I had to pick one of my friends for a movie. She didn't know where we would go, so the moment she sat in the car, she asked "So, where we headed?" I told her the multiplex name. But I thought she should have asked, "where we heading (= going)"?

Why people say use past tense "headed" when they still need to reach the destination?

  • 1
    Neither is correct. Is should be "Where are we headed/heading" (or "Where're we headed/heading").
    – Hot Licks
    Apr 12, 2016 at 18:15
  • 1
    Both are correct in speech (and in text quoting speech, like stories). The predictable and information-free auxiliary verb are is frequently, and for some people normally, omitted in this construction. May 4, 2016 at 23:07
  • Possible duplicate of "To be headed for" and "To be headed over to"
    – Elian
    May 9, 2016 at 7:43
  • Slavic languages formally allow you to drop 'is/are' ('This is a glass' -> Polish to szklanka)
    – Spencer
    Oct 22, 2016 at 16:42

5 Answers 5


Farlex gives this (common) usage for headed; though this is the adjectival usage, the participle usage corresponds:

headed - having a heading or course in a certain direction; "westward headed wagons".

The present participle is certainly not a wrong alternative (as an adjective or participle), and is, as you imply, at least as logical. The fact that 'head' can be (and 'head out' virtually has to be) punctive (then, we headed west / we headed into the wind // we headed out west) as well as durative (we headed steadily west / we were heading into the wind) very probably gives rise to the choice. Between, I'd say, "So, where are we headed?" and "So, where are we heading?"

Google Ngrams show that the 'headed' version ('where are we headed') has been consistently appreciably more popular in the US since say 1985; in the UK, until about 1980, it was the other way round. The versions are now roughly equal in popularity in the UK, possibly because of the influence of American film dialogues ('headed' sounding more butch).

  • Similar phenomena with Where's the cannon pointed? vs Where's the cannon pointing? It seems to be a natural affordance due to the fact that the same verb forms (head, point) are used for both the intransitive stative directional sense and the transitive causative directed-motion sense. For continuous directional phenomena like wind or wave, one can do the same thing with go -- Where is the wind gone/going? Verb pairs with this affordance don't always overlap in context or invited inference, however. Sep 8, 2014 at 14:24
  • And, as an afterthought, note the absence of auxiliary verbs (are) in the question title. This is due to Conversational Deletion, a well-known syntactic phenomenon in colloquial English. Sep 8, 2014 at 14:30
  • You colonial types seem more deleterious than us staid and proper stick-at-homes. But I've got to accept 'Which way the women go!?' as a correct misusage. Sep 8, 2014 at 15:50
  • In speech it would of course pass an oatist. Sep 8, 2014 at 15:54
  • It's hard to speak clearly with a large cigar in one's mouth. Especially when your brothers have put glue in your moustache-paint. But we owe the great man one of the best hints on punctuation: use a comma if you can't spell 'semicolon'. Sep 8, 2014 at 16:20

I do not think we are talking past tense here. I think it is about somebody else directing the action, i.e. "where are we headed?" = "where are we being sent?" by a 3rd party.


It should be heading instead of headed. Thats the correct sentence with present situation. Headed refer to the situation which got completed.


‘Headed’ is used when you are already on a journey and someone asks you where you are headed. ‘Heading’ is used when you have not started the journey and someone asks you where you are heading.

A newly appointed person, in high position like the president, may ask,”Where is our country heading?” He is new and he has not started the journey of building the country.

But if the person has been given a second term of office, then he may ask,”Where is our country headed?” He has already started his program of building the country and will continue to do so.


I understand where you are coming from.

I mean really...

Where are we headed?

Does not make sense to me. The English language is very complex, for example, you said "Why people say use past tense "headed" when they still need to reach the destination?"

Okay past tense is incorrect, I mean how can that be, if they are already on the way, is should be heading, not headed, of course it should. simply because the adding of "ing" to a word, usually means its current event in progress, and the adding of "ed" usually means a past event.

Okay so these examples will say why its correct:

We are heading over there, we will be at their house soon.

This sentence says that we are in the current progress which brings us to the word headING, since its something we're currently doing, like right now, I'm typing this post, it wouldn't make sense to say I'm typed this post would it?

Now, here I will use past tense to tell you I'm heading out but I'm still on the way, as per your comment about still not been at the destination, I will do it in three words.

You asked: "Why people say use past tense "headed" when they still need to reach the destination?"

"We've headed out"

Now that's my opinion, I think that should be the right way about things, but the definition of the word according to the Cambridge Dictionary (In British mode too) actually means "going in a particular direction: Which way are you headed?" which would mean headed means heading, so to speak, so, as far as official things go, I cannot say, but I still stick with "heading" over "headed" when it comes to talking about the present, and headed when talking about the past.

  • 3
    I don't totally get what you are trying to say which I guess not different than what already answered and commented by John Lawler. Other thing is you're poor in expressing thoughts in words, need to work on that.
    – paul
    Feb 23, 2015 at 8:32

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