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In a test, I was asked to choose between will and be going to forms in a sentence expressing futurity:

The next century __ (to begin) on the 1st of January 2001.

My guess is that the choice lacks a third option: Present Simple. Am I right, or is it fine to use "will" in order to express inevitable events?

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3 Answers 3

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Future tense is certainly used to express events that are going to happen, but you can say "The next century begins in 2101". Notice that this is only because you are treating it as a measurable quantity; you could, in theory, say ?This century begins in 2001 and ends in 2100, though it sounds odd. You certainly can't say *It rains tomorrow.

Edit; the point about It rains tomorrow, though interesting, is not what OP was asking about. "The next century will begin..." is the usual form. "The next century begins..." is not wrong, but could be considered odd, depending on context. "The next century is going to begin...", though grammatical, is unduly wordy, and may put too much emphasis on the verb, leaving the reader wondering if you are about to say .."tomorrow, due to unforeseen circumstances."

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You can certainly say "The bus comes tomorrow" or "You get your wish next Thursday" or "Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die." Or even "It rains tomorrow." Compare it with Q. When does the show open? A. It opens tomorrow. Q. When do the rains come? A. They come tomorrow. Q. When does it rain? A. It rains tomorrow. As the sardonic maxim has it: "Life's a bitch, and then you die." –  Robusto Mar 11 '12 at 20:26
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@Robusto: Hmm, more complex than I first thought. But When does it rain? is a) a leading question in this conext, and b) more likely to be answered when I go out without an umbrella, which though both true and sad, is not a simple future. –  TimLymington Mar 11 '12 at 20:37
    
In terms of such future factual determination - which is more used ? Present Simple or "Will" ? Also I'm not sure about "be going to" - is there any justification for using that construction in that case ? –  midnight Mar 11 '12 at 20:37
    
Are you using asterisks to denote grammatical errors, or are those asterisks near the end just typograpical errors? I see no grammatical problems with either part of "The next century is going to begin tomorrow, due to unforeseen circumstances", although it's not something I'd say or write, instead favoring "The next century starts tomorrow, due to unforeseen circumstances." –  jwpat7 Mar 11 '12 at 20:53
    
Hmm, I wouldn't say, "The rains come tomorrow." "Come" is present tense, but tomorrow is the future, and so calls for future tense. Suddenly reminds me of an old Dr Who episode where a character says, "I'm from such-and-such place. Have you ever been there?" And the Doctor replies, "Yes, but not yet." –  Jay Mar 12 '12 at 5:56

As I’ve had occasion to say in answering other questions, it depends on what has gone before and, to some extent, what comes afterwards. English expresses the future not only by will be or going to followed by the plain form of the verb, but also by the present tense. These forms are used in different contexts.

Will + the plain form of the verb is used for simple prediction about something we know will happen or which we expect to happen. In response to the question ‘Hey, does anyone know what day of the week the 1st of January falls on?’ the answer might be ‘I can’t tell you which day, but one thing I know for sure: the next century will begin on the 1st of January 2001.’

Going to is used when an event is pre-planned or inevitable. If someone had said on 31 December 2000 ‘I’m worried about the future. I wish I could stop the clock', the response could well be ‘The next century is going to begin on the 1st of January 2001, whether you like it or not.’

The present tense is normally used to refer to scheduled future events and future certainties, particularly in subordinate clauses. It could have been used if someone had asked ‘What are you doing on New Year’s Day?’ The answer might be ‘Something special, because the next century begins on the 1st of January 2001.’

There’s a fourth, but less likely, possibility, and that is the present progressive construction. In December 2000, someone might have said in a speech 'The next century is beginning on the 1st of January 2001. Let us therefore take this opportunity to prepare ourselves for a new age.'

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The use of will and going to is complicated. Of course, native speakers understand when they should use will and when they should use going to, but they often can’t tell you why!

For your example:

The next century __ (to begin) on the 1st of January 2001.

you should use will, because you are 100% sure it will happen.

This web page explains other ways we use will and going to, and has some practice exercises.

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