How to Use WILL

Alex Case
How to recognise, say, write and use the future verb “will”

Will is one of the most useful words in English, but can be difficult to recognise, pronounce and use correctly. This article gives some vital tips on all three of those issues.

How to pronounce will

In normal speech, we almost always use contractions like “I’ll” and “she’ll” in positive statements. We use the whole word “will” on its own mainly in questions (“Will it…?”), in short answers (“Yes, I will”), and when we want to strongly stress this verb to emphasise things like promises (“We WILL make a profit next year!”)

Almost all of the most common contractions have the same number of syllables as the pronoun, as “I”, “you”, “he”, “she”, “we”, “they”, “I’ll”, “you’ll”, “he’ll”, “she’ll”, “we’ll” and “they’ll” all have one syllable (whereas “I will”, “you will”, etc all have two syllables). “It’ll” is the only one that has two syllables, and therefore the same number as “it will” and one more syllable than just “it”. Some of the contractions have the same pronunciation as other words (in some accents), as in:

  • I’ll = isle
  • you’ll = yule
  • he’ll = heel = heal
  • we’ll = wheel

“Won’t” is also much more common in speech than the strong form “WILL NOT!”. Unlike the positive contraction “’ll”, “won’t” is also used in short answers (“No, I won’t”) and sometimes questions (“Won’t you…?”)

How to write will

Common contractions with pronouns like “he’ll” can also be written in informal and medium formality texts such as most emails. In contrast, other times when we might pronounce it “’ll” are much more commonly written with the full word “will” (saying “Harry’ll do it” but writing “Harry will do it”, etc).

When to use will

How to use will for predictions/ forecasts

Perhaps the easiest to understand use of “will” is to make forecasts about your imagination of the future, often with words like “I think” and “probably”, as in:

  • “I’m sure you’ll have a great time”
  • “It will almost certainly rain while you’re there”

This makes it similar to the weaker prediction phrases “might” and “may”, as in “It will definitely/ will almost certainly/ will probably/ may well/ might be popular”. This use of “will” can also be said to be explaining “future facts” like “The world will continue getting warmer”.

“Going to” can also be used in a kind of prediction, but “going to” is used when there is present evidence such as being able to see a player’s body language and saying “He looks like he’s going to shoot”. In contrast, predictions with will are based on logic, your previous experience, etc, as in “He’ll be hungry when he gets home”. 

How to use will for spontaneous intentions/ decisions

Although will for predictions is easier to understand and perhaps more commonly taught, in everyday communication will is much more common in phrases when the person is deciding to do that thing and saying their intention at almost the same time like “I’ll just check if he’s available”. It is often used that way to make offers like “I’ll do that for you”. In contrast, “going to” is used to share plans that were made before speaking like “I’m going to quit my job next year”. For example, if you say “We’ve run out of milk” and the other person says “(In that case) I’ll go the shops (then)”, that was not something they decided before hearing the info about the milk. However, if they say “I’m going to (go to) the shops (anyway)”, that means that they had already planned to do so.  

This use of “will” has nothing in common with will for predictions above, and so should be learnt separately.

How to use will for vows and promises

Although “going to” is used for plans/ intentions like your next holiday destination, “will” is used with the similar meanings of promises to yourself and someone else. For example, the normal way to talk about your plan to buy someone a present is “I’m going to buy you something really nice”. However, you can use “I WILL buy you something nice” if the other person is unlikely to believe you because you didn’t do that last time. Similarly, New Year’s resolutions are kinds of promises to yourself, so are often given as “I will stop smoking”, etc.

How not to use will

Language leaners tend to use “will” too much, including in situations where “I’ll see my boss”, “I’m going to see my boss”, “I’m seeing my boss”, etc have different meanings and so could be misunderstood if the wrong form is used. This distinction is most important when rejecting potential arrangements, because “Sorry, I’ll have a meeting” means that I don’t have one arranged yet but think that I might. Using will is therefore not as polite as mentioning previous arrangements that I can’t change like “I’m meeting a client then” and “I’ll be flying to America then”.

As mentioned above, using “will” instead of contractions like “They’ll” can be misunderstood if a stronger meaning is not meant. For example, “They’ll come” is just a prediction but “They will come” sounds like a promise.

Will in Future Continuous and Future Perfect

Predictions, promises etc about particular moments in time and linking two times can be expressed with “I’ll probably be packing up around then” and “I’ll have tidied everything away by the time you get back”. However, these tenses can also be used for other meanings like plans and arrangements, as in the example “I’ll be flying to America then” above.

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Written by Alex Case for
Alex Case is the author of TEFLtastic and the Teaching...: Interactive Classroom Activities series of business and exam skills e-books for teachers

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