What Are You Willing to Do?

30 January 2020

Hi everyone! Thanks for listening to Everyday Grammar.

If you listen often and find the material easy to understand, you probably have been practicing English for a long time. That's great – it means you have made a lot of progress since you first began. But maybe there are a few things you'd still like to work on. So, I've got a question for you:

What are you willing to do to improve your English?

The idea of being willing to do something is the subject of today's Everyday Grammar program. Native English speakers use the phrase often, so you'll hear and see it everywhere.

The phrase "be willing to" gets its meaning from the adjective "willing."

The adjective "willing" means to be ready, eager or prepared to do something. Note that being willing to do something is not the same as wanting to do it. The idea is just that you don't need to be persuaded.

Listen again to my earlier question:

What are you willing to do to improve your English?

In other words, what are you ready or prepared to do to get better in English?

Forming sentences

Now, let's talk about how to form sentences with "be willing to." The structure of the phrase is: be + willing + infinitive verb.

You probably remember that the infinitive form of verbs is "to" plus the simple form. So, in my question about improving English, I use the infinitive "to do."

As for the main verb, I used "are" in the example. As you know, "are" is the present form of "be." The "be" verb can also change tenses.

For example:

Your English is really good! I can see you were willing to work hard to improve it.


He was willing to stay late to finish the job.

Notice the suggestion of a cost in those two examples. Being willing to do something often means making an investment or sacrifice. Improving your English requires effort and time. And the person who stayed late to finish the job probably sacrificed his plans for the evening.

It makes sense, then, that the phrase "be willing to" can also take a negative form to show someone does not agree to make an investment or sacrifice.

He wasn't willing to stay late to finish the job. His family was expecting him for dinner.

We also sometimes add a condition to say that someone is willing only if something else happens. Here's what a person might say:

The couple is willing to buy the car if the owner makes some repairs.

In this statement, the condition is repairs on the vehicle.

Someone might also be willing to do something if it helps others or a greater purpose.

Imagine you are working on a creative video project with a coworker. You are the main video creator. When your partner sees what you have made, he says this:

I like your video, but it is too long for our show. Are you willing to cut the ending?

You say "yes," even though you like the ending. Later, your coworker says, "Are you willing to show Sam how to use the video software? Today is his first day."

You say "yes" again, even though you are really, really busy. But welcoming a new coworker is more important.

In these examples, being willing means you are able to accept something. The meaning has to do with valuing cooperation.

Well, that's all for today. I'll end with the same question I started with: What are you willing to do to improve your English? Tell us in the comments and make sure to use "be willing to"!

I'm Alice Bryant.

Alice Bryant wrote this story for Learning English. Kelly Jean Kelly was the editor.


Words in This Story

practice – v. to do something again and again in order to get better at it

phrase – n. a group of two or more words that express a single idea but do not usually form a complete sentence

eager – adj. feeling a strong and impatient desire to do something or for something

tense – n. a form of a verb that is used to show when an action happened

negative – adj. expressing denial or refusal

sacrifice – n. the act of giving up something that you want especially in order to get or do something else or to help someone