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Elton John Song Teaches about Future Time

In today's report, we explore what an Elton John song can teach you about English grammar.
In today's report, we explore what an Elton John song can teach you about English grammar.
Elton John Song Teaches About Future Time
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Elton John’s famous 1972 song Rocket Man appeared in a surprising way during this Winter Olympic Games. Skater Nathan Chen performed to it during the men’s final free skating event – an event in which Chen won the gold medal.

And I think it's gonna be a long, long time

In today’s Everyday Grammar, we will explore what this song can teach you about English grammar. You will learn how it uses an important structure for expressing future time – be going to.

You will also learn how English speakers often use this structure in everyday speech, and how it is similar to and different from the helping verb “will.”

Let’s start with a few important terms and ideas.

Future time

Grammar books often describe English verbs in terms of tense. Tenses are forms of verbs that show when the action happened. However, these English verb tenses do not line up into clear groups all the time.

For example, there are several different ways that English speakers can express future time. They might use the simple present or present progressive, as in the sentences, “She leaves tomorrow,” or “He’s leaving this afternoon.”

But for the purpose of today’s report, let’s pay careful attention to two important structures that can show future time: the structure “be going to” and the helping verb “will.” In some cases, these two can be used interchangeably. That means one can be used in place of the other without a change in meaning.

English speakers often use “will” and “be going to” interchangeably when making predictions. If you watch or listen to an American weather report, for example, you might hear either of these two sentences:

Satellite imaging suggests it will be cloudy tomorrow.

Satellite imaging suggests it is going to be cloudy tomorrow.

Remember that in Elton John’s song Rocket Man, the structure “be going to” is very important.

And I think it's gonna be a long, long time

In this case, the singer is making a prediction about the future. He could have sung:

And I think it will be a long, long time...

But perhaps the structure “be going to” sounded better to the songwriter’s ear.

In normal speech

Whatever the case, Elton John did not sing each word clearly. He connected some words and dropped out some sounds. He did not sing:

It is going to be a long, long time.

This is because in everyday speaking, English speakers often reduce words. Function words – words that have a grammatical purpose but little specific meaning – are often cut short. This means “It is going to be” often sounds like “It’s gonna be...”

This is not slang or impolite language. This is just how people speak in many situations.

Closing thoughts

There are situations in which “will” and “be going to” have different uses. We have explored this subject in detail in earlier Everyday Grammar programs.

The next time you listen to music or news broadcasts in English, pay careful attention to how speakers use “will” and “be going to.” You will notice situations in which one or the other is used. Ask yourself why.

And be sure to keep these two statements in mind:

With time and hard work, my English is going to improve.

With time and hard work, my English will improve.

I’m John Russell.

John Russell wrote this lesson for VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story

present progressive – n. (grammar) a verb tense that is used to refer to an action or a state that is continuing to happen

function word – n. a word (such as a preposition or a conjunction) that is used mainly to show grammatical relationships between other words

slang – n. words that are not considered part of the standard vocabulary of a language and that are used very informally in speech, especially by a particular group of people