Talk:Shall and will

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Shall[edit]

Shall is regarded as being a model verb which can only be used with I and We. However, by analysing the Corpus of the English language we can conclude it is used with other persons as well. For instance, in the lyrics to the song Moonchild, by Iron Maiden, shall is used with you (you shall be damned), conveying the meaning of a threat.

Not a Wiktionary candidate[edit]

I removed a {{move to wiktionary}} notice that had been placed here by Radiant. This page goes well beyond a dictionary definition and contains extended discussion in complete sentences that put it well beyond the scope of a dictionary entry. -- Smerdis of Tlön 13:37, 25 May 2005 (UTC)

Well done, I back you on that. Radiant has also made vfd on what I regard as the very valuable article go (verb). If you agree with me, do state your views there. --Doric Loon 18:29, 25 May 2005 (UTC)
I agree as well. This article is encylopedic. Perhaps Radiant could place a link to this article in shall and will's wiktionary entries instead? --Canoeguy81 22:05, 25 May 2005 (UTC)


Engineering?[edit]

I have deleted the thing about engineers using the words 'will', 'shall' and 'must' differently from everyone else. It didn't make sense Oliverkroll 19:23, 6 May 2006 (UTC)

Possibly refers to conventional usage such as defined by RFC 2119. However that only defines conventions for "shall" (and "MUST", "MUST NOT", "REQUIRED", "SHALL NOT", "SHOULD", "SHOULD NOT", "RECOMMENDED", "MAY", and "OPTIONAL") and not for "will". EdC 12:40, 22 July 2006 (UTC)


I have attempted to add a new section that more clearly explain the special uses of 'shall' and 'will' in the field of engineering. An article that discusses use of these words without at least mentioning their applications in system requirement documentation is seriously lacking. --Jpschaaf 04:27, 24 August 2006 (UTC)

Table[edit]

I created a little table to illustrate how shall and will are to be used. I think this is easier to read that the previous list (which didn't include 2nd person plural). Hope it helps. Naufana : talk 18:47, 8 October 2006 (UTC)

Singular Plural
First I shall we shall
Second you will you (all) will
Third he, she, it will they will
Naufana's table was up for over a year, then deleted without comment/explanation by a relatively new editor using an IP address. Did people not notice? I think this table works quite well, except that shall and will are reversed to "express determination, promise, obligation, or permission"[1] (e.g., the command "Thou shalt not steal," where thou is the archaic second person singular). Emptymountains (talk) 11:27, 12 October 2008 (UTC)

I've just come to this site for the firsst, time and can't understand the deletion of such an immediately clear table. Please erestore it to the main text, powers that be. —Preceding unsigned comment added by 87.234.242.74 (talk) 15:38, 11 May 2011 (UTC)

Should vs. shall in first-person offers[edit]

I was a bit surprised not to see (although perhaps I overlooked it) any mention of the common (American English) use of should to replace shall in the part of the article that discusses "first-person offers". Specifically, instead of "Shall I open a window?" I usually hear "Should I open a window?" Doug Pardee 21:58, 28 December 2006 (UTC)

To my (English) ears, those two questions have different meanings. The first is more telling someone what you're about to do, but offering the option of them suggesting that they open the window instead, or that the window shouldn't be opened. The second is actually asking for an opinion. Skittle 16:18, 17 October 2007 (UTC)
The context is shall vs will. "Shall I open a window?" is an offer to help the other person. "Will I open a window?" is the simple future, as if the other person weren't there. It's thus an inappropriate response to "It's hot in here." I'm thus uncomfortable with the following paragraph, which advises never using shall if you don't understand the difference. Clearly this is an exceptional case where shall is better. --Sluggoster 09:31, 5 November 2007 (UTC)

As for shall vs should, my (northwestern US) ears prefer shall but the difference is very slight. Shall focuses on your magnimony, and you may already be half-standing when you say it. Should focuses on your social obligation, and you may have no intention of opening the window unless the other person says "yes". --Sluggoster 09:28, 5 November 2007 (UTC)

"the useful contraction 'll"[edit]

the useful contraction 'll stands for both these modal verbs

I asserted this once elsewhere and was challenged to prove it; I found that the OED lists only 'll == will. If anyone can come up with a reputable source for 'll == shall, please list it. Marnanel 12:57, 16 May 2007 (UTC)

I personally use it all the time in sentences for both verbs, in situations where the ambiguity is inconsequential. — Nicholas (reply) @ 12:31, 17 July 2012 (UTC)

Illegible[edit]

This article... wow. It's almost impossible to read. Half the examples are absolute crap and nothing even remotely resembling understandable English. This article needs an almost total rewrite. I think I'll try it sometime if nobody else wants to. Matt Yeager (Talk?) 07:07, 11 June 2007 (UTC)

I agree with you.--71.248.78.140 (talk) 00:03, 14 July 2008 (UTC)
I third that! And showing pronunciations only using IPA (without alternatives such as hyphenation or sound-alikes) makes articles inaccessible to most of us. Yorkshire Phoenix United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland God's own county 20:17, 12 September 2010 (UTC)

defective?[edit]

Is it correct to say that because the future tense in English isn't a simple conjugation that it is "defective". If not someone should change the first sentence. 68.98.54.71 21:39, 16 October 2007 (UTC)

It looks like this has already been changed. "Defective" refers to verbs that lack certain tense forms expected in the language. "Shall" and "will" are defective verbs because they lack certain tenses (*shalling, *I have should). "Defective" does not apply to entire grammar systems. In English the simple future form does not exist (unlike Spanish: será), but that does not make English defective. --Sluggoster 08:31, 5 November 2007 (UTC)

'Sensitive word'?[edit]

I'm not clear on how the following sentence is true, so I've removed it. "Shall is a sensitive word and should be used with caution."

142.157.208.111 (talk) 14:46, 10 December 2007 (UTC)

Some comments[edit]

A couple of places in the article (e.g)

It is doubtful if there ever a distinction in the language between "shall" and "will."
There was once thought to be a meaningful distinction between "shall" and "will,"

it is suggested that there is or has been no difference between will and shall. This is of course false. Speakers who rarely use shall would find the relacement "will" in a sentence such as "it will rain today" with "shall" strange ("it shall rain today"). These are not interchangeable words.

Also I think comment should be made on the use of "shall" in protasis. It's explained in Fowler's article on Shall versus Will. It's a slightly archaic usage, essentially where modern usage gives "If he should do it, it would be good.", or "If he does it, it will be good", or "If he did it, it would be good", or "If he were to do it, it would be good", or a number of different options involving "were" and "should" at the start of the sentence (incidentally I'd like to know what if any the difference in meaning between all these options are), the slightly archaic usage gives "If he shall do it, it will be good". This extends to other "if" like clauses, like "so long as the kingdom shall endure", where this is understood as meaning, "if the kingdom endures, then ...". Count Truthstein (talk) 17:42, 7 March 2008 (UTC)

Evidence[edit]

The entire discussion of shall/will seems to be based on bare assertion. The sources should go beyond reference to Fowler or Crystal. There must be a study which looks at actual (historical and present day) usage. I want to see it. Of course the fact that Americans, Scots, and Irish feel insulted at the suggestion that they don't get the subtleties hits a raw nerve (Americans, Scots and Irish secretly do have the feeling that they miss the subtleties and are speaking a foreign language). What is American/Scots/Irish usage of shall/will if they do not follow Fowler? As far as I can see apart from some 'polite forms' which are out of date, and a failure to recognize that "will" in the first person looks to the future as "a present state" while shall looks to the future as future, he is correct for English, Scots, Americans, and Irish usage (don't they realise?). Example: if if run the marathon, I will be exhausted. If I run the marathon, I shall be exhausted. The first imagines the "future present" state of exhaustion. The second imagines it as purely in the future. The first is more vivid and more used (Americans/Scots/Irish?). Neither is wrong. Or at least, don't other people have the feeling there is a distinction here that is never mentioned? But please - EVIDENCE Jagdfeld (talk) 12:19, 31 March 2008 (UTC)

I didn't quite see that distinction but now I see that there is a difference in that with "will" a present state can be indicated and not necessarily a future tense - e.g., in "I will sell you potatoes at £1 a bag" or "Mr. Blogs will help you fix your bicycle" "will" means more "is willing to" than "is going to". The title "The Man Who Would Be King" of the Rudyard Kipling story has a meaning close to "The man who wanted to be king". I too would like to see some proper study about this. It's a pity that Google gives this article as the number 1 for the seach "will shall", and much of the other search results aren't that informative either except for stating that the traditional distinction is baseless. Count Truthstein (talk) 18:13, 3 April 2008 (UTC)

Attempt at explanation[edit]

  • When I say I shall be there I am looking at the event as future willy nilly (externally determined, my will not taken into account). When I say I will be there I am looking at the event as more vividly assured (the sense that my will is providing the assurance is close to the surface, or easily brought to the surface). Compared to shall which looks from the present to the future and emphasizes the gap in time (in I shall be there the being there is something still definitely in the future, not present), will (in I will be there) looks forward to the achievement of being there as more vividly assured.
  • When I say you will be there I am looking at the event as more vividly assured (although your will is not disregarded, the general sense of mere assurance is stronger. Probably historically the sense of your willing was primary, but because I cannot vouch for your will the sense of mere assurance - simple futurity - became more dominant). When I say you shall be there I am looking at the event as future willy nilly (externally determined, your will not taken into account). Because of the disregard of your will and because I am the person saying what will happen, it is easily felt as equivalent to my ordering/obliging you.
  • When I say he will be there I am looking at the event as more vividly assured (although his will is not disregarded, the general sense of mere assurance is stronger. Probably historically the sense of his willing was primary, but because I cannot vouch for his will the sense of mere assurance - simple futurity - became more dominant). When I say he shall be there I am looking at the event as future willy nilly (externally determined, his will not taken into account). The disregard of his will is easily felt as equivalent to my ordering/obliging him.

It is thinking along these lines, I think, that accounts for the 'curious' exchange of functions of shall/will between 1st and 2nd/3rd persons. I don't know whether this was the real psychology behind the development of usage. It is merely an attempt to help people see that it is not entirely illogical. Of course, the pragmatics of use (the context, politeness, whether I or someone else can be thought of issuing orders, etc) can help to decide which latent senses (will, obligation, order, fate, duty, simple futurity) are brought to the surface. Jagdfeld (talk) 11:40, 28 April 2008 (UTC)

I always think it odd that the people who claim the distinction is baseless tend to think of themselves as descriptivists, yet they blithely claim that certain dialects are 'wrong' in hearing and using a distinction in word usage. In my dialect, there is a difference between the two words, and no number of academics telling me it's baseless or contrived will make me stop using the language I learnt in childhood. Next they'll be telling the good folk of Yorkshire that 'It were raining' is an artificial and incorrect phrase... So briefly, I agree. We need some more sources in the article; perhaps some good descriptive/observational language studies that looked at English usage? I assume such things exist... Skittle (talk) 00:21, 4 April 2008 (UTC)

If you ask me if I went to school/work yesterday, and my response was no; the difference between would and should are pretty shocking! I should have gone to school; denotes that you failed an obligation (in this case going to school), while I would have gone to school denotes that an obligation got in the way. --Rockstone35 (talk) 00:25, 11 November 2008 (UTC)

Also if I say "It should not be affected by it." it means that it must not sometimes in the future be affected. While if i said "It would not be affected by it." It means that it was not affected.--Rockstone35 (talk) 00:45, 11 November 2008 (UTC)

Shall I Open the Window?[edit]

The assertion that such expressions as "Shall I open the window?" are not used in the United States is simply untrue. That sort of construction is extremely common in American English. It's true there's often a touch of irony to it, but, hey, that's American English for you.

That's absolutely correct. That whole section of the article oversimplifies matters. Joeldl (talk) 14:15, 23 December 2008 (UTC)
Indeed. This argument seems to be primarily a contest between prescriptivists and descriptivists, with a strong subtext of "My English is better than your English." The number of supposed "English-speakers" in the world is fraught with complexity and ambiguity, but it seems fairly certain that the number of English speakers whose native cultures are entirely unrelated to any historic "Anglo" heritage far outnumbers those speakers who share this heritage. So there are "Indian" Englishes, "African" Englishes, "Asian" Englishes, and many others all around the world. "American" English tends to retain more features of the subjunctive mood than does "British" English, but does this mean we have to re-enact the Revolution to "settle" the difference and decide exactly who is "right?" The notion that "majority rule" should decide which particular variety of English becomes enshrined in Wikipaedia is at least archaic and verges on stupidity. Let a thousand flowers bloom. It's not as if any of us (well, most any of us) have brains that burst into flames when we hear "I shall leave tomorrow" when we personally might have said "I will leave tomorrow," because most of us can puzzle out what it means in either case and move on to other things. Language is not rocket science. Language is art, and artifice, and every word in this particular paragraph was designed by an artist. Every sentence, by any speaker, of any language, is equally artful, and arguing about which variety of English is "better," or more "official," is like going on about whether treacle is a better word than molasses. In a long life, we're all of us going to run into sentences which startle us, and may even annoy us, but that doesn't necessarily make them wrong. Lee-Anne (talk) 17:00, 5 March 2010 (UTC)

to be going to ...[edit]

There ought to be a mention of the alternative option using the construction to be going to do something for an event in the future. This can be useful, as it does not normally imply desire or obligation. For example:

I will provide the wine for the party indicates that the speaker is volunteering - or at least is quite content.

I shall provide the wine is a bit formal by today's standards. see the section on Current Usage.

I am going to provide the wine is neutral. Maybe the speaker volunteered, maybe his arm was twisted. It is flat statement indicating the future.

Apuldram (talk) 15:35, 17 October 2008 (UTC)

English Modal Verb article[edit]

We should think about merging a lot of this material into English modal auxiliary verb. Count Truthstein (talk) 22:36, 3 January 2009 (UTC)

Future tense in PIE[edit]

According to an unsourced statement at Proto-Germanic#Verbs Proto-Indo-European had no future tense, contradicting this article. I think I have heard this from other places too. Count Truthstein (talk) 00:05, 4 January 2009 (UTC)

I added a reference that mentions PIE future tense based. Please refer to item 9 here. 192.102.209.29 (talk) 23:44, 13 April 2010 (UTC)
According to Fortson, the Baltic s-future goes back to PIE desideratives. Quote: "Some of [these forms'] descendants function as futures, but it is not certain whether any of these were true futures in PIE." (Fortson, Benjamin W., IV (2004), Indo-European Language and Culture, Blackwell Publishing, p. 91, ISBN 1-4051-0316-7 ). The second PIE form with a future function seems to be the subjunctive mood (ibid. p. 96, also Meier-Brügger). So, in a sense, PIE probably had no future tense but expressed future meaning in other ways – but this is true for English as well, which paraphrases the future with "will+infinitive". --ἀνυπόδητος (talk) 20:15, 26 September 2010 (UTC)
So is this incorrect?: This is called the sigmatic future (cf. Greek sigma=s). It has been recorded only in ancient Old Indic (Sanskrit) and Greek...[1] --Espoo (talk) 21:13, 26 September 2010 (UTC)
Looks like it. There is of course Baltic (the sentence continues "...but it is still used by every speaker of Lithuanian today") but probably also Slavic (Old Russian byšęštĭ "future" = "what is about to be"), Celtic (Gaulish pissíiumi "I will see"), and Italic (Umbrian fust "he will be"). What about just omitting the sentence "In Proto-Indo-European, an inflected future tense existed..."? Phrasing it correctly would go a bit beyond the scope of this article. Or we could write something on the lines of "Germanic did not inherit any Proto-Indo-European forms to express the future tense, but innovated by forming it with auxiliary verbs". --ἀνυπόδητος (talk) 08:24, 27 September 2010 (UTC)
I have put this suggestion into the article. Count Truthstein (talk) 19:00, 15 April 2011 (UTC)
I was under the impression that no language on earth had a future tense until about the mid-first millennium BCE. Even though linguists agree that language itself is extremely ancient, and nearly all current features are likely to have existed since time immemorial, the future tense is one of those rare exceptions. Zyxwv99 (talk) 18:56, 3 December 2011 (UTC)

shall be given to !!whomever??? shall have done[edit]

Few things are as infuriating as would-be pedants correcting for grammar and introducing errors. "To whoever shall have done" is correct because "whoever" here is a relative pronoun and the subject of the verb "shall have done". 68.149.127.192 (talk) 06:51, 4 March 2009 (UTC)

I believe Anon 68.149 is correct. It is slightly uncertain whether it is best to treat shall as a verb when it is being used in this special way, but however "whomever shall" would sound ungrammatical to most English speakers who interpret "whom" as an accusative form. "Whoever shall have done the best" is the noun phrase that is governed by "to", and does not change for different cases the way that "who/whom" would. Count Truthstein (talk) 12:35, 4 March 2009 (UTC)

Incorrect (You Fail Grammar Forever! ;¬) ) - it is indeed 'whomever' and the case would be dative not accusative, I.E. "To whomever shall ...". —Preceding unsigned comment added by 90.199.145.197 (talk) 01:45, 24 May 2009 (UTC)

Completely Ripped Off "King's English"[edit]

Just about this entire entry is directly lifted from the Fowlers' "King's English"; it's a terrible article, declaring nothing and merely broadcasting, verbatim, what's already been printed (initially, a very long time ago), granting necessary credit along the way. There's no clarification of the early–20th-century work, no real amend to it. I propose a near-total re-write. If this is OK, perhaps I may begin. Thanks.

Shall in the FAA[edit]

In Federal Aviation Regulations, whenever the word 'shall' is used, it means whatever it's referring to is absolutely mandatory. Perhaps this should be added to this page? http://www.faa.gov/air_traffic/publications/atpubs/NTM/not0104.html —Preceding unsigned comment added by 149.72.63.112 (talk) 14:06, 2 December 2009 (UTC)

(Commando303 (talk)) —Preceding undated comment added 02:55, 21 March 2009 (UTC).

Majority?[edit]

"it is largely ignored by American, Irish, and Scottish speakers of English, who are a majority of English-speaking people"

Even if "America" is meant to include Canada, surely England, Australia, India, Nigeria, The Philippines, New Zealand, etc. are going to out number them?

A lot of bits in this article read to me like a justification for why the author doesn't make any distinction between "shall and "will", and a campaign for why others oughtn't to either. —Preceding unsigned comment added by 86.128.223.61 (talk) 00:04, 23 December 2009 (UTC)

I agree. Use of terms like "non-current/former usage" instead of "traditional" or "correct" reveals the article's bias. Yorkshire Phoenix United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland God's own county 20:22, 12 September 2010 (UTC)

Negative contractions[edit]

Re the mention of negative contractions "shan't" and "won't", from personal experience it seems to me that many English dialects (eg. some northern English and perhaps also West Country) use "'ll not" rather than "shan't" or "won't". As in "We'll not see snow again this winter" or "I'll not put up with that.". But I'm reluctant to mention this without a reference - does anybody know a source where this is discussed? —Preceding unsigned comment added by 89.240.89.239 (talk) 21:56, 31 December 2009 (UTC)

Won't Redirect[edit]

"Won't" redirects to this article and isn't even mentioned once. 64.208.122.50 (talk) 22:53, 5 January 2010 (UTC)

Energy Charter[edit]

There is a neat distinction in the Energy Charter where the 1991 declaration uses "will" and the 1994 treaty uses "shall" as the level of obligation and enforceability changed. One example is

  • 2. Access to Markets. The signatories will strongly promote access to local and international markets for energy products for the implementation of the objectives of the Charter. Such access to markets should take account of the need to facilitate the operation of market forces, and promote competition. (1991)[2]
  • ARTICLE 3 INTERNATIONAL MARKETS. The Contracting Parties shall work to promote access to international markets on commercial terms, and generally to develop an open and competitive market, for Energy Materials and Products. (1994)[3]

Is it worth including something like this?--Rumping (talk) 07:28, 17 September 2010 (UTC)

Failure to describe usage[edit]

I came to this article to find out how to use "shall," and I left confused and vaguely angry. Why is it that the "Usage" section, which I would expect to start off with a nutshell summary of the usage of shall vs will, and then expand that to cover all usages, instead looks like this:

[The prescribed usage is largely ignored by American, Irish, and Scottish speakers of English.]

[Useless anecdote]

[In modern English the interchangeable use of shall and will is an acceptable part of standard British and US English.]

[These modal verbs have been used in the past for a variety of meanings.]

[Disorganized list of special cases]

Ok, I get it, it's a complicated word to explain, but could you maybe make a stab at it? In my opinions, as an answer to the question "when do I use the word shall," this article is a failure.

A popular parallel example[edit]

This is given in several places as an example. I'm looking for an original, early source for it, as well as comment on whether in contemporary speech, it is still accurate:

  • A desperate cry for help: “I shall drown, no one will save me!”
  • The intention to commit suicide: “I will drown, no one shall save me!” patsw (talk) 18:36, 8 January 2012 (UTC)

Added. patsw (talk) 03:02, 23 January 2012 (UTC)

Often interchangeable, but always? No[edit]

In 0% of English dialects, "shall" and "will" and their related past tenses are completely interchangeable. Each word has its own subtle shading. Sometimes not so subtle.

There are however certain contexts in which, in certain dialects, they are interchangeable. So I rewrote the article to show that. Matt Yeager (Talk?) 16:01, 9 April 2012 (UTC)

I agree. I have a few small concerns with your edits but you will see what they are with the edits I am about to do so there is little point in discussing them, but obviously if you disagree let's discuss it. Count Truthstein (talk) 20:36, 10 April 2012 (UTC)
I genuinely liked the changes you introduced. I pruned a bit, added a bit, and added a new section for things that are sometimes interchangeable--there's no need to be entirely black and white. Hope you enjoy it. Matt Yeager (Talk?) 17:10, 11 April 2012 (UTC)
I am a 64 year old who grew up in England and have lived in Australia for the last 30 years. I also hold a degree and would regard myself as a well educated and fluent user of my native language. To my knowledge the word "shall" has never passed my lips and I cannot recall anyone in my circle and family ever using the term, both in the UK and in Australia. I WILL keep an ear open as I listen to the TV and general conversations and note if it still actually occurs nowadays. --MichaelGG (talk) 13:25, 11 June 2013 (UTC)