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The future tense in standard written English uses 'will' as the verbal modifier, but increasingly English speakers use 'going to' as the verbal modifier. When did this come into common usage?

  • See this question: "going to" vs "will". No history provided, mind you, but definitely related. – Zairja Mar 4 '14 at 20:33
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    It didn't replace it; it's just a different construction. And neither one of them is the future tense; English doesn't have a future tense. – John Lawler Mar 4 '14 at 20:36
  • Thank you for this clarification. On reflection I think what brought it to my attention was that I hear even educated people saying 'gonna' instead of 'going to'. And you are right that English has no specific future tense, just constructions that imply future intentions or predictions or hopes. – Edward Mar 4 '14 at 21:00
  • @Susan 'J'aimerais' isn't the future tense, it is the conditional - 'I would love'. I think you perhaps meant 'J'aimerai'. – WS2 Mar 4 '14 at 21:06
  • @JohnLawler - Thank you. I also spelled true as tru. I'll just remove. – anongoodnurse Mar 4 '14 at 21:14
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'I am going to swim the English Channel' is a way of expressing a future intention in English. And whether we call it a 'future tense' or not 'I will swim the English Channel' is the more direct way of saying almost exactly the same thing about one's future plans.

This corresponds with an almost identical situation in French. And I am wondering if that is the origin of the English form.

'Je vais nager à travers la Manche' literally means 'I am going to swim the English Channel'.

'Je nagerai à travers la Manche' literally means 'I will swim the English Channel'.

The English use of 'going' in this way is confirmed by the OED as meaning V 47 b, of the verb 'go'. No etymology of this use is given except that it is compared to the French equivalent as i have done above.

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    @Susan. Don't apologise, the fault was mutual, once again proving that great minds think alike. I did manage to find the OED entry on that particular meaning, which I have appended to my answer. But a shame not to have found the etymology. – WS2 Mar 4 '14 at 21:41
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In French (please let's not start a ruckus over my French like last time), as young children, we learn an easy future construction Je vais (I am going) plus an infinitive (say, aimer, to like/love) as a simple way to construct a future tense. J'aimerai is a bit harder.

It's reallyvery similar to learning English as children. Children learn -ed is a past tense for every verb. (I dropped, I wanted, I runned), at which point they learn irregular verbs, etc. through repeated exposure. My mother never sat me down and stated, "Today you will learn to conjugate run. I run, you run, he/she/it runs..." Children keep it simple until they know better. It's the weak conjugation first.

Perhaps that is when I'm going to (verb) (short: I'm gonna) came into our language - with the Norman Conquest of 1066.

Go appeared before the conquest (before 900; Middle English gon, Old English gān), going ~1250–1300; the -ing construction is Middle English (-ing, -inge ; the variant -in). I don't have an OED susbscription, nor the expertise of linguists, so I should stop here.

  • +1 We have ended up answering in exactly the same way, but never mind. Whether it originates from Norman French or is a more recent import I have no idea. The OED might tell us but it might take a bit of searching through the copious meanings of 'go'. – WS2 Mar 4 '14 at 21:26

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