In a recent test we asked students to write a sentence expressing their excitement at a future activity. We gave an example sentence using 'looking forward to'.

One student wrote "I'm expecting to draw a cartoon."

To me (a native speaker) this does not have the same meaning as "I'm looking forward to...". 'Expect' sounds emotionally neutral and also some nuance of uncertainty.

However the student found in dictionaries that 'expect to' is a synonym of 'look forward to'.

What do you guys think?

We also have a meeting in a few hours with the students parents to discuss his answer and I've been asked to find some reliable resources which I've been struggling to find with specific examples!


Google given the following definitions of 'expect':

regard (something) as likely to happen.

"we expect the best"

"a 10 percent rise was expected"

regard (someone) as likely to do or be something.

"they were not expecting him to continue"

"I expect she'll be late"

believe that (someone or something) will arrive soon.

"Celia was expecting a visitor"

look for (something) from someone as rightfully due or requisite in the circumstances. "we expect great things of you"

"we expect total loyalty"

I'd wager that the dictionary that the student consulted was presenting a simplified form of one of these meanings, possibly the first. One of the synonyms Google lists is "anticipate", which can indicate some emotional component of wanting the result to happen; this is probably where "look forward to" came from.

The meaning of the student's sentence isn't "I'm excited about getting to draw a cartoon;" it's "I think I will be drawing a cartoon."

I would have phrased it a bit differently:

I'm taking an art class on modern media this semester. I'm expected to draw a cartoon.

And I would also propose that the dictionary that the student consulted is wrong. Such things do happen. It could also be that the dictionary had listed "anticipate" as a definition, and the student had then looked up "anticipate" and found the definition "to look forward to". That's actually a listed definition of "anticipate", but not in any listing of "expect" I've found so far.

To see Google's definition for a word, go to Google and search "define [word]". So the definition of "expect" cam be found by searching "define expect".


I tend to side with you that "expecting" does not connote excitement, at least not in any widespread dialects (although when used to refer to a pregnancy, it probably does go hand in hand with excitement).

But I do see that the Free Dictionary defines expect as "to look forward to the probable occurrence or appearance of" (here). Your student likely encountered such a dictionary.

It seems to me that they are using the phrase "look forward to" in a value-neutral way, meaning "to look ahead to". This is not the normal way we use "look forward to," which usually connotes excitement.

That they are using "look forward to" it in a value-neutral way is evidenced by an example phrase they use: "expects rain on Sunday". Presumably, nobody is excited about rain on Sunday. It is also evinced by the fact that this is the first sense of expect that they give. If there is a sense of expect which connotes excitement, it certainly isn't worthy of top billing in a definition. For both of these reasons, "look forward to" should be read in a value-neutral way.

As a final point, I don't think you should shy away from appealing to your intuitions as a natural language speaker, especially now that you have a few others agreeing with you.

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