If we have no context for the short utterance: “I am going to work”, it is very difficult to say exactly what message the speaker is trying to convey. In today’s blog, I shall look at three of the possible messages. Please note that the situation is not as confusing as it might appear; in context the intended message will normally be clear to the listener.
1. I normally use the car to travel everywhere. Unfortunately, my husband needs it this week, so I am going to work by bike. It’s a new experience for me.
Here am going to is a present progressive (continuous) construction, implying that the activity is of limited duration and is happening around the present time. Work, the destination of the cycle journey is a noun, conveying approximately the same meaning as place of work or the office/factory/shop/etc.
2. My husband needs the car, so I am going to work by bike tomorrow.
Once again, am going to is a present progressive construction, but this time it looks forward to the future. The going is taking place tomorrow. The present progressive is often used for activities which have been arranged for the future. Work is, as beforem a noun.
3. My husband has taken the children to America for a month. Wonderful! I am going to work on my novel for thirty days without any interruption at all.
Now am going to is operating as what is often referred to as the (BE) going-to future, and work is the infinitive form of the verb.
Whilst context and co-text usually ensure that native speakers have no problems here, learners can become very puzzled. This is sometimes a result of a lack of awareness of certain features of English. Some of the more relevant of these are:
- Whilst teachers and course books rarely mention this, the (BE) going-to future is formed from the present progressive of GO. It is understandable that when learners are told that the present progressive and (BE) going to are two different ways of expressing the future, some can be confused.
- (BE) going to and the present progressive form of the full verb can both be used to express futurity: I am going to meet her tomorrow and I am meeting her tomorrow. Usually the two forms convey a slightly different message, though sometimes the difference between the two is very slight indeed. (For more on this, see http://www.gramorak.com/Articles/Future.pdf pages 3-5)
- The word work can be used as a noun or verb; when the noun is preceded by the preposition to it is identical in appearance to the to-infinitive form of the verb.
- The noun work (when it means place of work)is not preceded by the in situations in which most other nouns would be. It shares this characteristic with such words as school, hospital, university, prison, etc, and with bed and home.
So long as the teacher is aware of the potential problems for the learner, confusion can be avoided. The underlined words in the preceding sentence are important.