Prospective aspect

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Today's Frazz:

Caulfield is trying to take advantage of an interesting feature of "going to" as an expression of prospective aspect. "Going to" is often used to warn about an imminent possibility that can be averted by immediate action — "Watch it, you're going to spill your coffee!" On the other hand, "going to" can refer to prospective events indefinitely far in the future: "The sun is going to use up its nuclear fuel in about five billion years".


  1. Alexander said,

    October 27, 2013 @ 7:55 am

    Or he's hoping she thinks he's meaning more than he says! On which see example sentence #1 here:

    And one should also mention the discussion of "deictic uses" of English past tense, one important discussion of which Partee's "Some structural analogies between tenses and pronouns in English."

  2. Victor Mair said,

    October 27, 2013 @ 10:35 am

    Caulfield is smart, but sometimes he's too smart for his own pants. For one thing, there's the question of imminence and relative futurity:

    Another problem is that, for some people, retroperistalsis / reverse peristalsis / antiperistalsis / emesis / barfing / throwing up / tossing one's cookies / vomiting physiologically seems well nigh impossible. Hence, it is not a foregone conclusion that they will definitely vomit at some point in the future. The last time I remember vomiting was about half a century ago. Of course, some people are so susceptible to nausea that they vomit at the slightest provocation. Maybe Caulfield is that sort of person, but even if he is given to frequent vomiting, how can he be absolutely certain that he will stay alive till the next time he vomits?

    I have a friend who retches repeatedly every single time she brushes her teeth, because she rubs the toothbrush across her tongue, but the retching does not induce actual vomiting. Most people, it would seem, avoid vomiting as much as possible, but other people are of the opinion that a good puke once in a while is beneficial for the body, so they will upchuck whenever they get the chance.

    Here is an interesting note on disgust induced by the sound of vomiting (


    An online study of people's responses to "horrible sounds" found vomiting "the most disgusting." Professor Cox of the University of Salford's Acoustic Research Centre said that "We are pre-programmed to be repulsed by horrible things such as vomiting, as it is fundamental to staying alive to avoid nasty stuff." It is thought that disgust is triggered by the sound of vomiting to protect those nearby from, possibly diseased, food.


    I suppose that some (perhaps many) people are so susceptible to repulsive sounds that merely hearing the word "moist" pronounced aloud might make them squeamish or even nauseous. (Moist aversion has been written about so many times on Language Log that I won't trouble to list the posts that mention it. Just google on: language log moist [no quotation marks].)

    Ditto for what are perceived to be disgusting smells. My son once vomited when he smelled cow manure 50 feet away on Boston Common (the teachers were showing the city kids where milk comes from), though my father (an Austrian cowherd as a young boy) all his life felt that cow manure had a grassy fragrance, and I inherited that trait from him (fortunately, since cow dung mixed with water was used as a floor covering in Nepal when I lived there for two years in the mid-60s).

  3. Matt_M said,

    October 27, 2013 @ 12:19 pm

    There's a similar play on the tension between immanent "going to" and simple futurity in this recent episode of Dinosaur Comics.

    The relevant quote is in panel 5:

    Everyone who ever pissed you off is either dead or going to die, and a lot of those deaths are going to look just like "natural causes" to the cops.

  4. Eric said,

    October 27, 2013 @ 2:07 pm

    I understand that "I will" + inf. (especially as opposed to "I'll," unless responding to an assertion to the contrary) is somewhat unidiomatic in conversational English, but I've read the Wikipedia articles, and I'm still not clear how, if at all, "going to" actually differs from "will."

  5. Rubrick said,

    October 27, 2013 @ 3:00 pm

    Folks, the real ambiguity is on the chalkboard! How can years be fat???

  6. Victor Mair said,

    October 27, 2013 @ 3:15 pm


    In China, it seems that years are often thought of as being "fat".

  7. chh said,

    October 27, 2013 @ 3:28 pm


    Are you wondering whether/how the distributions and meanings of 'will' and 'going to' differ? 'Will' has some modal meanings that have to do with intention and the possibility that a proposition is true that 'going to' doesn't. Maybe someone can provide some relevant references.

    "Buy our used books- we (will/?are going to) ship them to you for free."

    "You (will/?are going to) have received a notice in the mail by now."

  8. Adrian said,

    October 27, 2013 @ 3:30 pm

    Eric: What do you mean by "differs from"? Do you mean in meaning?

  9. Bessel Dekker said,

    October 27, 2013 @ 4:31 pm

    As Mrs Olsen was no doubt aware, the collocation "fat years" is a Biblical reference, and it is by no means new ( The AV Genesis text, however, speaks of "years of plenteousness", while it is the "kine" and the "ears" which are fat in the Pharaoh's dream.

  10. David Morris said,

    October 27, 2013 @ 4:41 pm

    So what are 'Elvis years', then?

    Whenever 'future tense' comes around in the textbook, I get extremely nervous about explaining the difference between 'I am going to (place)' and 'I am going to (V)' which are completely different constructions. But none of the students ever asks.

  11. tk said,

    October 27, 2013 @ 4:51 pm

    Not only can years be fat, so can Tuesdays.

  12. Ben Hemmens said,

    October 27, 2013 @ 5:05 pm

    Thanks to Victor, made my evening ;-)

  13. CherylT said,

    October 28, 2013 @ 2:18 am

    EFL textbooks (the best being much more realistic than textbooks once were) generally teach that the main difference between 'will' and 'going to' futures (intention, plans) is that 'will' is used to announce or introduce a future plan or offer, and 'going to' is used for subsequent mentions or plans made earlier. (My observation suggests that there is overlap in real life conversation.) Both are used for prediction in different contexts, although very formal registers would prefer 'will'.

  14. Alex said,

    October 28, 2013 @ 6:01 am

    As someone who has quite a history with vomiting, I have to disagree with Victor and put out there that Caufield can be pretty sure he's going to throw up again if his physiology is like mine. No, I don't throw up every day or have any diagnosed syndrome that leads to vomiting, but I do have certain triggers and the only way I can avoid them for the rest of my life is if I die in the next week or two.

    And I'm alright with Caufield assuming he'll live an average-length life. Sure, he might get hit by a car that afternoon making his statement about throwing up false, but with that level of pedantry no one could ever plan anything without constantly talking about death:
    -Are you going to the park with us? We're leaving in an hour.
    -I'd love to… as long as I don't die first.
    -What? You're going to die? Should I call an ambulance?
    -No, just pointing out that we could all die, at any moment, and that we can never be certain about anything because the cold grip of the soil is awaiting us all and can take hold at any moment, no matter how banal.
    -That… that's just awful. I don't feel like flying a kite anymore.

  15. Captain Bringdown said,

    October 28, 2013 @ 8:37 am

    Another problem is that, for some people, retroperistalsis / reverse peristalsis / antiperistalsis / emesis / barfing / throwing up / tossing one's cookies / vomiting physiologically seems well nigh impossible. Hence, it is not a foregone conclusion that they will definitely vomit at some point in the future.

    Caulfield says he thinks he is going to throw up, not that it's a foregone conclusion that he'll certainly upchuck at some point in the future.

  16. G Jones said,

    October 30, 2013 @ 6:03 am

    Ya'll do realize that "fat" and "Elvis" go together, right?

    As in, the years Elvis was fat?

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