1) ‘I’m going to visit New York next year’
2) ‘I think the Bears are going to win the game.’
3) ‘I was going to go, but in the end I was too tired.’
Going to is a future tense in English used to signify an intention (sentence (1) above), or a prediction (sentence (2) above), although it can also be used in the past tense to signify either of these ideas at a set moment in the past (sentence (3) above).
Here we take at look at each use of ‘going to’
‘Going to’ for a future intention
In terms of future tenses, going to is one of the most frequently used in English because it signifies a future intention, although stops short of representing an organized plan. For a plan, the present continuous would be used. Here is a comparison:
‘I’m going to go to the cinema tomorrow if I can get a ticket.’ (intention)
‘I’m going to the cinema tomorrow. I booked the tickets online.’ (organized plan)
In essence, the present continuous sentence is a little more definitive because it suggests the plan had already been made.
Grammatically speaking, ‘going to’ is a present continuous form, so it is formed in the same way:
+ I’m going to go to the cinema.
– I’m not going to go to the cinema.
? Am I going to go to the cinema?
In terms of asking question about the future, English speakers use ‘going to’ and present continuous for future almost interchangeably:
‘What are you going to do this weekend?’ / ‘What are you doing this weekend?’
‘Are you going to go on vacation this year?’ / ‘Are you going on vacation this year?’
‘Going to’ for predictions
‘Going to’ is also used to make strong predictions about the future, usually based on some current evidence:
‘I think the Bears are going to win the game.’
In this case, the speaker is making a judgement based on the relative ability of the team in comparison to the team’s opponents.
Grammatically speaking, ‘going to’ is still the present continuous, so everything is the same:
+ The Bears are going to win the game.
– The Bears aren’t going to win the game.
? Are the Bears are going to win the game.
Note that present continuous is not used to make predictions, as it would be confused with what is happening at that moment:
‘I think the Bears are winning the game.’ (is a report of the actual situation, rather than a prediction)
However, ‘will’ is also used to make predictions:
‘I think the Bears will win the game.’
Whereas ‘going to’ is used when there is evidence available, ‘will’ is more of a guess. Compare the following:
‘It is going to rain tomorrow.’ (We have evidence in the form of a weather forecast)
‘It will rain tomorrow.’ (A prediction based on no hard evidence)
In reality, native speakers use the two above forms quite interchangeably.
‘Was/were going to’
‘Going to’ can be used in the past to signify an intention or prediction at a moment in time in the past. Usually, that intention or prediction doesn’t happen. Here are some examples:
‘I was going to go to the cinema, but in the end, I was too tired so I stayed at home.’
‘I thought that the Bears were going to win the game, but I was wrong.’
Note that many native English speakers replace ‘going to’ with a quasi-contraction – ‘gonna’. You won’t find this word in the dictionary, but you will hear it constantly. In partcualry, listen out for it in songs:
‘Are You Gonna Go My Way’ – Lenny Kravitz
‘A Change Is Gonna Come’ – Same Cook
‘A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall’ – Bob Dylan
(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again’ – Elton John