The OALD says that will can be used to:

  • Talking about or predicting the future
  • Showing that somebody is willing to do something

Is there a way to distinguish the first use from the second?

For example, is there a way to understand if the following sentence is used to express willingness?

I will come to live in Italy.

Does the fact there isn't a time reference suggest the speaker is only willing to move to live in Italy? Would the meaning change, if the person used the following sentence?

By the end of 2018, I will live in Italy.


4 Answers 4


Context, context, context.

In a bare sentence like "I will come to live in Italy" there is no way of telling whether will expresses expectation, intention, or willingness.

But provide just a little more context and the meaning is transparent:

  • My employers have acquired a prestigious art-book publisher in Firenze which requires only 21st-century management skills to become (they believe) adequately profitable, so it appears that I will come to live in Italy. -Expectation

  • I can no longer endure this wasteland where no one understands how to prepare cavolo verza arrosto con pancetta croccante properly; I will come to live in Italy. -Intention

  • Very well; though leaving my beloved Montenegro will grieve me, if you will marry me I will come to live in Italy. -Willingness

By the end of 2018, I will live in Italy.

This has sufficient context to suggest that will probably expresses intention; but it is by no means certain.

  • The context I can add doesn't make clear if the person is expressing willingness or intention, since I can add sentences similar to "I will sell my house, and come to live in Italy." or "I always wanted to return to Italy since I visited Italy when I was teenager."
    – apaderno
    Jul 14, 2013 at 19:12
  • @kiamlaluno - "Willingness" is probably the least likely meaning; it appears mostly in fossilized phrases like "what you will" or "if he would only X", in negotiation expressions like my example. It implies consenting to something rather than actively desiring something. Jul 14, 2013 at 20:43
  • I understand that. What I mean is that the context is made of sentences using will, or generic sentences like "I always wanted to return in Italy." which doesn't say "I have planned to move to Italy."
    – apaderno
    Jul 14, 2013 at 21:11
  • 1
    @kiamlaluno With only that much context I'd say the "default" reading of "I will come to Italy" would be that I intend to come to Italy. Jul 14, 2013 at 21:25

A willingness to do something or a general predisposition toward a behavior, if expressed using will, is usually wrapped in some conditional sentence, or where it is implicit that there is a condition:

Ralph: "Mr. Simpson, the fumes are making me dizzy!"

Homer: "They'll do that!"

Homer means that these fumes make one dizzy, if one is exposed to them.

"I will give you fifty dollars for that bicycle!"

This means "I will give you fifty dollars for that bicycle, if you accept my offer." which has exactly the same meaning as "I am willing to pay fifty dollars for it."

Even though the conditional is not stated, of course it is understood that "I will give you fifty dollars for it" doesn't mean that "the sale is happening and I am dictating the price".

A statement about the future is unconditional:

"The weather forecast says that it will rain."

Although the weather forecast could be wrong, the "it will rain" clause is a simple future. Whether or not it rains is not conditional on the forecast; rather, the correctness of the forecast is dependent on whether or not it rains.


As Stoney said, it's determined from context. How can you tell if:

He held a pike

means he held a spear, or a fish?

Also, it's worth noting that the word will has more than the two definitions you mention. In fact, it has six or more, depending on who is counting, and how those definitions are parsed. Collins, for example, lists eight; Oxford lists six.

More importantly, though, unlike pike, the nuances of will word are hard to separate from each other. They overlap. The dictionary may consider these to be separate meanings of the word:

She will keep the faith.
Accidents will happen.
Boys will be boys.
The Hawks will win the championship.
I will live in Italy.

but all of those express some kind of vague inevitability about the future.

Dictionaries will do their duty, providing multiple definitions in hopes of capturing all of a word's nuances in a relatively complete manner. But I wouldn't get too hung up on those differences. If I'm not living in Italy now, then

I will come to live in Italy.

could refer to a resigned inevitability, a determined resoluteness, a yearning willingness, or a bold prediction. All of those are valid interpretations; none of them would be wrong, and all of them are lodged in the realm of the future.


I agree with StoneyB and JR about context. But I'd add that I think you're reading more into the distinction between intent and prediction than is really there in English.

Any time we describe an event, past or future, one could ask whether the people involved acted willing, were forced, were anxious to do it, etc. If I say, "I went to Italy last year", did I want to go or did I have no choice? That bare sentence doesn't say. Of course additional context might indicate which. If you say, "I've always wanted to visit the Coliseum, so I went to Italy last year", presumably you were willing. If you say, "After my arrest, I was extradited to Italy to stand trial," then probably you weren't willing. And of course in real life motives can be complex. If I tell you that my company sent me to Italy on a business trip, maybe I had no choice in the sense that if I refused to go I would have lost my job, but maybe at the same time I felt that Italy would be a fun place to visit, and then again I was reluctant because it would mean missing a family gathering that I had been looking forward to, but on the other hand, etc etc.

So sure, in some context "will" indicates a simple statement of fact about what I expect to take place in the future. "The sun will rise tomorrow." In other cases it may indicate an affirmation of strong intent. "I will do whatever it takes to get Sally to marry me." In most cases it's far more ambiguous.

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