“Am Going To” Future Construction

Introduction

English has multiple ways to form the future simple tense. The most common method is to combine will with the base of the verb (e.g., I will go). A slightly less formal way to achieve the same effect is to use an am going to construction. Let’s see how this works.

Form

To use an am going to construction, start with a form to be (amareis), add going, and finish with the infinitive (e.g., to bike). Here’s what that looks like in practice:

I am going to bike

You are going to bike

He/she/it is going to bike

We are going to bike

You are going to bike

They are going to bike

In casual conversation going to is sometimes shortened to gonna (as in I’m gonna get you).

Uses

The phrase am going to has a lot of overlap with the regular future simple tense (using will). Here are the main uses.

Intentions

You can use am going to to declare your intentions.

We are going to come to your last performance.

They are going to go on the next voyage to Mars.

Orders

You can order people around:

You are going to clean up your room!

You are going to come with me this instant.

Predictions

When you make a prediction using am going to, it’s usually based on some knowledge or evidence that you have in the present moment.

It’s going to rain any moment

He is finally going to apply for a job.

Comparison with “Will”

Compared to am going to, the future simple using will is a bit more formal and tends to express more certainty,

In addition, the construction am going to is often used in relation to our current moment (what we know to be true right now).

More Information

For more information, please see our introduction to all twelve verb tenses in English.

Verbs: Main Types

Introduction

Verbs are usually action words. They indicate what the subject of each clause is doing. That’s why you cannot have a sentence without at least one main verb.

Here is a sentence with two clauses, and therefore two verbs:

When I remember my childhood, I become sentimental.

The sentence also reveals that not every verb is clearly an action. The verb become shows a change or a process. These abstract verbs are less about action, and more about describing a state of being (many of them are linking verbs).

So let’s dig in and learn about the different kinds of verbs.

Transitive, Intransitive, and Linking verbs

There are two main types of verbs: transitive and intransitive verbs. However, some intransitive verbs can also be described as linking verbs.

Transitive verbs take a direct object. The word transitive is derived from the Latin verb transire, which means to go or cross over. English actually has quite a few words that start with trans, and in each case the prefix means across / cross:

translate = carry across (from one language to another)

transvestite = cross dresser

transition = crossing over

transport = convey across

trans-Atlantic = across the Atlantic

In the same way, transitive verbs carry the action across to a direct object:

She sold her car.

Transitive verb: sold.

Direct object: her car.

By contrast, intransitive verbs lack a direct object:

I fell down the stairs.

Intransitive verb: fell.

Prepositional phrase: down the stairs.

If we asked fell what? there is no answer. The prepositional phrase explains where these actions took place, but there is no direct object.

However, there are many verbs that can be both transitive and intransitive:

I guessed the answer.

I just guessed.

In most dictionaries, the abbreviations vt and vi will tell you if a verb is transitive, intransitive, or both.

The third category of verbs consists of linking verbs (a kind of intransitive verb). These verbs don’t take a direct object. Instead, they are followed by a noun or adjective that describes the subject:

Henry is a mechanic.

She became angry.

The linking verb acts like an equal sign, linking the subject to the description after the verb. The latter is called the subject complement:

Subject = complement (noun or adjective)

There aren’t that many linking verbs, and most of them are forms of to be. The others tend to describe states of being or are associated with the senses:

“To Be” States of Being Senses
am appear feel
is become look
are grow/turn smell
was stay/remain sound
were seem taste

Note that “to be” can also be a helping verb.

As you study the following examples, look for the way in which the subject complement (the noun or adjective after the linking verb) describes the subject:

Your duet sounded fantastic.

This specimen is a Libellula depressa, a species of dragonfly.

The apple pie smells lovely.

The main dish will be linguine.

Be careful though: some of these linking verbs can be transitive or intransitive verbs in a different context:

Smell the roses!

He tasted the oysters.

She is in the bathroom.

Kendra looked through the telescope.

The first two sentences have direct objects and the last two end with prepositional phrases (so no direct object or subject complement).



Helping Verbs

Helping or auxiliary verbs allow us to create verb phrases. Without them we would have a hard time expressing exactly when something happened (tense), what the tone of the statement is (mood), and whether the action is active or passive (voice).

In addition, a subcategory of helping verbs (called modal auxiliaries) provides other nuances like possibility and necessity.

Three of the most common helping verbs come in quite a few forms (in grammatical terms, they are strongly inflected):

Be Do Have
am do have
are does has
is did had
was doing having
were done
be
being
been

These helping verbs make it easy to create verb phrases:

does suggest

have been talking

did wonder

were harvesting

In a sentence, these phrases may be interrupted by adverbs:

You were not listening

I am fortunately going on holidays then.

Alternatively, in questions a helping verb may come before the subject:

Have you been taking your medication?

The only thing that never changes is that the helping verbs always come before the main verb.


Modal Auxiliaries

There are also quite a few helping verbs that allow you to fine-tune the exact meaning of a verb phrase. These are the modal auxiliaries, and in the chart they are organized by function:

Modal Auxiliary Function
can/could ability/possibility
may/might possibility/permission
must/ought to obligation
should obligation/condition
would condition
shall/will intention/probability

As you can see, some modals have multiple or overlapping uses. Let’s take a closer look at a few that are easily misused.

Shall

There are three ways to use shall:

1. To express a command or make a strong statement:

You shall not pass!

2. To ask a question or make a suggestion:

Shall we go to the mall?

3. To indicate the future tense:

We shall overcome.

Now here’s the rub: traditionally rule three applies only to first person subjects. You can say I shall or we shall (both first person), but you’re not supposed to say you shall or they shall (unless you’re commanding them – see rule 1).

If you find this confusing, you can take comfort from the fact that most people use will just to form the future tense (also in the first person). Even in formal writing will is generally acceptable (more so in North America than in Britain). But if you want to be a stickler you can go around shouting “Thou shalt use shall to indicate the future tense with first person subjects only!”

May vs. Might

Often we use may and might interchangeably, but there is a subtle difference between them: may suggests a stronger possibility than might. The latter is more hypothetical, and is especially useful to describe situations that are contrary to fact (they didn’t happen, but they might have).

Let’s first look at some examples where may and might are interchangeable:

I may order a cheese burger.

I might go for a swim later.

By contrast, the following sentences clearly require might rather than may:

If you had stopped smoking decades ago, your lungs might now be clean.

Had I not slammed on the breaks, you might now be in a hospital.

In these cases we are dealing with hypothetical situations, where might is preferred.

And that’s it for helping verbs. Use them together with transitive, intransitive, and linking verbs to form complex verb phrases.

More Exercises


Verbs: Characteristics

Introduction

In our first section on verbs, we introduced the different kinds of verbs, including transitive and intransitive verbs, linking verbs, and helping verbs.

On this page we turn our attention to the different parts of each verb, and how we can change the verb to indicate tense, mood, and voice.

Principal Parts

Now that we know the types of verbs we might encounter, we are ready to look at the main parts that make up a verb.

There are four principal parts:

Principle Part Example
Basic Form

(An action in the present: I + present tense)

kick
Past Tense

(An action in the past: I + past tense)

kicked
Past Participle

(Often the same as the past tense. Usually formed by adding -ed to the present tense)

kicked
Present Participle

(Formed by adding -ing to the basic form)

kicking

Not all grammar books include the present participle, but we’ve done so to show that all verb tenses can be formed from these principal parts.

Also, by themselves past and present participles cannot be verbs (they’re called verbals), but with helping verbs they can be part of the verb phrase (e.g., will be seeing).

There are some verbs that are a bit irregular in how they form these four principal parts. That’s why they are called irregular verbs! Here are some examples:

Basic Form Past Tense Past Participle Present Participle
drive drove driven driving
read read read reading
sing sang sung singing
swim swam swum swimming

If you’re a native speaker, but you’re not quite sure how to form the past participle, you can ask yourself, how would I finish a phrase such as he had or it was … ? For example, if the verb is swear you might say he had sworn and know that the past participle is sworn.

If English is not your first language, it will take you some time to study the few hundred irregular verbs that have different principal parts.

Verb Tenses

Now that we know about helping verbs and about the principal parts, we can move on to the different tenses of the verb. These allow us to make subtle distinctions about when something is happening.

The following chart provides a quick overview of the twelve different tenses, as applied to both a regular and irregular verb:

For more information about all twelve tenses, please see our detailed introduction to verb tense.

Mood

You can think of the mood as the tone or manner in which something is expressed. English has three moods: the indicative, imperative, and subjunctive.

The indicative is the one we use most often. It includes statements of fact and questions:

The time passes so quickly.

We will be doing a fundraiser.

Aren’t you glad I didn’t say “banana”?

We want justice.

By that time I will have been waiting for five hours.

Indicative statements can use any of the twelve verb tenses described above.

The imperative mood covers commands, requests, and instructions. The subject of an imperative verb is implied (it’s usually you):

Do the right thing and buy me a coffee. (you do and buy)

Please join me in applauding a fine performance. (you join)

Follow these simple instructions to put together your new table. (you follow)

The subjunctive is the mood that gives writers the most trouble, in part because it is little used. These days we tend to use modal helping verbs (like should, would, etc.) to create the same effect.

The subjunctive expresses conditions that are contrary to fact, hypothetical situations that have not happened or are not likely to happen.

Here’s how the subjunctive is formed:

Subjunctive Verbs

Now that you know how to form the subjunctive, let’s look at some situations in which the subjunctive should be used.

Hypothetical Statements:

If I were rich, I would live in a hotel. (indicative: I was; I will live)

Wishes and desires:

I wish I were older.

Clauses that start with that and express commands, advice, wishes, and so on:

I suggest that he leave at once. (indicative: he leaves)

If you’re not sure if a statement is subjunctive, try inserting a modal helping verb that makes the clause subjunctive (that he should leave). If that works then the subjunctive mood is probably appropriate.

Advanced Information

The subjunctive is disappearing from the English language, which is why you may often find it more natural to use the indicative form. Here’s a good example:

Subjunctive: If I be honest

Indicative: If I am honest

Most of us would pick the indicative, and not feel bad about it.

The one place where the subjunctive will likely survive for quite some time yet is in common expressions:

So be it

Be that as it may

If I were you

God help us / So help me God

Heaven forbid

Long live the King

Finally, even though the subjunctive is on the way out in English, it is frequently used in other languages.

Voice

The last grammatical category that we need to learn is the voice of the verb. The voice refers to the relationship between the subject and the action.

If the verb has an active voice, then the subject is doing the action.

If the verb has a passive voice then the action is happening to the subject. In other words, the subject would normally be the object of the verb.

Active voice: Treebeard sang a song.

Passive voice: The song was sung by Treebeard.

The passive voice is formed by using some form of to be as a helping verb and adding a past participle. Here are some examples:

To Be + Past Participle
am headhunted
had been praised
will be struck
were seen

Another clue that you’re dealing with the passive voice is that the implied subject is often included after the verb (usually in a by construction):

These cows are milked by robots.

In fact, to make a sentence active you need to figure out who is actually doing the action (robots) and make that the subject:

Robots milk these cows.

However, not all verbs are easily transformed from the active to the passive (or vice versa). Some transitive verbs that take a direct object in the active voice simply don’t make sense in a passive construction. For example, you can’t say that something is lacked.

Usage

As much as possible, write in the active voice. Compare the following two sentences for directness:

If you want to ensure a successful rebellion, the current ruler must be apprehended, all media outlets must be captured and controlled, and innocent civilians should be protected as much as possible.

If you want to ensure a successful rebellion, you should apprehend the current ruler, capture and control all media outlets, and protect innocent civilians as much as possible.

As you can see, the active version is more colorful and concise. That’s why you should use the passive voice sparingly.

The passive voice works best in the following situations:

  • When you don’t know who the subject is or don’t want others to know
  • When you want to draw attention to the action (and its object) rather than the subject
  • When you want your tone to be more abstract and indirect (e.g., in some academic discourse)

However, be selective about when you use the passive voice, also in formal writing. Your default option should be the active voice.

Finally, some grammar books tell you to avoid mixing the active and the passive voice in the same sentence. Our advice is to go with what sounds the most natural. The following sentence has two passive voice verbs:

We were told by our tour guide that the Louvre was closed due to flooding.

In this case the first verb is best made active, whereas the second is fine as is:

Our tour guide told us that the Louvre was closed due to flooding.

Being aware of these subtle differences will give you greater control over your writing.

Exercises