When you first hear the two phrases “I look forward to meeting you” and “I’m looking forward to meeting you”, you would be forgiven in thinking they mean the same thing.
Because you’d be right.
However, the context in which they should be used will be different.
“I look forward to meeting you” or “I’m looking forward to meeting you”?
Generally, “I look forward to meeting you” is better for professional writing, while “I’m looking forward to meeting you” is better for casual writing.
But it’s actually a far more interesting story than that. Because not only does “looking” have different implications to “look” but also whether or not you add I (or I’m) can also effect your tone.
The phrase “Look Forward” from a grammatical perspective
Before we get into the guts of the article, I think it would be interesting to look into the word ‘look’, particularly in relation to the phrase ‘look forward’.
When we think about the phrase “to look at something”, we probably think about turning our gaze in the direction of that thing. However, we are not turning our gaze when we are looking forward to an event.
The phrase “look forward” has been around since the 16th century, but originally, but it simply meant to expect something to happen. It wasn’t until the 19th century that it came to mean “to be excited about”.
How exactly, to gaze in a direction came to mean, thinking about the future in unknown, but it’s most likely related to the fact that you’re looking forward through time.
“I look forward to meeting you” is present simple
“I look forward to meeting you” is written in the simple present tense. This refers to the fact it’s permanent and something you’re do on a regular basis. For example, if I were to say “I eat eggs for breakfast”, I’m saying that eggs are my choice of breakfast, and not that I’m eating them right now.
Likewise, by saying “I look forward to meeting you”, I’m implying that my excitement to meet you is a constant state of mind.
“I’m looking forward to meeting you” is present continuous
“I’m looking forward to meeting you” however, is written in the present continuous. The present continuous is what we use when we’re talking about what’s happening at a specific moment (usually, now).
For example, if I were to say “I’m waiting for my food to arrive”, I would be saying that the action I am currently performing is waiting for my food to arrive.
In the same sense, if I were to say “I’m looking forward to mee
ting you”, I’m saying that thinking about future events with excitement is the action I’m currently performing.
The formal version: I look forward to meeting you
The most formal way that you could possibly tell someone about your excitement to see them is if you were to say “I look forward to meeting you”. This is the version you should use when speaking the Queen’s English.
It follows the established structure of subject (I), verbs (look forward to meeting), object (you). And for this reason, you should be using this version during professional circumstances, such as when you’re writing to your boss, or an investor. Although it’s probably less important if you’re just writing to a colleague.
The weird version: Look forward to meeting you
Still in the present simple, but more causal we have the phrase “look forward to meeting you”. This is kind of a weird one.
On the one hand, the use of the word “look” rather than “looking” suggests it’s better for professional usage. But the dropping of the subject (I) suggests it would be better for casual usage.
However, anybody with common sense can easily see where this one should be, casual. There is no way that you would be using this when talking to somebody such as a boss or an investor.
It’s interesting to think how dropping the subject can change the tone of a phrase.
The lack of subject: Looking forward to meeting you
Another way we could say the phrase without the subject would be in the present continuous. This would mean saying “Looking forward to meeting you”. The use of the word “looking” rather than “look” implies that it’s a current state of mind, and not something you are constantly doing.
Therefore, this is another phrase it might not be so good to be using during professional conversations. The lack of the subject goes to further the fact that this phrase is best used for casual conversations only.
Perhaps the only time you could use this in a professional context is in a text message, where the person your talking to could be sympathetic to the fact that you wish to reduce the amount of words you use.
The casual version: I’m looking forward to meeting you
And finally, sticking to the present continuous, we have the phrase “I’m looking forward to meeting you”.
This phrase would still be in the general category of “casual”, however, it’s just a little bit less casual than simply “looking forward to meeting you”.
If you’re talking to someone important such as your boss, an investor, or a very important customer, it’s probably best to avoid the phrase.
However, there might be some circumstances that fall between causal and professional, such as talking to a colleague, when you’re the customer, or meeting your boss outside of work.
These rules are not set in stone
At the end of this article, you might a bit worried about which phrase you ought to be using for your particular scenario.
However, there aren’t any set in stone rules about which phrase you need to be using. Even if you use a casual version in a professional circumstance, it’s unlikely anybody is going to get upset or offended by it.
You just need to use some common sense and use whichever option you feel best suits the situation and person you’re talking to.
Whilst the two phrases “I look forward to meeting you” and “I’m looking forward to meeting you” have the same meaning, they could be seen as having different implications, making the former better in a formal setting, and the latter better in a casual setting.
Getting rid of the subject (I/I’m) can also effect the way it comes across.
Whilst there’s no absolute rules, a little bit of common sense can go a long way, and even if you do get it “wrong”, it’s unlikely that anybody will care.