Will vs Present Progressive

There are several ways to talk about the future in English. The two primary forms are the modal verb WILL and the present progressive.

Students of English are often taught that the modal verb will is the form one must use to express the future. In fact, the present progressive is used much more frequently than will. While these two forms are often interchangeable, sometimes there is difference in meaning.

In these examples, they mean the same thing.

modal verb WILL = present progressive
I will go to the doctor tomorrow. I am going to the doctor tomorrow.
We will leave soon. We are leaving soon.
She won’t call until Friday. She isn’t calling until Friday.

In the following examples, the modal verb will is used to make a promise to another person while the present progressive describes an arrangement or plan that exists now. The difference can be subtle.

promise   arrangement or plan
I will see Tom on Saturday. I’m seeing Tom on Saturday.
We will call you in two days. We’re calling you in two days.

In Yes / No questions, the modal verb will is used to ask about an intention. The present progressive is used to ask about an arrangement or plan.

intention   arrangement or plan
Will they pay with cash? Are they paying with cash?
Will she divorce her husband? Is she divorcing her husband?
Will we be going home soon? Are we going home soon?

Use will in yes / no questions with the second person subject pronoun (you) to make polite requests. In this context, the modal will implies the word please. The present progressive is used to confirm an arrangement and does ot imply the word please. Learn more about the characteristics of the will in the lesson on modal verbs.

request a favor or assistance   confirmation
Will you drive me to the station? Are you driving me to the station?
Will you return the book for her? Are you returning the book for her?

Use will and the present progressive with wh– questions to request information.

less common = more common
When will you leave for Spain? When are you leaving for Spain?
How long will you stay? How long are you staying?

There’s no difference in the above examples, but native English speakers tend to prefer the present progressive here.

Use will to announce a favor you intend to do for another person. In these examples, will cannot be replaced by present progressive.

Tom says …   "The phone is ringing."    
I respond … "I’ll get it." I am getting it.
 
You say …   "I forgot my wallet."    
We respond … "We’ll lend you the money." We are lending you the money.
 
You say …   "I can’t drive"    
I respond … "Tom will drive." Tom is driving.

When saying good bye to another person, use will to make a promise to do something. In these examples, the present progressive is not possible.

I’ll call you tomorrow.   I am calling you tomorrow.
We’ll see you next week. We are seeing you next week.
I’ll tell him for you. I am telling him for you.
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