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I and my friend discussed a grammar exercise related to future tenses like this:

We seem to be completely lost. What (we, do) _________ now?

For me, 'what are we going to do now' sounds much more natural than 'what will we do now' in this case. My friend asked me why but I had no idea.

I searched on Google about the uses of 'be going to' and 'will' and one of them is to talk about 'intention/decision'. Could I explain to my friend, in that case, it means:

  • 'what are we going to do now?' = 'What do we intend to do now?"
  • 'what will we do now?' = 'what do we decide to do now?"
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Broadly speaking, there is little difference between 'going to' and 'will': 'going to' is slightly less formal than 'will', and that's probably why you favour it but you can't explain why.

Communication is not just about the words: it's about the situation, the intonation, the emphasis, the emotions of the speaker and the listener. In this example, these will have a much greater effect than the exact words used.

In this particular situation I would use 'going to' if I were reasonably relaxed about being lost and were asking for practical suggestions about dealing with the problem. I would use 'will' if I were starting to panic and intended it as a rhetorical question meaning "we're screwed, aren't we?".

There are other questions about this: here is an example. In depth explanation of the difference between "will" and "going to"?

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