There are two ways to indicate a future action, ir a «infinitive» and the future tense. How do I decide which to use when? Is one form more common when spoken or in writing? Is there a regional preference?

  • I'm not certain that "ir a ..." isn't also called "future tense". Tense is about the relationship with time no matter how its expressed. In Spanish some or all tenses happen to be indicated by verbal inflections but other languages can indicate tenses with special particles or auxiliaries. Then again sometimes these words have special meanings when applied to a given language so it could just be my inner linguist coming out. Commented Nov 17, 2011 at 20:30
  • ir a.. is more flexible than the strict "future tense", in that it can, for example, refer to the past, as well... fui a..., iba a... etc.
    – Flimzy
    Commented Nov 17, 2011 at 20:44
  • I know the forms have different behaviours, just as the form called the present tense can refer to the future also of course, both in Spanish and English. "I'm going to bed in a minute". "Voy a la cama ahorita." I'm just not certain on the terminology, whether there is a "strict" future tense or not. Or if the two have accepted names each that I just haven't learned yet. Commented Nov 17, 2011 at 20:49
  • ir a, tener que and similar phrases are officially referred to as "perífrasis verbal".
    – rems
    Commented Nov 17, 2011 at 21:06

5 Answers 5


The compound verb "ir a" is roughly the same as "going to" in English: we primarily use it when talking about the immediate future.

¿Va a comprar un coche nuevo?
Are you going to buy a new car? (= Have you decided to buy a new car?)

Here you can find a detailed analysis of different ways to express the future. They do not elaborate on regional differences, but their main conclusions are:

  • the future tense means that there is uncertainty about the future: you cannot guarantee that this happens, or you have not made a final decision yet.
    No se si la casa estará terminada a tiempo. - I am not sure if the house will be built in time.
  • ir a means something certain that will take place in the near future:
    Van a construir un nuevo polideportivo. - They are going to build a new stadium.

Additional examples confirming this point of view (posted by a speaker from Spain):

Mañana voy a comprar sandías -> I am sure that I will buy it tomorrow.
Mañana compraré sandías -> I think that I will buy it tomorrow but I am not sure, maybe I will do it the day after tomorrow.

Voy a cambiar -> I decided that I need to change, I am sure that I will do it.
Cambiaré -> Maybe I will change some day, who knows.

  • 2
    Please take notice that in the sentence No se si la casa estará terminada a tiempo what defines uncertainty is the fragment No se si. If you say La casa estará terminada a tiempo what you are effectively saying is The house shall be built on time. Also notice that the last two sentences do not transliterate but do translate.
    – palopezv
    Commented Nov 24, 2012 at 21:34
  • I'm not that sure about that ir a vs. future means how sure I am (I agree with @Miguel's answer spanish.stackexchange.com/a/3079/1146). Ir a is more something that you are going to start right now (like english going to while future means strength).
    – OnaBai
    Commented Nov 26, 2012 at 9:51

In the book, Advanced Spanish Step by Step written by Barbara Bregstein, on page 188, she writes:

"the simple future transmits more of a commitment or a strong decision than does the future periphrastic (ir+a+infinitive). The difference also exists in English: I will arrive at 7 p.m. is a little stronger than I am going to arrive at 7 p.m.

  • +1 for quoting a textbook Commented May 14, 2013 at 22:40

There is, indeed a regional preference. In Argentina, for example, ir a ... is almost always used in spoken language, and the future tense only appears in writing.

You are likely to find the future tense used in speech in Spain, for example.

Both forms are acceptable anyway.

  • To really establish this is an Argentinean thing you should contrast it with one of the countries which doesn't do so. I only know Mexico and they always seem to use "ir a" in speech too. Commented Nov 17, 2011 at 19:30
  • Indeed, in Mexico I hear 'ir a' a lot... but I also hear future tense occasionally.
    – Flimzy
    Commented Nov 17, 2011 at 20:04
  • 2
    @hippietrail, I didn't say it's an Argentinean thing. I think the future tense is used more in Spain, but I'm not sure about all latin american countries. Commented Nov 17, 2011 at 20:21

In Spanish, the usage of these two tenses is very similar to English.

When talking in the 1st person, one difference is whether you have previously made a decision to do something, or you are making the decision at that point in time.

"Your mother is sick, have you been to visit her?"

"No, but I'm going to visit her tomorrow"

i.e. I had already planned to visit my mother tomorrow, prior to being asked

"Your mother is sick, have you been to visit her?"

"No, but I'll visit her tomorrow"

i.e. I have just made the decision to visit her now that I have found out she is sick.



IR+A+infinitive = "going to" Future tense = "will"

But of course Spanish is far more complex than that. There is the "Future of probability" which adds a nuance of "perhaps" when using the future tense. It's cultural and it's subtle. All the more reason to continue your study of the Spanish language and the many cultures that speak it today.

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