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Good morning, in this sentence:

Ladies and gentlemen we'll be landing in New York, JFK, in about 20 minutes...

Why not "we'll land"? - Why in general the future progressive instead of the simple one?

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  • See english.stackexchange.com/questions/572502/…, where John Lawler notes that the progressive is often used to refer to events in the near future.
    – Xanne
    Aug 10 '21 at 6:19
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    Does this answer your question? "You'll be hoping for a bit more from the new player, I suppose." Why the future continuous? (CGEL's 'special meaning' for the progressive). 'We'll be landing ...' here just sounds more familiar than clinical 'We land' and redolent-of-like-it-or-not (Ve vill!) 'We will land'. Aug 10 '21 at 13:47
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    You, as a regular airline passenger, think of landing as just the moment the wheels touch the tarmac. But for the pilot, flight crew, ground crew, air traffic control, etc., landing is a process, one which takes a good deal of time and the efforts of a bunch of people to perform. The actual landing procedures begin long before wheels down, and actually continue afterwards, as the plane has to come to a stop, clear the runway, taxi to the gate, etc. All of that is part of "landing" to people in the airline industry. Aug 10 '21 at 14:51
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    @Xanne: the alleged duplicate is not a duplicate - it addresses the simple/continuous forms only in passing and does not go into any depth.
    – Greybeard
    Aug 10 '21 at 15:08
  • The question is not a duplicate, because it is not primarily about the general rules concerning the use of progressive/continuous aspect, but about their application to this particular phrase, which in turn has to do with how landing is perceived (as a process or as something instantaneous).
    – jsw29
    Aug 10 '21 at 15:55
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This is so because, irrespective of the length of time taken by the action, unless this time is extremely short, the speaker/writer has the freedom to consider the action either as happening at a point in time or as occurring over a length of time. (ngram, we'll land, we'll be landing)

  • We'll land at JFK airport in about twenty minutes. (The event is reduced to happening without length.)
  • We will be landing at JFK Airport in about twenty minutes. (The passengers are being made conscious that the landing is an event that takes some little moment.)

This use of the progressive is not likely when the time it takes for the action to be completed is very short. This ngram shows that clearly.


As suggested by a comment from user JK2, the particular case of usage in air travel that is used for the query, this usage being apparently the exclusive use of the progressive, promptst a more specific explanation, which can be found in CoGEL, § 4.46. The progressive aspect would be used to confer the matter-of-course aspect of the action being referred to.

(CoGEL § 4.46 Will /shall +: progressive infinitive

The modal verb construction discussed in 4.42 can be used with the progressive infinitive in a way which simply combines reference to a future time with the 'temporal frame' (cf 4.36) associated with the progressive:

♦ When you reach the end of the bridge, I'll be waiting there to show you the way.

This calls for nb special comment. There is, however, a separate use of the will/shall + progressive construction to 'denote 'FUTURE AS A MATTER OF COURSE'. The use of this combination avoids the interpretation (to which will, shall, and be going to are liable) of volition, intention, promise, etc:

♦ We'll be flying at 30 000 feet.

This, spoken by the pilot of an aircraft to his passengers, means '30 000 feet is the normal and expected altitude for the flight'. If, on the other hand, the pilot said:

♦ We'll fly at 30 000 feet.

the impression might be quite different: it could well be that the pilot had just decided to fly at the specified height. Because of such differences, it is often an advantage to use this complex construction in situations where the nonprogressive with will/shall might be lacking in tact or consideration:

♦ When will you pay back the money?
♦ When will you be paying back the money?

Whereas [l] may seem like a rather abrupt demand for repayment, [2] seems more tactful, since it implies that the repayment is something which will happen 'as a matter of course'.

Personally, I think that this use of the modals followed by the progressive infinite, might also confer the imminence of the action, a property that is usually associated with the present continuous, not this one.

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    Although both are possible English, the progressive will almost always be used in this particular context. I've never heard "Ladies and gentlemen we'll land in..." on a plane, have you? So it'd be better if you could explain why the more complicated form is almost always preferred to the simpler form.
    – JK2
    Aug 10 '21 at 7:14
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    Maybe the passengers know already, so this is not a real announce. A real announce would be "We'll land". Aug 10 '21 at 7:25
  • @JK2 I wasn't aware of this usage as particularized to air travel. I made an addition to my answer.
    – LPH
    Aug 10 '21 at 8:01
  • @ManuelDelpierre "Announcement", "announce" is only a verb.
    – LPH
    Aug 10 '21 at 8:03
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    @JK2 -Also it’s the captain that usually makes the announcement and for the flight crew, landing is definitely a procedure and not a single event.
    – Jim
    Aug 10 '21 at 14:10
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The simple and continuous forms of all verbs have their respective nuances and you should decide what you want the sentence to mean, and then choose the appropriate form:

All simple forms of the verb indicate an action as a whole - from start to finish.

The continuous form of the verb indicates

(i) an action that is/was/will be (i) incomplete and (ii) in progress (iii) at the time that is being referred to (it had/has started (will start) but it had/has not yet finished).

The continuous form used to be known as “the imperfect”: It was called “imperfect” because the action had not been “perfected” i.e. it had not finished.

For a fuller version, see See "they had renovated" vs "had been renovating"

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  • The continuous aspect and the imperfect tense are two different things in English. The imperfect is the tense that is also sometimes called the simple past or the preterite. For example: We landed.
    – Rosie F
    Aug 10 '21 at 14:34
  • The imperfect (abbreviated IMPERF) is a verb form that combines past tense (reference to a past time) and imperfective aspect (reference to a continuing or repeated event or state). It can have meanings similar to the English "was walking" or "used to walk." It contrasts with preterite forms, which refer to a single completed event in the past. [...] "Imperfect" comes from the Latin imperfectus "unfinished",[2] because the imperfect expresses an ongoing, uncompleted action. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imperfect
    – Greybeard
    Aug 10 '21 at 14:38

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