What is the difference between the following sentences (in meaning)?

Are "present continuous" and "be going to" interchangeable?

I'm going to visit my brother on Friday.

I'm visiting my brother on Friday.

  • 1
    @Andrew, Thank you, but this is not the same case. My question about "present continuous" and "simple future". but the question that you shared is about "future progressive" and "simple future"
    – Shannak
    Jan 21 '17 at 18:15
  • @Shannak if the question is about "simple future" you should include an example with that "tense".
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jan 21 '17 at 18:56
  • @Mari-LouA "I'm going to visit" is simple future and "I'm visiting" is present continuous
    – Shannak
    Jan 22 '17 at 6:32
  • I have never heard of "Be going to" (e.g I'm going to visit my brother.) described as simple future. Could you please post a link which says that "be going to" is "simple future" . Thank you.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jan 22 '17 at 7:34
  • These some sites: link , link , link. maybe there is more common name, let me know please
    – Shannak
    Jan 22 '17 at 8:06

1) The present continuous is often used for arrangements, and when we have prepared for the event somehow. So here it emphasizes that my brother and I are both prepared to meet, we have already talked about it and decided, maybe made particular plans for that day.

In another example, if you say "I'm flying to Paris tomorrow.", it means you have bought a ticket, taken time off work, etc.

2) Future with 'be going to' is usually used for plans and intentions. So if you say that you are going to meet your brother, you intend to do it, but you might not have taken the necessary steps for this to happen.

You can say something like "I am going to retire at the age of 60, buy a house and plant a cherry tree in my backyard." You might be 30 when you say that, it shows that you have thought about this and think of doing this, not that you have already bought a house. But if you say "I am retiring next year", that is pretty fixed.

The two are really close and often interchangeable. In the examples you are giving, I do not see a reason to prefer one over the other.

  • I find this explanation to be lacking in several regards. Going to is not for plans and intentions necessarily at all. It's for something that is definitely going to happen: I will retire at 60 (intention) VERSUS I am going to retire at 60 (a definite thing).
    – Lambie
    Jan 22 '17 at 15:19
  • @Lambie Take a look at this Cambridge dictionary explanation: dictionary.cambridge.org/grammar/british-grammar/future/…. I am not claiming to have included all possible uses of "going to", nor did I even begin to mention "will". The question was about the difference between the present continuous used for future and "going to", and this is what I addressed. Also, could you please quote a reliable source for your statement? Thanks!
    – fluffy
    Jan 25 '17 at 7:40
  • I'll pass on that. I tend to answer based on my personal experience as an English teacher. But I just don't feel like battling this one out. It's not worth it to me. Also, I originally used Cambridge books for teaching English...and the general idea in my answer is the general idea in those books. Books, not this Cambridge dictionary online...
    – Lambie
    Jan 29 '17 at 16:17
  • I am not trying to battle you, I also use my experience as an English teacher, you and I might even have been reading the same books. The point is to answer the questions in a way that is most helpful. That is why I asked for a source, wanted to make sure I haven't missed something. Also, "going to" is not something that is definitely going to happen, but maybe you and I simply use different words to talk about the same thing... Not trying to be negative, on the contrary, constructive.
    – fluffy
    Jan 29 '17 at 16:49
  • I said battle this one out not battle you, does it? Here is what my answer is trying to say. A concrete example: Johnny needs to do his chores [the general context]. Johnny says: I'll do them tomorrow versus I'm going to do them tomorrow. Does that not show intention versus certainty? And doesn't "I'm going to do them tomorrow" show even more certainty about a future task? For me, be going to + verb is not intention usually. Nor a plan, As in: I plan to do it tomorrow (also a future, funnily enough).
    – Lambie
    Jan 29 '17 at 17:01

If something is not yet happening, it is not present, nor should present continuous be used. Thus only your first example is grammatically correct. Correct constructions for the second would include:

  • I will be visiting my brother on Friday.

  • I plan to visit my brother on Friday.

That said, native speakers do sometimes say things like, "I'm visiting my brother on Friday." Folks will understand what you mean, and not think much of it. But the only way that would actually be grammatically correct is if you were a time traveler, perhaps talking to a friend several days ago on your time-phone.

I believe we make allowable exceptions for generalities. Here you are describing a specific event that will happen on Friday. But where something is more tenuous to begin with, a college student might state before the semester starts:

  • I am taking calculus, music appreciation, Spanish, and English literature.

Have you already started? Maybe you have registered, bought books and supplies, or read the course syllabuses? Your friend may not know or care about any of those things. He just wanted to know if you might be in any of the same classes, and you provided him information along those lines. So it is sort of irrelevant if you have yet spent a single minute in any of your classes.


Future idea: The present continuous can be used to express a future, not only to express something happening right at the moment. See the two examples below:

A) I'm going to school tomorrow. I'm seeing my sister this afternoon. VERSUS I'm going to school now. I'm seeing my sister now.

b) Also, sometimes, to be more emphatic in the present, we use GOING TO plus a verb, which is also a "real future": I'm going to go to school now. A future with go that is about to begin. VERSUS I'm going to go to school tomorrow. A future that will begin tomorrow.

Simple future is WILL: and usually expresses intention: I'll go to school tomorrow and am studying now.

1) I'm going to school now or tomorrow. 2) I'm going to go to school now or tomorrow. VERSUS I'll go to school tomorrow are not the same.

The future with will either expresses an intention or contrasts with what you are presently doing but does not express something definitively. I'll do that work later I intend to do it later); now, I'm studying for exams.

Also, the use of WILL expresses that you will do something for someone: I'll pick the kids up at schools. I'll open the window now because it's too hot.

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