The difference between:
A. Was/Were going to
B. Was/were thinking of
C. Was/were wondering
English learners often get certain English words confused. Especially when taken in similar context. When talking about plans or thoughts, we often use the terms “going to”, “thinking of” and “wondering”. Here’s an explanation of each one.
Firstly, all three phrases are in the Past Progressive tense. This tense is used to talk about something that started happening in the past, without needing to be connected to the present.
To create the Past Progressive tense, we start with a subject, then a past tense form of the “be” verb (ie: was or were), finally followed by a present participle or “verb +ing”.
Subject – be – verb +ing
- I told her that I was going to wash the car the following day.
- We were thinking of visiting Auntie June this Summer.
- Tony was wondering if you would like to stay for dinner.
was /were going to
Was/were going to means that you had a definite plan to do something in the past. Or, that you were traveling to a place. For example, if you say We were going to Disneyland, it means that we either had definite plans to go there. Or, that I am telling you about the actual moment that we were traveling to Disneyland.
Keep in mind that there are normally three situations when we would use this phrasal verb.
1. When explaining how plans made in the past were changed at a later time for some reason.
- We were going to go swimming today, but it is really cold.
- Sarah was going to meet us for dinner but she has to work late.
2. In reported speech, as a reported speech form of the “future tense using going to”.
- I was telling Steve how we were going to launch the new product when our boss walked in.
- Sarah and Jo were deciding where they were going to eat dinner when the phone rang.
3. When talking about the past action of traveling to a location.
- The Smith family was going to Bermuda for a holiday.
- They were going to a Thai restaurant for lunch last I spoke to them.
was/were thinking of
When using the phrase was/were thinking of, it can mean two things.
Either it describes a moment in the past when someone was thinking about a person in connection with a specific event or item.
- We were thinking of you when deciding what flavor birthday cake to get.
- The old man was thinking of his wife and how she used to love playing the piano.
Or, was/were thinking of is also used when talking about a choice of action that was not yet certain. It was (or is) still not a sure thing and open to change.
- John was thinking of buying either a red or a blue car.
- Sally and Tom were thinking of getting married in May but weren’t sure if they could find a church in time.
What makes was/were wondering different from the other two is that it’s not about action.
When you are wondering something, it means that you are thinking about something and are unsure of the answer. So was/were wondering means the action of thinking of something in the past of which you were unsure of the answer to.
Was/were wondering, is often used with indirect questions, where it is followed by a question word such as if, where, who, what, etc.
- We were wondering whether you would like to join us for lunch tomorrow.
- Sally was wondering where Steve had been all day.