EN: will / shall

Sylva

Senior Member
Belgium - French
Hi everybody,

I am writing a paper - my thesis, actually - and I wonder if it's better to say "I will" or "I shall" in the explanation of my project: "I will/shall show that... etc." What do you think about it?

Thanks for your help! :)

Note des modérateurs : nous avons fusionné plusieurs discussions pour créer ce fil.
 
Last edited by a moderator:
  • Jayhbess

    New Member
    British English
    I suppose it would be considered a little archaic now, but I was taught that in the 1st person, it was always "shall". I shall, you will, he/she/it will, we shall, you will, they will.
     
    Last edited by a moderator:

    polaire

    Senior Member
    English, United States
    [...]

    There are many situations where a person should say "I shall" instead of "I will," but in America it tends to sound pretentious or precious. Usually, it's used slightly ironically in conversation:

    --You'll get going on that right away?
    --I shall!
     
    Last edited by a moderator:

    Smac

    Senior Member
    UK English
    Jayhbess said:
    I suppose it would be considered a little archaic now, but I was taught that in the 1st person, it was always "shall". I shall, you will, he/she/it will, we shall, you will, they will.
    [...]

    Here is my own view of will and shall.
    In the first person, will expresses intention, "I will go to Paris" (whether you want me to or not). Shall is a (fairly confident) prediction about a future action: "I shall go to Paris" (when I get a chance). But the distinction is not widely made and most people use them interchangeably.

    In second and third person, shall is an instruction (pretty well equivalent to must) and will is a prediction: "It will rain tomorrow". This distinction is specified in the rules for writing ISO Standards but again it is not widely understood or observed by native speakers.

    There is a joke about a pedant who heard someone in a lake shouting, (rather improbably) "I will drown and nobody shall save me", and took it as an instruction rather than a call for help. :D
     
    Last edited by a moderator:

    se16teddy

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I broadly agree with Smac. I think that few rules invented by prescriptive grammarians have done more damage to the language than this one. In my view, 'shall' and 'will' have always had distinct meanings (and distinct from other modal verbs that similarly tend to point to the future, such as 'may' and 'must'). I think that careful users of the language should respect these distinct meanings and should not be influenced by the idea that their usage is determined by mere position, rather than by intended meaning. It is not surprising that 'shall' is disappearing if people think that its function should be merely positional.

    Now, these distinct meanings admittedly vary from person to person, and certainly from region to region. Many contributors have suggested that 'shall' is disappearing from everyday American English. (Incidentally, I think we are at risk of duplicating material from a number of English Only threads:
    http://forum.wordreference.com/showthread.php?t=130137
    http://forum.wordreference.com/showthread.php?t=160429
    ...but because this is my favourite hobby horse I will carry on regardless at the risk of getting deleted by a moderator).

    I try to stick to the usage that, in my recollection, older uneducated speakers gave to 'shall' and 'will' as I was growing up (in Yorkshire), and which (I think) is regularly seen in literature from England from the 19th century and before (and less consistently in the 20th). I think these rules can be summarized as follows.
    1. 'Will' expresses intention, consent, or agreement on the part of the subject of the sentence - in a word, the will ('Will you take this man to be your lawful wedded husband? - I will').
    2. In a separate meaning, 'will' expresses probability ('they will be there by now') and by extension futurity (admitting that when we discuss the future we can only speak in probabilities: nothing is certain).
    3. 'Shall' expresses obligation, commitment, duty etc (hence the use of 'shall' in contracts and orders), and by extension also permission (for example 'shall we dance?' is looking for instructions / permission from the interlocutor). In contrast to 'will' No. 1 above, the intention is not in the mind of the subject of the sentence.
    4. Arguably, in a separate meaning 'shall' expresses certainty, e.g. 'We shall overcome'.
     
    Last edited by a moderator:

    Suehil

    Medemod
    British English
    It's very difficult to explain. Look at the two sentences below; if you understand the difference, you will understand the difference between 'shall' and 'will'
    "I shall be drowned, and no-one will save me!" (complaint)
    "I will be drowned, and no-one shall save me!" (statement of intent)
     

    pieanne

    Senior Member
    Belgium/French
    "Will" is now used with any subject to express the future (+ bare infinitive), and abbreviated to " 'll"

    Formerly, "shall" was used with "I" & "we", "will" with the others.

    Now, if you use "will" (in full letters) with "I" or "we", or "shall" with the other pronouns, it expresses the will of the speaker.
     

    temple09

    Senior Member
    English - British
    I am surprised that it has not been stated here, but the usage (in technical terms) is as follows -
    Shall is used by the first person for simple future statements.
    Will is used by the second and third person for simple future statements.

    However, this is reversed in sentences where the intention is to be emphasized, either due to a command, a confirmation, an affirmation or a contradiction -

    "When will you do your homework?"
    "I shall finish my homework later"
    "No, you shall finish it now!"
    "I will not, I want to go out"

    If you use this rule then you are technically correct, however, outside of legal statements (which I note have been already mentioned as using the third person "shall") few would notice whether you are doing this correctly or not, since the correct usage is not known by most English speakers.
     
    Last edited:

    temple09

    Senior Member
    English - British
    The source was English lessons at school, but there are quite a few references available on the net if needed -

    http://www.englishclub.com/grammar/verbs-modals_shall-will.htm

    As I said not "Everybody" knows it, and it is one of the many "rules" which is so little used that it is hard to describe it as a "rule" any more. Hence, for anyone learning English it is a "nice to know" rather than a "need to know"
     

    se16teddy

    Senior Member
    English - England
    which is so little used that it is hard to describe it as a "rule" any more
    Yes, my impression is that this rule was much propagated by prescriptive grammarians from 1850 (or a little before) till 1950 (or a little later); but I see that the tradition is continuing! My impression is also that it was invented by prescriptive grammarians trying to help out their social and educational inferiors who, they felt, must be too weak of brain to understand the semantic distinction that prevailed (everywhere in the English-speaking world, I think) before 1850, and which I described all those years ago in post No. 4.
     
    Last edited:

    sound shift

    Senior Member
    English - England
    As I recall, at school I was never taught anything about "shall" and "will", and I don't read books about "correct usage", but I have always used "shall" and "will". I inherited the usage from my parents, who were not given to reading prescriptive "rules" of grammar. Their parents were not given to reading much at all. In other words, I reckon the "rules" about "shall" were descriptive before the prescriptivists got hold of them.
     
    Last edited:

    Bobstein

    Senior Member
    UK
    UK - English
    I have never been taught that there was difference between shall and will, but then again I've never had a grammar class at school. I did a little research online and came across a BBC World Service page that seemed to be concise and rather informative. (See here). I have always used shall and will interchangeably.
     

    temple09

    Senior Member
    English - British
    Yes, my impression is that this rule was much propagated by prescriptive grammarians from 1850 (or a little before) till 1950 (or a little later); but I see that the tradition is continuing! My impression is also that it was invented by prescriptive grammarians trying to help out their social and educational inferiors who, they felt, must be too weak of brain to understand the semantic distinction that prevailed (everywhere in the English-speaking world, I think) before 1850, and which I described all those years ago in post No. 4.
    Is this to say that you believe the prescriptive grammarians' "rule" to be irrelevant? Whether it was "invented" by grammarians or not, it was taken as read by scholars and grammarians from this stage that this would be the correct usage. I see little difference between this founding of a rule in the 1850s and the founding of correct spelling in the 1750s by Samuel Johnson's first English dictionary. Spelling was abitrary before Johnson. Will/shall may have been arbitrary before the 1850s grammarians.
    The will/shall rule still exists, as I mentioned before and as shown by Bobstein and by this link also - http://www.perfectyourenglish.com/grammar/shall-will.htm
    Whether the rule is followed makes no difference to whether it applies, just like the English form of the subjunctive which is so rarely used today by the majority of the population. Until grammarians agree that the rule is officially defunct then we must assume that it still applies.
    So, as I said before, the rule has been explained, but few in Britain (and even fewer in America) will even notice whether you are using it correctly.
     

    se16teddy

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Is this to say that you believe the prescriptive grammarians' "rule" to be irrelevant?
    Certainly not: it is important to understand this rule when reading British writers (and perhaps others) of the 20th and later 19th centuries, and some from the 21st century.
    Will/shall may have been arbitrary before the 1850s grammarians.
    It was not. As I read Jane Austen and earlier writers, they used shall and will consistently as described in post No. 4. I have been reading Dickens (Oliver Twist) recently: my impression is that he tends to use Temple's style in narrative, but he often uses the style I described in post No. 4 in quotations. My interpretation is that for Dickens Temple's style is appropriate for formal writing, such as his narrative, but post No. 4 style reflects speech.
     
    Last edited:

    Keith Bradford

    Senior Member
    English (Midlands UK)
    What nobody has mentioned is that, in speech, we rarely use these distinctions; we all say 'll for both.

    Which means that whenever we pronounce either will or shall in spoken English, it carries emphasis, conveying determination. "Yes, Cinderella, you shall go to the ball!" (= I'll jolly well make sure of it.) Otherwise, the Fairy Godmother would have said "...you'll go to the ball." I'm sure the two Ugly Sisters didn't tell Cinders "You shall stay at home", they just mumbled like we all do "Y'll stay 'ome".
     

    chamby

    Member
    French
    Hello everybody ,
    I have heard both sentences : the first in a song everybody knows, and the second in a movie. In French, both would be translated the same way. Yet, there IS a difference in English: using Will means something slightly different from using Shall. Could you explain to me this difference ? Thanks a lot. I think using will stresses the fact that you DO WANT TO; then , what do you mean when you decide to use "shall" instead?
     

    snarkhunter

    Senior Member
    French - France
    Bonjour,

    D'une façon générale, je pense qu'on peut dire que l'usage de "shall" exprime une forme d'obligation (consentie ou subie) ou de nécessité (ressentie).

    Quand on dit "I shall (... do this / do that)", ce qu'on exprime, c'est "Ah, il faut vraiment que je le fasse".

    Par opposition, "I will" me semble plus "factuel" (c'est-à-dire davantage de l'ordre du simple constat, même anticipé).

    Je te propose toutefois d'attendre ici l'opinion de personnes plus qualifiées que moi.
     

    timboleicester

    Senior Member
    English - UK
    In general for the example you have given there is no difference between "shall" or "will" Old fashion grammar books state that "I" and "we" take "shall" and the other persons "will" but this "rule" is widely disregarded and "will" is used now for all persons....

    It is true however that "I shall love her" can mean a determination to love her having been instructed not to. Similarly with "will" but these usages are less frequent that the simple future.
     

    DarthSunglasses

    New Member
    United States, English
    In America, anyway, "shall" is considered pretty archaic and/or British (and therefore, in the minds of most Americans, archaic). The only exception would be that you often use "shall" rather than "will" when you want to express that something is necessary (as was mentioned in the original post), but it's far more common with passive than with active verbs in these cases.

    For example: "the law states that criminals shall be punished for their crimes," but "the law states that criminals will serve time in jail." Even here, though, you could use "will be" in the first sentence and "shall" in the second sentence.
     

    gardian

    Banned
    English - Ireland
    In your context I think that a lot depends on the subject area of your thesis and how definitive you can be about the conclusions from your research work.

    Some subject areas yield precise or exact conclusions - e.g. physical sciences, maths (esp.), engineering.
    With this sort of subject area, I'd be confident enough of saying shall.

    Other areas yield good grounds for believing such-and-such factor causes some effect but not not conclusive evidence, e.g. macroeconomics, psychology, educational research.
    Here I reckon it's more realistic to say will, as your efforts toward such conclusions remain a work in progress.

    By the way, for academic thesis writing, it's more usual to use the passive tense rather than the first person, i.e.

    . . . , it will/shall be shown that . . . . .
     
    Last edited:

    jcrow046

    Member
    canada
    I think it's interesting, although maybe not conclusive, to look at the conditional forms.

    I would, I should.

    The former implies, to me, that opportunity will lead to action, whereas the latter implies that obligation leads to action.

    From this, Sylva, I'd prefer the first for your thesis, I will, because you are describing opportunity leading to action. ie. Given the accuracy of this evidence, there is a conclusion. conversely, you are not obliged to show the results, unless of course, you do feel that somebody is forcing you to demonstrate your result.
     

    ingliche

    New Member
    French
    Hello,

    I'm sure this has been discussed before, at least in part, but I would like to clarify the following point.

    The way I understand it, the proper answer (at least grammatically :)) to the question Will you marry me? is Yes, I will and certainly not Yes, I shall, even in "Classic British English" (please forgive the somewhat simplified generalisation) which traditionally observes the distinction between shall (1st person) and will (2nd / 3rd persons).

    This is because in this instance will is not used as a future marker but rather in its original function of modal verb meaning "to want". So Will you marry me amounts to Do you want/wish/consent to marry me? and concerns the present moment and not the future.

    Seen in this light, am I right to assume that answering Yes, I shall to that very question would be rather awkard, suggesting obligation and constraint rather than will and desire, and therefore amounting to a rather dry statement like well, I don't really have a choice, do I?

    Thanks for your help,
    Ingliche
     

    rkf

    Member
    English
    Seen in this light, am I right to assume that answering Yes, I shall to that very question would be rather awkard, suggesting obligation and constraint rather than will and desire, and therefore amounting to a rather dry statement like well, I don't really have a choice, do I?
    No, that's not how I would understand it. To me the distinction is simply that "Yes, I will" sounds normal and "Yes, I shall" sounds like it came out of a 19th-century novel.

    Though after reading the wikipedia page (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shall_and_will) and thinking about it, I believe you're right about "shall" expressing obligation. It doesn't come across so much in the marriage proposal situation though. It makes more sense in the 2nd person, like "You shall be here by 8:00 tomorrow".
    Though honestly I think 90% of the distinction between will and shall is simply that shall sounds very formal.

    The only time I would definitely use shall instead of will is in questions like "Shall we go?", "Shall we eat now?", which are not about the future, but rather something like "Do you want that ...?".
     

    ingliche

    New Member
    French
    Thank you, RKF, for your reply.

    Considering that Yes, I will (which in the present instance conveys will and desire rather than the future) is the expected answer, could Yes, I shall (that does not have the implication of will and desire) be construed as a rather lukewarm (i.e. unenthusiastic and/or dry) answer?
    Again, lukewarm only because of the contrast between Yes I shall and the expected answer Yes I will ?
    Thanks.
     

    rkf

    Member
    English
    I think that's reading too much into it. Yes, I shall just sounds old-fashioned and formal. The tone of voice (or in writing, whether there's a ! or a .) would determine whether it's enthusiastic or not.
     

    ingliche

    New Member
    French
    Thank you, RKF and Keith, for your swift replies. It is really handy to have helpful native speakers just one click away ;-)
    I hope I can be of assistance with the French language some day.

    -- Ingliche
     
    Last edited:
    < Previous | Next >
    Top