The Confusing World of Hoping, Expecting, and Looking Forward to

Sometimes one word in a certain language can mean a number of different things in English. Of course, having multiple English words for just one word makes it very difficult for English learners. One of the best examples is ‘hope’, ‘expect’, and ‘look forward to’. To make things worse, ‘hope’, ‘expect’, and ‘look forward to’ have very different and distinct meanings in English. They are usually not interchangeable.

Let’s examine them more closely.

Hope: To wish for something with anticipation of its fulfillment.

‘Hope’ means you want something to happen. We use ‘hope’ when we desire something but are uncertain whether it will happen.
1. I hope it doesn’t rain on our wedding day.
2. I hope our first baby is a boy.
3. I hope I get scholarship this year.

Expect: To regard as probable or likely.

‘Expect’ usually means you believe something will happen, whether you want it to or not. It’s an emotionally neutral term.
1. I don’t expect to ever win the lottery, but I still enjoy trying.
2. Nintendo is expected to launch a new game this fall.
3. I expect to do well on the exam because I studied hard. 

Look forward to: To think of a future event with eager anticipation.

‘Look forward to’ is only used for events that are actually going to happen. We don’t use ‘look forward to’ for things that might happen.
1. I’m looking forward to my 17th birthday.
2. I’m not looking forward to going to the hospital today. (I have an appointment)
3. The greedy man is looking forward to inheriting his father’s fortune.

Most common mistake:
By far the most common mistake that is made with these words is using ‘expect’ to mean ‘look forward to’. People often say “I’m really expecting your birthday party.” To an English speaker that sounds like, “I’m almost certain you will have a birthday party.” Here are some other examples of how not to use ‘expect’:

  1. I’mexpectingto see your baby. (You should say, I’m looking forward to seeing your baby.)
  2. I’mexpectingmy vacation next week. (You should say, I’m looking forward to my vacation next week.)
  3. I’mexpectingto working with you. (You should say, I’m looking forward to working with you.)