I'm curious about the linguistic background between these phrases because they don't make sense word-for-word in either language, but they work almost identically. Wikipedia says that a similar form also exists in French and some other languages, and gives some (uncited) background on how the meaning of "going to" changed over time. I wonder if this is a case of calque (possibly from French to Middle English?) or simply an interesting case of convergent evolution? Are the etymologies of these phrases even known?

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    Don’t they make sense literally? If you’re going somewhere, you’re on your way there, moving from your current position to a new one. If you’re going to do something, you’re on your way towards doing it, moving from your current state (not doing it) to a new state (doing it). I don’t actually know offhand if this is a calque or not, but even if it isn’t, it’s a perfectly logical and reasonable extension of the literal meaning. The fact that there’s such a dense cluster of it around central-western Europe (western Romance + Dutch + British Isles) does support calquing, though. Mar 6, 2022 at 9:04
  • They don't make sense word for word because generally speaking translation is not a word for word thing. ir a [do something] is not always going to [do something].
    – Lambie
    Mar 6, 2022 at 19:03
  • @Lambie not sure if you're responding to me or Janus but my point is that they are both non-literal uses of the word "go"/"ir", or at least secondary senses which only work in specific constructions, which I would classify as an "idiom". I simply find it curious that multiple languages have very similar idioms. Mar 7, 2022 at 19:31
  • The wikipedia thing says the going to construction. What about the wanting to construction? There is no way historically that these are calques. The English form and Romance language forms have different roots....
    – Lambie
    Mar 7, 2022 at 19:53

1 Answer 1


It is quite possible that the parallel constructions have a common origin, but it is hard to prove.

Language features can cross language boundaries due to language contact, this is the basis of the formation of a Spachbund. On the other hand, semantic bleaching of a phrase like going to do something from a more literally meaning like "leaving the house to do something" to "near future tense" or even "future tense" is quite natural and has occurred independently in very different and unconnected languages. As far as I can tell, the historical data on English, French, and Spanish do not allow the conclusion that the construction is borrowed from one of the languages to another.

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