based on something we can see or measure.

  • Let’s wait 5 minutes. Hopefully the sky will clear and it will stop raining (no evidence).
  • Let’s wait 5 minutes. The clouds are clearing so it looks like it’s going to stop raining any minute now (first-hand experience with some evidence).
  • Let's wait 5 minutes. The weather report said it’s going to stop raining (evidence) .

Will—offers and promises

Lastly, we also use will to make offers and promises. There is usually a feeling of certainty when we use will in these scenarios.

  • You seem a bit stressed about getting good seats for the movie. I will go buy the popcorn so you can go reserve our seats. Deal? (offer)
  • I promise I’ll be quick at the food counter and get to our seats before the lights dim. (promise)

Hopefully this gives you a clearer understanding of when to use going to and will. If you have any questions, please let us know and we’d be happy to go through some more examples with you.

Now, think about your plans. Which auxiliary verb are you going to use?

heads up [phrasal verb]—warning. 
gonna [verb]—a common spoken shortening of "going to".