Recently there is dramatic increase in the use of looking to verb as in:

Jeff is looking to start something big.

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  • Is this acceptable grammar?
  • Why is it recently popular?
  • What could best be used in its place?

From the American Heritage Dictionary:

Usage Note: The phrasal verb look to has recently developed the meanings "expect to" and "hope to," as in The executives look to increase sales once the economy improves or I'm looking to sell my car in July. In a recent survey, the Usage Panel was divided almost evenly on this usage, with 52 percent of the Panelists finding it acceptable and 48 percent rejecting it. Of those rejecting this usage, a small number volunteered that they would find it acceptable in informal speech, and in fact the divided response of the Panel may be due in part to the informal flavor of this phrase.

I think this may answer all of your questions except "Why is it recently popular". It may be popular because in my opinion, it doesn't quite mean either "expecting to", "planning to", or "hoping to", but somewhere in between; less definite than "expecting to" or "planning to", but more definite than "hoping to". So it may fill a niche which, until this phrase, had no good verb to fill it.

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    I totally agree that looking to fills all semantic space between hoping for and actively working towards. Which sounds like a good reason for it becoming more popular in contexts where people want to sound positive without over-committing themselves. – FumbleFingers Dec 8 '11 at 1:41
  • +1 - to convey a potential objective in a very non-committal manner. Excellent vocab for salesmen and politicians IMHO. – StuartLC Dec 8 '11 at 4:18
  • @FumbleFingers But it doesn't sound at all "new" to me. For me it has always been part of everyday English - perhaps not so in USA. It probably is one of those examples which points to the effect of the internet etc in creating a greater homogenisation of English worldwide. Though the Google NGrams point to the reverse of this. But then you know what I think of Google's grasp of English! – WS2 Apr 1 '20 at 16:01

To be looking to do something is to plan to do something. You can use

Jeff is planning to start something big

as an alternative.


The Recency Illusion strikes again. Look followed by to followed by an infinitive has been in use, in the sense of ‘expect’, since Thomas Hobbes used the construction in his ‘Leviathan’ in 1651.

  • 1
    Clearly you know a lot about the subject, but I am not sure what you intend. The Google ngram chart I posted clearly indicates that at least for that phrase "recently there is dramatic increase" just as I claimed. Further, you post this as an answer, rather than a comment, but I fail to see how it answers anything I asked. Why did you post this? I am not trying to be a jerk; I ask sincerely. – Mr.Wizard Dec 8 '11 at 9:01
  • Really, it's looking followed by an infinitive, because infinitives include to. To run, to dance, to laugh, to sit. – Phoenix Dec 8 '11 at 12:00
  • @Phoenix: No, 'to' is not part of the verb. – Barrie England Dec 8 '11 at 13:17
  • I looked at this example, and I'm not totally convinced that "look to" is being used in the sense of "expect to". The quote is "and by whom we look to be protected". It fits this sense, but it also fits another sense of "look to" if it is a typo for "and by whom we look to to be protected". Dropping one of the doubled "to"s seems a very likely mistake to make. – Peter Shor Dec 8 '11 at 14:51
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    @PeterShor: Then let’s go for the 1770 citation instead: ‘I never look to have a Mistress that I shall love half as well.’ – Barrie England Dec 8 '11 at 15:12

I mainly encounter "is looking to", in a British space (regulatory affairs), as meaning "intends to" where the subject is a person, otherwise "is intended to". Example (not written by me, as I dislike this construction) "The Targeted Charging Review is looking to implement changes to the way demand users pay". That clearly should have been written as "The Targeted Charging Review is INTENDED (or, has been designed) to implement changes to the way demand users pay ..."

  • Welcome to English Language and Usage. Please take the tour and when you have a moment, read-up in the help center about how we work. Good answer which could be improved by the addition of linked references. – Bitter dreggs. Apr 1 '20 at 18:23

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