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As someone with only my vague instincts as a native speaker to go off of, I would expect the breakdown comes to something like:

  • "You will find that he is not too receptive to this sort of thing", "You will need to figure out another way in", "You will want to be careful about anything getting wet"
  • "You will achieve great things", "You will die alone"
  • "You will graduate in two years"
  • "You will get me that cloak, now", "You will walk out of here and pretend this never happened, or else"
  • "You will take him?", "You will do what tomorrow?"

An added layer of complexity is that each of these contexts differ in the degree to which contraction and/or substituting "going to" is natural-sounding, but none are 100% one or the other, and it's difficult for me to make out an overall pattern. I am zeroing in on "you will" because a few of its contexts seem exclusive, while I/we and he/she/they/it phrase certain equivalents differently, and also have exclusives of their own. I'd really like to know what the official system for looking at this is.

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    You will can always be "you'll" unless you are using the verb will, as in, to will something. Here's the scoop on this which I didn't think I could just cut and paste: languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/….
    – Lambie
    Aug 20 at 15:55
  • As far I make the distinction for myself, “will” is about a forecast and guessing, predicting the future as well as about deciding on the spot to do something, while “going to” is about inevitable or decided actions. So exchanging the two future indicators changes the meaning: "You will die alone" is what I predict, while "You are going to die alone" is what I see as inevitable.
    – Yellow Sky
    Aug 21 at 0:01

1 Answer 1

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I don't know what you mean by "formally categorized" (and "official" is meaningless in this context).

Will, like all modals, has a range of meanings, which broadly divide into deontic meanings (about the objective world, including social relationships and demands) and epistemic ones (about our understanding and conclusions about the world).

Its main deontic meanings are futurity and habituality. Its main epistemic meaning is about expectation (mostly in the will have form - sentences like "By now he will have found the clue").

Any decent dictionary will list a host of meanings but I doubt if you'll find much in the way of classification, and if you do it will probably not look much like another dictionary's classification.

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  • In short: formal linguistics is a mess. Give up.
    – LjL
    Aug 20 at 23:08
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    Every modal has its own list of exceptions to rules that apply to modals. They hafta be taken individually. There are holes in all the categories.
    – jlawler
    Aug 20 at 23:38

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