Will or Going to? Talking about New Year’s Resolutions

Welcome to today’s Lunchtime Lessons post. This week we are looking at how to use Will or Going to. Our Lunchtime Lessons are free Online English classes where we look at areas of English which are often difficult for students.​
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New Year’s Rsolutions: Will or Going to?
Welcome to our first Lunchtime Lesson of 2021. It’s about New Year’s resolution and the first thing to say to you is Happy 2021. I hope that the year started well.  It got off to a bit of a bumpy start here with the lockdown. But, I hope that you’re doing well  and there’s not too much anxiety, stress, depression or anything going on. I hope you’re feeling well.

What are New Year’s Resolutions?
Let’s begin by thinking about what a New Year’s resolution is. A New Year’s resolution, is a decision that we make at the start of the year generally to kind of improve ourselves and improve an aspect of our life. I was wondering, what do you think were the most common New Year’s resolutions in the U.K. in 2020?
The most common New Year’s resolution last year was doing more exercise or improving your fitness. Number two was losing weight. And number three was saving money and improving your diet. Those two were together on the 3rd place. What about  in your country? Are there any really common ones for people in your country?
Common phrasal verbs
When we talk about New Year’s resolutions there are some very common phrasal verbs that will appear with that and we’re going to have a look at those and their meanings. The first one that comes up a lot is give up. Also often used is take up and cut down on something. What do these mean?

Give up
I’m sure you’ve probably seen this with this kind of sentence: I’m going to give up smoking. That means to stop doing something, especially something that you do regularly and generally speaking, but not always is a bad habit. You give up smoking, you give up eating hamburgers.  You don’t really like to give up eating carrots because carrots are good for you. Unless there’s a negative consequence to it. I’m going to give up eating carrots because I always feel really bad after I do it. Or sometimes you’re forced to give up something that you like. For example I had to give up my French classes even though I really enjoyed them but I haven’t got the money for it. There’s usually  a bit of a negative aspect connected to it.
Take up
An example sentence with take up would be: I’ve decided to take up painting as a new hobby. This means to become interested in a new activity and spend time doing it. You could think of it as a synonym of to start something.
Cut down
The last one that we saw was cut down on something, for example: I need to cut down on coffee. I’m drinking too much of it and you don’t want to feel that way. What you’re doing when you cut down with something is that you’re eating, drinking or using less of something. Very often this is in order to improve your health. You don’t stop completely with it. It’s not the same as give up. If I give up smoking, I don’t smoke anymore. But if I cut down on my smoking, I smoke 10 cigarettes instead of 20 cigarettes. You can think of it as a synonym of to reduce

To summarise, we just learned the following three phrasal verbs:
to give up = to stop                              to take up = to start                              to cut down on = to reduce
Important: We use ON with cut down when we’re saying what. I would say I’m cutting down on coffee but I have to cut down. We’re only using on if we’re using the object.

If you’re wondering how to learn phrasal verbs, check out our blog post about it here.

How do we use those phrasal verbs?
I want you to think of something you intend to do this year. Something you intend to give up, something you intend to take up and something you intend to cut down on. Take a minute and write it down. Remember phrasal verbs  are always  followed  by a gerund. I give up smoking, not give up smoke or give up to smoke. I take up running, not take up  run. This is because in all of these sentence, the phrasal verb needs to be followed by an object, so  the verb is functioning as a noun. Remember: If the verb functions as a noun, use gerund.

Now, I want you to think of how you would tell your friend about your intentions. How would you communicate to that you’re going to give up smoking? How would you do that? Think about it. Let me give you two examples. Which one would you say?

  1. I’m going to give up eating burgers every day.
  2. I’ll give up eating burgers every day.

Which one do you think is a better way to express your intention? The first one or the second one?

The correct answer is I’m going to give up eating burger every day. But why is this a better option?

English has no Future Tense
What we need to think about here, is really important.  In English, there is no future tense. It’s not like in a Latin based language where you have a nice formula to transform your verb and that just expresses a future tense. We don’t have that in English. But what we have are lots of different structures which will express different aspects. And it’s not actually just about the future.
We only really have two tenses in English. This is present simple and past simple, because the verb can transform independently without an auxiliary verb. So, in the present simple, I have the third person S. And in the past simple I can make either the irregular past or the -ed ending for regular verbs. Everything else that we do in English needs an auxiliary to help. That means that we use different structures to express different aspects and we quite often recycle those structures to have different meanings.
We always need to think about the context we’re using the language in. We need to think about what function or what aspect do we want to express. And that’s where you have to choose the correct structure. It’s not that we use going to or will to express the future. We use them to communicate different functions about the future.  There are lots of different ways to express the future. We can also use present simple, present continous or modal verbs, but we’re not going to talk about those today.

The functions of Going to and Will
Today we’re just going to focus on will and going to because these are the two that people struggle with the most. We talk about going to first.

We use going to, to express plans and intentions as well as predictions based on what you observe.

  • I’m going to give up eating burgers. (intention)
  • We’re getting married in June. (plan)
  •  It’s going to rain today. (observation)

In the last case, my prediction is based on an observation. So I’ve probably seen the the news and the weather report told me that it’s going to rain or I look up at the clouds and I see that they’re really grey and they’re going to rain or you live in Scotland. So you know that it’s going to happen.
We use will for promises, to express offers and instant decicions

  •  I’ll do my homework, Claire. (promise)
  • I’ll help you. (offer)
  • I’ll have the soup. (instant decision)

A good way to think about an instant decision is if you’re in a restaurant and you look at the menu and you decide in that moment what you’re going to eat. So if I look at the menu,I say I’ll have the soup because I decide right then.

We also can use Will for predictions, but their based on what you expect, so I would say John will be late because in my experience, my friend John is always late. If I take the example of the weather. I would say December or January in Scotland is going to be cold because I read the newspaper and it told me so. If I lived in Scotland for a year, I already know that January is cold. So I would  say January will be cold, because it’s my experience. But don’t worry too much about predictions. It’s not a huge thing, they’re fairly interchangeable. There are bigger issues that we need to think about with Will and going to. 

Is Will the best option to express something in the future?
Let’s think about these functions, which are usually taught as the future. How many of those are actually related to the future? A promise probably has a relation to the future. A prediction has of course a relation to a future. But an offer or an instant decision isn’t necessarily about the future. It could just be about right now. We usually think of Will as a way of expressing the future, but quite often it’s actually relating  to something that’s happening now rather than far in advance.
I want you to think, when you started studying English, what was the first way you learned to express the future? In my experience, students are usually taught Will first. But when we talk about the future, what do we normally talk about? For example, if you’re telling your friends what’s happening next week. Are you talking about a promise? Not really. If we talk about the future, we’re usually talking about plans. Such as next week I’m going to go and see my friends or this year I’m going to work really hard. So usually when we’re talking about the future,  we talk about plans or intentions. And if we’re doing that, we shouldn’t be using Will, because Will is not to talk about our plans.
Normally in the classroom,  I tell my students at this point to take a big piece of paper and write the following in big letters: WILL IS NEVER FOR PLANS
Coming back to the point I was making before, why do you think we need to use going to to talk about our New Year’s resolution? Think about the function. It’s an intention. I said at the beginning what do you intend to do this year. And this is why we say I’m going to give up eating burgers every day.
How to contract Going to and Will
Before we finish, I wanted to go through the pronunciation, because this is a really important aspect to think about as well. When we speak quickly, we make a lot of contractions with both going to and will. So we need to work on that and develop that. When we talk about going to, we generally say if we’re speaking quickly and fluently, gonna /gənə/.
Sometimes you see that written down, for example in song lyrics. If you are doing anything in terms of writing, which is not a text message or a status update, please do not write gonna. Especially not in an exam. Don’t even consider it!  But the reason that many people write gonna instead of going to, is that this pronunciation is so common. When we say gonna it’s both words going and to combined in one word.

As an example, if I say it slowly it’s: I’m going to give up /ˈɡoʊ·ɪŋˌtu gɪv ʌp/eating burgers.
But when I say that quickly going to and give up are going to connect and become one sound:
I’m gonna give up /gənəˈgɪvʌp/ eating burgers.

Think of going to as your auxillary here, give up as your main verb and it comes together to one block of sound.
A mistake that students sometimes make is I’m gonna to. So for example I’m gonna to give up. Which is wrong. Remember, gonna is already both going and to. If  we put it into a question, it would be the same. What are you gonna to give up?
Will  has also a contraction. What we do is that we always contract will onto the subject. In writing we only contract will on the subject pronoun. So for example I will would look like I’ll. And we actually can write that contraction unlike gonna. See below all contracted forms and their sound.
I will               I’ll  /aɪl/
you will         you’ll /jʊəl/
he will           he’ll /hɪəl/
she will         she’ll /ʃɪəl/
it will             it’ll /ɪtəl/
we will          we’ll /wɪəl/
they will       they’ll /ðeɪl/

We need to remember hat we’re going to have our verb as well. So you need to make that block of sound. If I say I will cut down, all of that is going to become one block of sound. I’ll cut down. It is s a really important thing to work on the right pronunciation and I will explain why in a second.

When we are writing in English, we only write the contraction combined with the subject pronouns. However when we speak we contract on every subject that we have. So what do I mean? If I have the sentence Claire will be late, I don’t write the contraction (Claire’ll be late) because it looks horrible. But we say the contraction. When we speak Claire will be late becomes one block of sound.
Why are contractions so important?
The reason why it is so important to work on this contraction is not so much fur your speaking. People will understand you. However, if someone else is saying the contracted form you might not understand them. The reason that you want to work on contractions in your speaking and your pronunciation is actually to improve your listening skills, not your speaking skills. Remember, that pronunciation and listening,  go hand in hand. If you improve pronunciation, you improve listening and vice versa. Remember: If you can produce a sound you can hear a sound.
And that’s why we want to work on our contractions. This can be very hard, especially at the beginning. Quite often we’re visualizing what we want to say and we kind of construct the sentence in your head. And then on top of that we have to think of the contraction.  I know this can be really challenging, but start and try to do that. And a good way to start would be with easier things like using gonna instead of going to or ‘ll instead of will. Just start slowly and build up.
So, to finish off we come back to your New Year’s resolutions that you wrote down earlier. I want you to tell those to someone. Be really careful with the pronunciation. Remember our three phrasal verbs, give up, take up and cut down. Are we using going to or will? Going to! And we need to think of the pronunciation of going to. I’m gonna give up give up. I’m gonna take up. I’m gonna cut down.

We’re looking forward to hear about your New Year’s Resolutions. Just leave us a comment below and tell us about your intentions for 2021.
And if you like some further pronunciation practice we highly recommend singing along to Never Gonna Give You Up just like Claire did in the video.

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