I was playing an ESL Future Tenses Review Game when I came across the following question:

You and your friend are reading. It's getting dark and you decide to turn on the light. You stand up and walk towards the light switch.

A: What are you doing?
B: __________________

  1. I'll turn on the light.
  2. I'm going to turn on the light.
  3. I'm turning on the light.

According to Cambridge Dictionary we use will when we make rapid decisions. Isn't this the case in the game? I am asking, because the right answer turned out to be "going to turn on the light" - am I missing anything obvious here or is it a mistake in the game?

  • If A had said: “It’s too dark to read in here” Then the response could be A. But since A asks what you’re doing- what you’re doing is going (because you haven’t reached the light switch yet) to turn on the light.
    – Jim
    Commented May 13, 2018 at 5:41
  • The statement in Cambridge seems like an oversimplification. future will refers to the current resolve of the speaker to carry out a future activity. It is certainly not (always) used to make rapid decisions. For example: I have been thinking about this for five years and I have finally decided that next year I will go to New York to study music. That is hardly a rapid decision. Also, it is possible to use Choice C in this context. Commented May 13, 2018 at 5:43
  • See also english.stackexchange.com/questions/87900/going-to-vs-will?rq=1.
    – Xanne
    Commented May 13, 2018 at 5:45
  • @user9825893y50932 if you were B in the story you would normally reply to A's question with "I'll turn on the light"? I realize that is not what you're saying but that is how a learner might interpret your comment. (P.S Choice C is now labeled 3.)
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented May 13, 2018 at 7:14
  • No @Mari-LouA I would say 3, and maybe 2. My comments about 1 referred only to the oversimplified rule which the OP mentions. Commented May 13, 2018 at 18:11

1 Answer 1


The Cambridge Dictionary page you refer to does not talk about rapid decisions. It says:

  • We use will for immediate intentions and decisions.

In other words we use will when asked to make a decision about something to which we have, at that moment, given no prior thought.

For example, if your friend notes: "It's getting dark in here," you could reply: "You're right. I'll turn on the light." The decision to turn on the light is immediately dependent on your friend's statement.

In the example you give above, however, your friend has already made the decision to turn on the light. This is the reason she is standing up. The going to construction is much more common than will to express a decision or intention that has already been conceived.

  • Again, Shoe, that is an oversimplification. I have been thinking about this for five years and two months ago I finally decided I will go to New York next year to study music. Commented May 13, 2018 at 16:34
  • @user9825893y50932 .You are right. Choice of the best construction to refer to a future event is enormously complex in English, and fills long chapters in pedagogic grammars. Hence advice to askers of questions on this site needs to make reference to the specific context. The context in this case clearly requires the "going to" construction for an intention already conceived - which I have contrasted with a decision made on the spur of the moment. I did not intend to imply that "will + infinitive" may not be used other contexts such as the one you describe.
    – Shoe
    Commented May 13, 2018 at 17:17

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.