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The body of this question is divided into four sections: Exercise, Theoretical context, Answer and Questions. I believe this is the right site to ask given that this is a question about "word choice and usage" (from the help center).


Exercise

In this textbook I'm working on, I encountered an exercise in which I must choose one of the following sentences:

a) I will do my packing this afternoon, if I can find my suitcase.

b) I am doing my packing this afternoon, if I can find my suitcase.

There is no more context surrounding this sentence, it's a multiple choice question.


Theoretical context

In the relevant grammar section is says the following about the two tenses.

Will + infinitive

  • to predict what is going to happen based on past experience or opinion

    You must go to India - you'll enjoy it.

  • in more formal contexts for arrangements which have been made in some detail

    The tour will begin at 9. 30 and all visitors to the site will need to wear good walking shoes.

  • for decisions which are made on the spur of the moment

    I think I'll go to Paris next weekend.

Present continuous

  • to talk about activities or events which have already been arranged or are definite. The future continuous can also be used in this context. It is a little more formal.

    I'm travelling on the Orient Express to Venice. I'll be travelling on the Orient Express to Venice.

  • to avoid going to + go we can use the present continuous form of go instead

    He's going climbing in the Alps next summer.

  • for surprising or unexpected events

    Paula is taking her mother on her honeymoon!


Answer

Given that it's not a prediction, not a formal a context, nor does it seem to be a decision made on the spur of the moment, I lean towards the use of the present continuous.

Investigating the present continuous gives me even greater confidence that this is the right choice, since we're talking "about activities or events which have already been arranged".

However, the solution given in the book is a), "will do".

Questions

  1. Isn't the book contradicting itself by choosing a)?
  2. What is the correct answer?
  3. What did I miss?
  • Sadly, all the rules in the world prove insufficient when it comes to trying to pin down what people actually say. "I'm going to do my packing this afternoon, if I can find my suitcase" is what I'd expect if there is no guiding context. After "Are you free for a coffee after lunch?" I'd expect "Sorry; I'm doing my packing this afternoon ... if I can find my suitcase". ... – Edwin Ashworth Oct 30 at 11:49
  • After "You really need to start packing; you set off in two days['] time " I'd expect "I'll do my packing this afternoon,/... if I can find my suitcase." I'd need "John. You said you'd pack today!" to enable " I will do my packing this afternoon, if I can find my suitcase". As usual, the question as set is inadequate. And neither answer is ungrammatical or impossible to see as the better choice given a suitable context. Ignore people / texts claiming one is. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 30 at 11:49
  • In the sense " I am verb + ing " = I am going to verb. It doesn't take a conditional clause. The book must be right. – Kris Oct 30 at 11:54
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    'I believe this is the right site to ask given that this is a question about "word choice and usage".' Certainly. But you may well get advice here that (a) conflicts with the way exam setters think English actually works (b) takes into account things that exam setters have missed (c) adheres more closely to one preferred style (eg 'AmE') than to another or, sadly, (d) is inaccurate. // We can't guarantee to agree with (a) each other, (b) 'correct' answers on tests all the time. ELU caveats that it is not an examination-coaching facility. Candidates rather need exam-specific coaching. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 30 at 12:18
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    @Edwin Ashworth. Good points above - which prompted me to write a more nuanced answer. – Shoe Oct 30 at 12:22
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Welcome to the site. Your post is a model of how to ask good questions!

As to the answer: The book is correct in that holidays generally need to be arranged, but packing typically does not - unless, for example, you decide on a time with your spouse or a friend to do so.

Arranged in the context of future events generally includes: a meeting time has been set, flight or accommodation has been booked, etc. In other words, arrangements involve contact with other people (or online resources), whereas packing does not.

Nevertheless, there are contexts in which the continuous form is possible or more likely, even for non-arranged events such as packing. For example, in reply to a friends invitation to play tennis this afternoon:

  • Sorry, I am doing my packing this afternoon - if I can find my suitcase.

The problem with many multiple-choice grammar exercises is that no context is given and more than one answer is grammatical - as in the present case. The learner has to decide on the most likely context and choose the answer accordingly.

  • Thank you very much. I just dug into the definition of arrange and I thought it meant something slightly different, along the lines of having a plan, not necessary including other people. This takes care of the evidence that I found towards present continuous being the right answer. But I'm still missing how it is that "will + infinitive" is correct given that it fails all tests as well. – Git Gud Oct 30 at 12:02
  • @Git Gud. See my revised answer which incorporates the useful comments made by Edwin Ashworth above. The book's three contexts in which will is more common than the other future constructions are not the only ones. Swan in Practical English Grammar lists many more contexts in which will is typically used, including 'when we are simply giving information about the future' (p211). – Shoe Oct 30 at 12:19

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