Shall v Will

I’ve always assumed that “shall” and “will” had the same meaning; I know they are the same tense. But as I was writing, I noticed a point in which “will” made more sense to me than “shall,” and I wonder, now, if they differ in meaning greatly, or if use of either is a stylistic desicion. The sentence I was writing is below.

I noticed that “will” seemed to make more sense here than “shall,” in the second half of the sentence.

This way just seemed too much of an order, as though the speaker were saying the other person MUST get along. Is it just me, or is there a nuance I’m circling and not quite hitting?


English ain’t got no Future Tense. To talk of future events we have to use “Will,” “Shall,” or “Is going to.”

“Will” and “shall” are exactly the same in use with the single exception it only apples to the First Person. That is to say “I shall…” or “We shall…” In no case is it correct to use the Second Person “You Shall…” or Third “He shall…”

Hope I cleared that up for ya!

Uh…if anything, you’ve gotten me more confused. Why on God’s green Earth would it be grammatically incorrect to say “you shall” or “he shall?”

Er, “shall” is technically the future tense of “should”… but the worse use changed to mean something that will happen. Today it implies some outside command or reason.

Websters says:

Or you can just dig around Bartleby.

Er, “worse use” should be “word use”

:eek: Thank you, Zagadka!!! ::bows::

It’s not grammatically incorrect to say “you shall” or “he shall,” but they do differ slightly in meaning from “I shall” or “we shall”. Shall (the past tense is “should”) indicates a duty or obligation which comes from the subject of the verb. If the subject is “I” or “we”, then the meaning is similar to “I will” or “we will,” because the speaker is expressing the obligation. But if the subject is “you”, “he”, “she” or “they”, then “shall” has more of the “should” command attribute, as if the speaker of the sentence is obligating the subject to do something.

I will go to the park
I shall go to the park

Pretty much the same thing. You’re going to do it, you’ve made up your mind and that’s that.

He will go to the park
He shall go to the park

The first is neutral – it describes something that’s going to happen. The second implies an obligation – he’d better go to the park or else.

Paul in Saudi might have learned a rule about not using shall with the second or third person because it can sound rude, as if you are ordering other people around. But it is perfectly reasonable to use in a context where an obligation exists.

Much more information on this subject, possibly expressed more clearly, is available in the usage notes on the page for shall. You should check it out.

On preview it looks like Zagadka got their first. I shall have to learn to be quicker.


Traditional explanation:

I/we shall, and you/he/she/it/they will, expresses simple futurity – something that is clearly going to happen, all other things being equal. “The sun will rise tomorrow morning, and I shall awaken.”

I/we will, and you/he/she/it/they shall, expresses determination – “I will prevail, no matter what the odds” or “Despite our poverty, you shall have the opportunity to finish college.”

Amusingly, what screwed this up was somebody using it correctly, but to make a special point.

When Douglas MacArthur was ordered to leave the Philippines, for which he had a special place in his heart, and which were rapidly being overrun by the Japanese, he thought that the wise way to promise their eventual liberation was to avoid using the determination form and state as his conviction in the simple future: “I shall return.” Unfortunately, that got taken as a statement of determination, and about defeated the precisionist usage of shall/will, so that they now are somewhat interchangeable, with “shall” in all persons expressing something more of a determination.

As for “should,” it’s the conditional of “shall” — “If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” It’s used exactly parallelly with “would.” It’s distinct from a quite different use of “should” as a synonym of “ought” – “I should get my homework done, but I think I’ll surf the Internet instead.”

What Paul in Saudi said is technically wrong, but makes the point that in precise language and expressing simple futurity, you use shall in the first person and will in the second and third. What he missed is that when expressing intentionality, you reverse the usage.

Ooh, Zagadka chuckles! ::pokes:: Cool…::hugs madly::

Um…blast. That should be “::pokes::” I need to hit preview more often, as the humour seems to have seeped out of that post now. ::hugs anyway::

What’s really embarrassing is when you perpetrate a double endendre, especially one that alludes to oral sex, and end up with the colon-p combination by accident! Also funny is the one-liner spin on someone else’s innocent remark followed by what was supposed to be “ducks and runs” but, introduced by the colons, comes out as

::Ducks and runs::

Summary future use:
I/we shall
you/you all will
he/she/it/they will

Summer impertive-like use:
I/we will
you/you all shall
he/she/it/they shall

Although as has been noted, we generally don’t generally observe this so much any more.

Although this reminds we need some type of distinction between singular and plural second person. Other than y’all or yous guys. :slight_smile:

According to one reference,

John B. Opdycke, Harper’s English Grammar 111 (1965).

brianmelendez!! :eek: That’s exACTly what I was looking for!!! ::hugs Zagadka anyway::


This Revised Standard Version of the book of Exodus has

Exodus 20
[13] "You shall not kill.
[14] "You shall not commit adultery.
[15] "You shall not steal.
[16] "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
[17] “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant, or his maidservant, or his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”

Make of it what you will/shall.

As someone who has to write laws and regulations for a living, I can tell you that I use “shall” because it has a much more authoritarian tone to is. “The developer shall do X.” means that if he doesn’t I’m taking him to court.