2

These four sentences have the same meaning (ignoring perhaps some subtleties/nuances):

  1. I will be leaving at 8 pm.
  2. I will leave at 8 pm.
  3. I leave at 8 pm.
  4. I am leaving at 8 pm.

I understand from "timetable future", "diary future", Simple Present for Future Actions that we can use the present tense as in 3 and 4 above.

But now consider these similar sentences:

  1. I will be eating a pizza at 6 pm.
  2. I will eat a pizza at 6 pm.
  3. I eat a pizza at 6 pm.
  4. I am eating a pizza at 6 pm.

Why do 7 and 8 sound weird/unnatural/"wrong"? (How/why is 7 different from 3? And how/why is 8 different from 4?)

At Present tense for future events, the example used was Our flight leaves tomorrow at 6pm vs It rains tomorrow at 6pm. The explanation given (in all three answers) was this: We use the present tense for future events if we're very certain the event will occur.

But here, I'm as certain of eating a pizza at 6 pm as I am of leaving at 8 pm.

And, my plan to eat a pizza at 6 pm is as formally and rigidly scheduled as my plan to leave at 8 pm.


This Q is not a duplicate. This Q is not about present simple vs present continuous.

Instead, it's about why some specific actions such as leaving allow for "timetable future" (present simple to show a one-off action in the future), while others don't.

Above I used the example eating a pizza. But consider instead this perhaps clearer example:

  1. I amputate my left leg at 6 pm.
  2. I am amputating my left leg at 6 pm.

Again, 7 and 8 sound weirder than 3 and 4. Why?

Amputating my left leg is at least as one-off, certain, formally and rigidly scheduled, non-regular, and non-repeated as leaving. So why can't I also use "timetable future" here?

10
  • 2
    Does this answer your question? Is it correct to say "We start tomorrow"? Shouldn't it be "We are starting tomorrow"? (present simple vs continuous for future event) Roaring Fish: 'Using present continuous as in "I am buying a new car." This is usually used for [formal] arrangements. Using present simple, as in "I get my new car this afternoon!" This is usually used for things that are scheduled / on a [rigid] timetable.' I'd add 'and not otherwise.' Commented Mar 31 at 12:03
  • @EdwinAshworth: I added this at the end: my plan to eat a pizza at 6 pm is as formally and rigidly scheduled as my plan to leave at 8 pm.
    – user182601
    Commented Mar 31 at 12:56
  • (7) and (8) would be used when formal structuring is in place ('I'm not going to watch the match! I [always] eat a pizza at 6 pm.' / 'I've the list of activities I have to stick to during the monitored experiment ... I'm eating a pizza at 6 pm [, for instance].') The weirdness comes from the fact that these contrived examples so rarely occur. If you're just planning to eat around 6 pm and intend to have pizza, that's not formal structuring. Commented Mar 31 at 14:32
  • @EdwinAshworth: Why is I eat a pizza at 6 pm automatically interpreted as something that occurs regularly (and so is considered weird)---but the same is not true of I leave at 8 pm?
    – user182601
    Commented Mar 31 at 23:46
  • 'I leave at 8 pm' may equally be habitual or be referring to a rigidly scheduled semelfactive (one-off) occurrence in the near future. Context will almost always disambiguate. // The habitual reading is quite reasonable here, as people often do regularly leave at the same time. BUT It would be odd for someone to eat pizza virtually every day at the same time, and odd to be stating this if they did. Commented Apr 1 at 14:08

4 Answers 4

6

It is not the grammar that makes these sentences sound strange it is the actual meaning.

  • I eat a pizza at 6 pm.

This means that you do so always, regularly, habitually. It sounds strange because to eat a pizza at 6pm as a regular habit sounds strange. If, instead, you said, 'I have my dinner at 6pm', that would not sound strange.

  • I am eating a pizza at 6 pm.

This means that it is your intention to be in the act of eating a pizza at 6pm. Again it is not the grammar but the meaning of the words that makes this sound strange. Not using the contraction 'I'm' makes it sound even stranger as it makes it sound inappropriately formal for a statement about pizza. If you said, "I'm having a few beers at 6pm" this construction wouldn't sound strange.

Why would you be telling somebody of your intention to be engaged in the act of eating a pizza at a specific time?

There are some possibilities:

A: Will you join us for a hamburger? We're meeting at 7pm. B: I'd love to but I'm eating a pizza at 6 pm. I promised the kids.

A: How is the diet? B: I finished it yesterday. I can't wait to get off work. I'm eating a pizza at 6 pm with Mary then we're going to the movies at 8.00 and I'm having popcorn and sodas, then we're hitting a nightclub for cocktails.

5
  • 1
    Why can't the same arguments be applied to "I leave at 8pm"? E.g. This means that you do so always, regularly, habitually. It sounds strange because to [leave at 8 pm] as a regular habit sounds strange.
    – user182601
    Commented Mar 31 at 23:36
  • As you can see from your examples what licences the present continuous in your cases is not quite that the examples describe your intentions, but that they describe your arrangements with other people :) As Mari-Lou points out below, the going-to future describes intentions. Hence you can say When I grow up I'm going to be a doctor but you can't say #When I grow up, I'm being a doctor. A second point is that, as also shown in Mari-Lou's post, we can use the present simple for a one-off timetabled event. For example "The inauguration of the President kicks off at 2pm" Commented Apr 1 at 13:08
  • Generally, in those examples at the bottom of your question, we'd say: having a pizza with x and not eating a pizza.
    – Lambie
    Commented Apr 1 at 13:52
  • "I am having dinner at 6 pm" sounds perfectly normal and natural; it means much the same as "I will be having dinner at 6 pm."
    – arp
    Commented Apr 1 at 21:28
  • @user182601 It wouldn't sound strange in the context of say, a job e.g., "I leave work at 5:30." If you were leaving early, you might say something like "I am leaving at 4 today". The travel usage has an implicit one-time context and is more unusual. Something like "I'm having pizza [with so-and-so] at 6" isn't unusual at all.
    – JimmyJames
    Commented Apr 1 at 21:46
4

The following events: "I amputate my left leg at 6pm" and "I eat a pizza at 6pm" are not regular or fixed occurrences, unlike a flight on a specific day at a specific time. If there is a flight to Dallas at 6pm on Friday, it's safe to presume every Friday a plane departs for Dallas at 6pm.

We don't normally associate very specific times with eating habits, but if a person always eats the same thing every day, and at the same time, then sentence A is possible. However without context, it's unclear if the action is repeated or only scheduled for a particular day. Another time expression is needed e.g. (B) to clarify and make the meaning less ambiguous. Although sentence B suggests a rigid schedule on a specific day, it doesn't reflect typical human behaviour.

A) I have toast at 06.50.
B) On Mondays I have toast at 06.50.
C) I always have some toast before seven o'clock (a.m.)
D) I'm having some toast (this morning).
E) I'm going to have some toast before I leave for work.
F) I’ll have toast today.

Sentences B and C describe a routine; D describes a decision taken in the past; E describes an intention or an arrangement; F describes resolution (unlikely) or a decision taken on the spur of the moment (more likely)

The OP provides this harrowing scenario and asks why they sound weird.

  1. I amputate my left leg at 6 pm.
  2. I am amputating my left leg at 6 pm.

First of all, amputation is not normally performed by the sufferer. The generic “they” (i.e. the surgeons) can replace the first person singular pronoun "I"; e.g.

7.(b) “They amputate my left leg at 6pm”
8.(b) "They are amputating my left leg at 6pm”.

Both examples with they are preferable, and appropriate as we are talking about a specific prearranged operation. There is nothing weird about the meanings of 7.(b) or 8.(b).

However in this type of scenario, the passive voice is probably better suited.

a) My left leg is due to be amputated tomorrow at 6pm. (present simple)
b) My left leg is being amputated tomorrow 6pm (present continuous)
c) My leg is going to be amputated tomorrow at 6pm (be going to)
d) My left leg will be amputated tomorrow at 6pm (pure future)

I hasten to add that sentence d) does not express a spontaneous decision, but an acknowledged fact. The auxiliary “will” can also convey the speaker's certainty about the future.

All of the examples a-d are semantically, and grammatically, acceptable.

9
  • 1
    @Araucaria-Him Yes. That's the difference between eating a pizza always at 6pm and getting your left leg amputated (once)
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Apr 1 at 13:01
  • @lambie Wow a downvote. Thanks
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Apr 1 at 13:42
  • "You didn't explain the difference between the progressive and present simple in the case of eating/eat" I disagree. I did explain. Sentence C uses the Present Simple I always have toast (routines) and sentence D uses the Present Continuous I'm having toast (this morning) (describes a decision taken in the past) Moreover, the example "I am leaving at 8pm” refers to a future event and not an action in progress.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Apr 1 at 14:03
  • Ok, you win. Don't want to argue. I used the same examples as the OP. However, the amputate thing really bugs me. Why even bother with that?
    – Lambie
    Commented Apr 1 at 14:51
  • 1
    Ah, I missed that it is also mentioned in the update of the question (which is well before this answer). My bad. Then I suppose it is a non issue here!
    – justhalf
    Commented Apr 2 at 12:09
2

The difference is between actions that take place at a point-in-time and actions that do not.

At the stroke of midnight the illuminated ball [ drops yes| will drop yes| will be droppingyes| is dropping yes] to mark the new year.

versus

At the stroke of midnight the pot [ simmers no | will simmer no | will be simmering yes| is simmering maybe ].

Now, if "eating pizza" is understood in context to be an engagement, e.g. a "pizza date", then it can be understood as something that happens at a point in time.

Today at 6pm I am eating a slice of pizza with my college buddy. We have not seen each other since college and he's in town only briefly making train connections.

15
  • I think this makes sense. But is this maybe a novel explanation of the "timetable future"? The usual explanation emphasizes the fact that the future event is (clearly, rigidly, and formally) scheduled, while your explanation seems to emphasize the fact that the future event takes place at a point in time (an explanation I don't think I've come across in my brief study/Googling of this issue).
    – user182601
    Commented Apr 2 at 4:49
  • 1
    Que? "At the stroke of midnight the pot will simmer" is completely fine! So is "At midnight I will go to Paris". So is "At midnight they will remain outside the Presidents Office". Where did you see this rule? Commented Apr 2 at 8:28
  • @Araucaria-Him We disagree. The verb simmer expresses an in-progress/ongoing state. It means "to stew gently just below the boil". So we could say "At the stroke of midnight the pot will have begun to simmer" or "will be simmering" but not the simple present or "will simmer" -- not unless we concoct some sort of time-line scenario.
    – TimR
    Commented Apr 2 at 10:52
  • 1
    It's not the simmering bit that sounds odd, it's saying "At the stroke of midnight" which you'd say when announcing the beginning or the end of important event. “At midnight the last bus for Rose Lane leaves/ is leaving/ will leave/ will be leaving“ There's nothing wrong with those examples.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Apr 2 at 12:32
  • 1
    "The last bus for X leaves at midnight" is perfectly idiomatic. "The pot simmers at midnight" is grammatical but who would ever say this? So, why are you using such a literary phrase (stroke of midnight) when the OP's question is focused on why "I eat/‘m eating a pizza at 6pm“ the sentence is grammatical and I can imagine someone using the continuous tense with the addition of a time date such as "today", "on Monday", "next Friday" which is what you did in your answer, too.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Apr 2 at 13:45
-1

Q:

  1. I will be eating a pizza at 6 pm.
  2. I will eat a pizza at 6 pm.
  3. I eat a pizza at 6 pm.
  4. I am eating a pizza at 6 pm. Why do 7 and 8 sound weird/unnatural/"wrong"? (How/why is 7 different from 3? And how/why is 8 different from 4?)

First, in these examples, a native speaker when referring to this would use the verb have and not eat. "eat pizza" is more likely in situations like this:

  • I don't eat pizza for breakfast.

  • I don't eat pizza at all.

  • Is John eating (a) pizza or hotdogs over at that table in the corner?

Q: 7) I eat a pizza at 6 pm. 8) I am eating a pizza at 6 pm.

In 7), I eat a pizza at 6 pm [every day or once a week or never]. does not sound weird if the implication is habitual action for a time or time period. Here, too, the verb would probably be have. It could also be used for a timetable or schedule.

  1. I have a pizza at 6 pm. [same as above, with time reference]

  2. I am having a pizza at 6 pm. [with my friends, continuous/progressive as a future; qualified or unqualified, it can just be informational]. To say "eating a pizza" here is odd unless it has some special meaning:

  • The food contest lady says we're eating pizza at 6 pm. Not hotdogs.

Q: 7) and 3): The same thing OR different

  • I eat a pizza at 6 pm. [Diary time, or habitual action]
  • I have a pizza at 6 pm. [Diary time, or habitual action]
  • I leave at 8 pm. [Diary time, or habitual action.

Q: Why is 8) (I'm having a pizza at 6 pm.) different from 4) (I'm leaving at 8 pm). It isn't. They are both futures.

I tried to answer the questions exactly as posed except for the amputate one which is not standard usage at all and sounds like a horror movie. A lawyer would say: "The witness is non responsive, Your Honor." Please note: "diary time" can mean schedule.

14
  • What is the difference between "I will be eating a pizza at 6pm"? and I will eat a pizza at 6pm”?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Apr 1 at 14:55
  • @Mari-LouA That one's easy: I will eat is just future intention (The British council says it this way, too: We use will to talk about spontaneous plans decided at the moment of speaking.) whereas I'll be eating states what you will be doing at that time.
    – Lambie
    Commented Apr 1 at 15:06
  • It's not in your answer though. How is the future continuous connected to the OP query? I'll remind you that you downvoted my answer because this detail was missing. Why shouldn't I cast a downvote in this instance?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Apr 1 at 15:11
  • You should downvote if you want to. I just answered the actual questions. Did the OP ask a question about the future continuous? 1) and 5) are not in the question, I think, so I didn't deal with it.
    – Lambie
    Commented Apr 1 at 15:21
  • Double standards, you apply one criticism to my contribution but then fail to address the same issue in your own answer.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Apr 1 at 15:25

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

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