Grammar Guru: You’ll want to turn left at the light

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You’ll want to… The pragmatics of this phrase is interesting:

  • Driver: How do I get to the lake?
  • Pedestrian: You’ll want to turn left at the light up there and then just go straight til you hit Shore Drive.

Why do we consider it acceptable and polite to predict what the person we are talking to will want to do? It would be quite bizarre to tell someone in German, “Sie werden da vorne links abbiegen wollen.” How presumptuous! So what makes telling them what they’ll want more polite than a direct imperative in English? Andreas Grundtvig recently explained to me that this is an example of implicature, that is a phrase that implies something rather than expressing it outright. Here the speaker implies a command rather than actually uttering it. Implicature is the broad term for such implied meanings. The use of this particular form – you will – used to imply a command is also found in conversations on the phone or at the front desk:

  • Amanda: I’d like to speak to someone about using room 1123 for an event.
  • Bertha: Oh, then you’ll want to speak to Marcy. Let me see if she’s in.

Unfortunately, using the will future like this doesn’t always signify an unspoken but implied command. Consider this foodie story, for example, where the writer simply predicts that once you read about these dishes, you will want to devour them on the spot:

So you need to keep your senses open to determine whether the phrase you have just heard or read is meant literally, or is a case of implicature.

Anyone looking at the will future as a form will be struck by how versatile it is in English. It’s worth exploring much more. For example, we use it all the time, especially in spoken English, to describe our habits, and what is typical:

  • When I go to the gym, I’ll generally take a bottle of water with me.
  • On Saturdays, we’ll sometimes go out for breakfast

None of those phrases are about the future at all. If anything, they reflect the past, because normalcy is based on habits developed over the years. I used the will-future above, in my intro: “Anyone … will be struck…” to express that same normalcy; yet in your case, being alerted to the form and its various meanings, the reference will naturally imply future acts of noticing.


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