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I just don't get the reasoning behind which one is correct in which situation.

Typically I use the wrong one, or I use them when I'm not supposed to.

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6 Answers 6

up vote 14 down vote accepted

If you mean both in the sense of anticipating something, both are equally valid. However 'I look forward' is more formal; it's the kind of thing you would write in an official letter.

A typical example is the closing statement of a cover letter for a job application:

I look forward to hearing from you soon.

'I am looking forward' is less formal. You would rarely say to a friend on the phone 'I look forward to visiting you next week.' You would say:

I'm looking forward to visiting you next week.

I'm not sure why others here have suggested this is wrong. You wouldn't say 'I run towards the train station!', you'd say 'I am running towards the train station!'

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Look forward to is a phrasal verb that means to await eagerly. It can be used in any tense. Examples:

  • I look forward to meeting you tonight.
  • He looks forward to graduating this year.
  • We dare not cancel the trip to Banff. The kids have been looking forward to this for ages!
  • Both were looking forward to spending a wonderful evening together, but the weather cruelly disrupted their plans.
  • I can't believe they're actually looking forward to vacationing with us for three weeks. This house is super boring!
  • Even though he knew it would be difficult and unpleasant, he still looked forward to having a heart-to-heart conversation with her.

The sentence

I'm looking forward

cannot be interpreted to mean eagerly awaiting, as it would have to be followed by to_.

Thus, it can only mean one thing:

I am directing my gaze (or view) forward

where forward is an adverb. This usage, however, is not common in regular conversation, except in very few circumstances. Nevertheless, it is definitely acceptable to say:

I'm looking forward to it!

to indicate that one is eagerly awaiting an event.

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2  
Granted 'I'm looking forward' can't be interpreted that way as it stands, but neither can 'I look forward' really. It's a valid assumption that the question is asking about phrases like or beginning with I'm looking/I look forward to –  user3444 Jan 26 '11 at 19:39
    
@ElendilTheTall: Agreed. I wasn't even going to deal with this shade of meaning, but I wanted to be thorough, as I wasn't absolutely certain of the OP's context. –  Jimi Oke Jan 26 '11 at 19:54

Hmm, okay, a totally non-grammatical (probably, and thus very likely totally wrong) answer by an avowed non-grammarian (who nevertheless described and describes himself as a grammar-nazi at times):

"I'm looking forward to" means I'm doing it right now, this very instance, like in Elendil's example of being on the phone with a friend; I disagree that it's about formal vs non-formal, it's due to being on the phone with that friend in that moment, so of course you'd be looking forward to meeting said friend at that very moment.

"I look forward" means looking forward in a general sense; like, you'd not think about meeting your friend every second of the day, but the anticipation would be in the back of your mind all the time.

That's my take, and I'm sticking to it. ;-)

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So 'I look forward to seeing you' means 'I occasionally look forward to seeing you'? I have never in normal conversation said 'I look forward' instead of 'I'm looking forward', apart from in the the sense of 'I look forward to these occasions', and have never heard anyone else say it either. I have said it in formal situations like business meetings, and read it many times in letters. –  user3444 Jan 26 '11 at 19:52

I look forward to seeing you means I await eagerly to see you.

I am looking forward means I am looking at the area in front of me.

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I agree. Nonetheless, I do hear people say "I am looking forward to seeing you."... which makes me cringe. –  Chris Dwyer Jan 26 '11 at 18:17
2  
I disagree. 'I am looking forward' doesn't mean 'I am looking toward me'. It could mean 'I am looking at the area in front of me', but you can't look 'toward' yourself. In the same sense as 'I look forward to seeing you', you could also say 'I am looking forward to going on vacation next week.' 'I look forward' is more formal, and is the kind of thing you'd write in a cover letter. There is also nothing wrong with "I am looking forward to seeing you", just as there is nothing wrong with 'I am running towards the train station'. –  user3444 Jan 26 '11 at 18:31

Assuming you mean "I look forward to ..." and "I'm looking forward to ...", they are essentially the same thing. However, there is a slight difference. the -ing on "looking" is a present participle.

So if we consider "look forward to" to mean "anxiously await", then we can rewrite the phrase as:

"I anxiously await your visit", vs "I am Anxiously awaiting your visit".

So in this case, "look" and "await" are the verb, and "forward" and "anxiously" are the adverbs.

So it's sort of a active/passive thing. "I am" versus "I". You would not say "I looking forward to" or "I am look forward to". It is effectively the same thing as "I look" vs "I am looking". for example "I look good" and "I am looking good".

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Look forward to something or look forward to doing something means "to excited and pleased about something that is going to happen"

I'm really looking forward to our vacation.

But "I Look forward" can meaning with trivial differences according to the context. For example it can mean I'm looking to the area in front of my eyes.

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