Page 576 of Collins English Usage reads

When you are talking about your own intentions, you use will or be going to. When you are talking about someone else's intentions, you use be going to.

I'll ring you tonight.

They're going to have a party.

Why can't will be used for somebody else's?

  • "They will / They'll have a party" is perfectly grammatical, though standalone, your variant is far more idiomatic. Sep 17, 2020 at 15:19
  • It can. There's nothing wrong with "They will have a party" or, in the short form "They'll have a party". Also "The doctor will see you now, sir".
    – BoldBen
    Sep 17, 2020 at 15:20
  • 1
    This is one in the series of recent questions by GJC seeking explanations of various pronouncements in Collins English Usage that seem arbitrary (at least so far as one can judge from the quotations). These questions are on topic and well justified, because the pronouncements really are puzzling, but it is still difficult to see how one would go about answering them. Many of us may have a reaction 'I don't see any reason for these pronouncements', but can't say anything more than that: one can't engage the authors' reasons for these pronouncements if one doesn't know what they are.
    – jsw29
    Sep 17, 2020 at 15:40
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    At this point, CEU should be put back on the shelf and become unconsulted. Sep 17, 2020 at 15:51
  • The Collins advice is essentially correct in most contexts in which the statement is likely. For example, if you are talking with your partner about your neighbours, then "(Did you know) They're going to have a party next weekend" seems more natural than "(Did you know) They're will have a party next weekend". I have the Collins book and I think it gives good advice to English language learners. It does not try to cover all possibilities such as a descriptive grammar like the CGEL aspires to do.
    – Shoe
    Sep 17, 2020 at 16:05

1 Answer 1


This seems to be an example of poorly supported prescriptivist grammar.

From The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language p192-194, a modern descriptivist grammar,

Dynamic Modality

Under this heading we consider those uses of will where dispositions or properties of the subject-referent are involved.

(a) Volition

[38] i Jill won’t sign the form.

ii They have found someone [who will stand in for you while you’re away].

iii I will be back before six.

Example [i] implies unwillingness or refusal on Jill’s part; in[ii] will might be glossed as “is prepared/willing to”; and in [iii] the auxiliary conveys the idea of intention.


[39] i I WILL solve this problem. [strongly stressed modal]

ii Will you lend me your pen? [closed interrogative]

iii I’ll wash if [you will dry]. [conditional protasis]

A strongly stressed will, especially with a 1st person subject, tends to convey determination. A closed interrogative, especially with a 2nd person subject, characteristically questions willingness and indirectly conveys a request (Ch. 10, §9.6.1). Futurity will rarely occurs in a conditional protasis, as noted above, but volitional will is quite unexceptionable, as in [iii], where your willingness is clearly part of the proposition that is conditionally entertained.

Extension to inanimates

Volition implies a human or animate agent, but something akin to a metaphorical extension of volitional will is found with inanimates when it is a matter of satisfying human wants,as in The lawnmower won’t start (someone is trying to start it)or >The books won’t fit on one shelf. These again appear freely in conditionals: Give me a call if the engine won’t start.

The examples given in [38-39] (excepting the first person ones) can all be interpreted as expressing the intentions of other people.

  • 1
    The CGEL discussion makes too many distinctions, I think. All of these are simply deontic will in various contexts. The semantics has the same root as willing, with a will, and make a will; it's about somebody's preference, and specifying all possible preferences is beyond Herculean. Sep 17, 2020 at 15:43

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