At the end of your first conversation with someone new, you might either say or have said to you the phrase “I look forward to working with you”.
This is a sentence that’s written in the present tense. But there’s actually several different tenses within the sentence.
Of course, the reason why we say it to be polite, but what’s the point in being polite at all? And are there any hidden abbreviations?
In this article today, we’ll be delving into what this sentence actually means, when it should be used, the tenses that are within it, and why we even say it at all.
When we say it
Usually we would say it just before we start working with someone. It’s very rare that we would ever say it to our family or friends, or in any situation other than professional circumstances.
There are three key circumstances when you would use this phrase.
The first one is when you get a new colleague and you want to make them feel welcome in your team.
The second is when you begin working for a new company and you want to show your enthusiasm for your new job.
And the final one is if you’re working with someone from another company who’s collaborating with your company and you want them to feel welcome, and assure them you’re on board with this collaboration.
Why we say it
The reason why we say this phrase can be summarised in one word, manners!
The whole point of manners is to show that we’re thinking about others, and not just using them to getting what we want.
By telling someone that you’re looking forward to working with them shows that you don’t just see your relationship as something that needs to be done, as a means to an end. But you feel genuine pleasure in what you’re about to be doing.
In the present tense there are two types. At the start of the sentence we have the present simple with the phrase “I look”.
Simple present are phrases that happen regularly or permanently.
A regular example would be “I drink tea with breakfast”. You’re talking about your habits, not your current actions.
A permanent example would be “I speak English”. You’re talking about what you’re always doing, not just what you’re doing right now.
“I look” is present simple as it’s not describing something at a specific point in time (that would be “I am looking”).
However, there is some debate around whether it actually ought to be “I am looking”. When you say this someone, chances are you’re not permanently looking forward (this would often be impossible as your time working with them is going to end one day), and you’re also not constantly looking forward as in the near future you actually will be working with them. And therefore will be unable to “look forward” to it.
Surely it would make sense to say “I am looking” as this would show that your action is happening at a fixed point in time (right now).
So “I look” is a simple present phrase with present progressive implications.
Working with you
The next phrase within this sentence is written in a rather unusual tense, the future. “working with you”. This is the future tense as it describes what will be happening in the future.
And to be more specific it’s in the future progressive, this is because it will happen at a specific point in time, and you can tell from the use of the ‘ing’.
This differs from the future simple which would be “I look forward to when I work with you”
What tense is it in?
So the sentence “I look forward to working with you” is a weird blend of tenses.
It starts off with a present simple that’s really a present progressive. And is then followed by a future progressive.
This does of course raise the question of “What tense is it in?”.
The evidence suggests that it’s in the present tense because it’s describing an action that’s happening right now. “Working with you” is used as a noun in this sentence. It’s not a noun, just used as one.
Therefore the tense of the sentence rests on the shoulders of the phrase “I look”. On one hand, it’s written in the present simple. But when it’s said, it’s meant in the present progressive.
And the winner is…..
The present progressive!
This sentence is about the present, and this exact moment. Therefore it’s the present progressive.
The English Language
If this sentence proves one thing it’s that the English language is a very strange language. The fact that there’s even a debate around which tense it’s in proves that it’s a really weird sentence.
But the super interesting thing is that even though it’s a grammatical mess, we still accept it because of how commonly it’s used.
Why we say “look forward”
The phrase “look forward” is a rather interesting one. Why don’t we just say “I’m excited”?
When we say this phrase, we’re not actually describing what direction we’re physically looking in.
Although we’re not looking in the direction that’s being described, we are, metaphorically. We’re not looking forward in space, bur rather time. Our destination is not something that we can walk to, but rather something that we have to wait for.
Your destination is going to come to you, and not you to it.
Other examples of sentences that use time as destinations include “One step forward, and then two steps back” and “Be in the moment”.
“I look forward to working with you” is something that almost everybody would say when they begin to work with a new person, this could be a boss, a colleague, or someone from a different company.
We say it to be polite and to show that we have genuine happiness for what will happen in the future.
The tense it’s written in is hard to pin down because it a strange mixture of 3 different tenses within it, but if we have to pin it down, it would probably be the present progressive.