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Here is a skit from a radio English conversation program, dealing with American English.

A: guest B: front desk clerk C: A's wife

(at the front desk of a hotel)

A: I have a reservation for a room under the name of Hal Lloyd.

B: I can't seem to pull up your reservation. Do you have a confirmation number?

A: It's 7228.

B: Here it is. We don't have any more standard rooms available. I'm going to put you in our deluxe room with a kitchenette.

A: That's fine with us.

(in the deluxe room)

A: The room is decorated very tastefully.

C: It's very nice! I'm going to sit down in this plush sofa and read.

I understand the difference between 'be going to' and 'will' like this.

  1. I'm going to go fishing today. (I planned it yesterday.)
  2. I'll go fishing today. (It suddenly occurs to me.)

However, two 'be going to' in the skit seem to be said without plan; it seems to me that two of them are exchangeable with 'will'. Therefore, I took it that 'be going to' is sometimes used in … kind of … will-using-like situations. That’s fine enough. However, …

What feeling makes you decide to choose 'be going to' over 'will' in this skit? I'd like to know the emotion you express by choosing it. (or, are they equal in every way?)

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This question is interesting, but its title isn't. I'm trying to think of a better one... –  Daniel Jun 28 '11 at 4:43
    
    
Just think of it: "I will sit down in this plush sofa, and read." It kinds of sound a bit foreign and posh! –  Thursagen Jun 28 '11 at 11:08
    
I don't buy your semantic distinction between I'm going to go fishing and I'll go fishing. Or indeed I'm going fishing. They're just stylistic variations. –  FumbleFingers Jun 28 '11 at 12:54
    
@everyone – Thank you for joining me. I learned a lot of things from you! By the way, I'm going to open a new question related to this one in Writers StackExchange. It's about C's strange line. Well, I don't know if it might be accepted, for I don't know their rules so much. I'd be glad if you could visit my question. Please keep your fingers crossed for acceptance of my question. –  user7493 Jun 29 '11 at 10:31
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2 Answers

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'Will' is a modal verb and 'be going to' is its phrasal modal counterpart. Such verbs work for epistemological uses (logical/deductive) and for deontic (social/interactive) uses. The first question is about a social use here, a kind of promise that the hotel clerk is making. The choice of the phrasal modal 'be going to' indicates that the clerk's plan is already 'afoot' -- in other words, it conveys to the clients that their problem is half solved already, no doubts, no conditionality, just as if the solution HAD been planned yesterday and we were in the middle of carrying the plan out.

So, Totoro, I think what you have discovered is that when 'be going to' is chosen over 'will' in a situation like this one, the speaker is inviting the listener to feel as if he/she has been part of the speaker's thoughts for much longer than the spontaneous moment. That is good business discourse.

The second use in the dialog is screamingly artificial (and uses 'in' for 'on' to boot).

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Thank you! I don't have enough confidence in my English, but you read my mind and that's exactly what I need. –  user7493 Jun 29 '11 at 10:29
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The example you provide is ok, but it is not an example that shows all possible uses, so you should not think that to be going to is used only when something is planned.

Normally the form of to be going to is associated with the imminence of the action, aspect and modality - these are the terms that you might be referring to as "emotional meaning".

In your example, the to be going to is used because the actions are imminent. These explanations might sound complicated, but once you are comfortable with use this comes naturally and without thinking.

If you compare the two versions that you would have from the example provided

  1. I'm going to put you in our deluxe room with a kitchenette.
  2. I will put you in our deluxe room with a kitchenette.

to me the main difference is that in 2. I will means only in future (and therefore is less certain), while 1. I'm going to means some sort of imminent future (immediate, planned, unavoidable, etc; it can also imply resoluteness, firmness of decision). Therefore I am going to form expresses more certainty compared to I will.

However this opinion is due to the context of the example, non-verbal aspects, such as tone and attitude of the speaker, can modify these expression to the extent that would make them express exactly the same thing.

Try to go through the section on tense, aspect and modality implications in Wikipedia entry on future tense:

Am/is/are going to + VERB always, and will + VERB usually, imply not just futurity but also aspect (the way an action or state takes place in time) and/or modality (the attitude of the speaker toward the action or state). The precise interpretation must be based on the context. Specifically:

  • am/is/are going to + VERB sometimes implies intentional modality, as in I'm going to do that; but sometimes it does not, as in It's going to rain.

  • am/is/are going to + VERB always implies prospective aspect, combining the present focus in the main verb am/is/are going with the futurity of the second verb. Thus, for example, It's going to rain combines a present viewpoint of the situation with a description of the future. This feature is analogous to the retrospective aspect of the English present perfect have/has + VERB + -ed, in which past action is presented from the viewpoint of the present.

  • will + VERB can express aspect alone, without implying futurity: In He will make mistakes, won't he?, the reference is to a tendency in the past, present, and future and as such expresses habitual aspect.

  • will + VERB can express either of two types of modality alone, again without implying futurity: In That will be John at the door, there is an implication of present time and probabilistic mode, while You will do it right now implies obligatory mode.

  • will + VERB can express both intentional modality and futurity, as in I will do it.

  • will + VERB can express both conditional modality and futurity, as in: Don't sit on that rock—it'll fall!

  • will + VERB can express futurity without modality: The sun will die in a few billion years.

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Good answer, but please say explicitly where you got it from, not just through a link. –  Colin Fine Jun 28 '11 at 13:33
    
@Colin Fine, yes makes sense since I am quoting it all - edited. –  Unreason Jun 28 '11 at 13:54
    
I don't buy into "imminent future." I'm going to retire in 30 years, and nobody would think it odd that I used "going to" when saying it. –  horatio Jun 28 '11 at 14:12
    
@horatio, ok, try not to take things out of context; I say imminence, aspect and modality when I say what for is the "going to" from used; I single out imminence when I explain what I think is the dominant reason for using it in OP's example. –  Unreason Jun 28 '11 at 14:37
    
You said "I'm going to means some sort of imminent future" and you contrast that with some other vague sort of future. I didn't take it out of context, but perhaps you didn't say what you meant. –  horatio Jun 28 '11 at 14:39
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