"I shall" more emphatic than "I will"?

englishinmadrid

Banned
England - English
I'm interested in your views (especially those of native speakers) as to whether: "I shall..." is more emphatic than "I will...", or vice versa, or are they simply equivalent in meaning? I'm referring to modern usage only.

My view, for example, is that "I shall return" is a bit like saying "I promise I will return".

The same goes for "we shall" -- "We shall not be moved" is more emphatic than "We will not be moved." Or is it?
 
  • Trisia

    Senior Member
    Romanian
    Ha! I posted a question like that on the Romanian forum - another subject, but I was also feeling nuances where nobody else was :eek: :D

    I think it's up to everyone to decide for themselves which is more emphatic (if any).

    Personally, I feel that:

    I will love you forever - is more of a statement (the sun will always rise blah-blah)
    I shall love you forever - is a declaration, an assurance, if you will.
     

    englishinmadrid

    Banned
    England - English
    Ha! I posted a question like that on the Romanian forum - another subject, but I was also feeling nuances where nobody else was :eek: :D
    So was there no conclusion?

    I think it's up to each one to see which is more emphatic (if any).
    Agreed. That's why I asked the question - to find out what people think.

    Personally, I feel that:

    I will love you forever - is more of a statement (the sun will always rise blah-blah)
    I shall love you forever - is a declaration, an assurance, if you will.
    Those are good examples. So, if I understand correctly, I think you're saying that "I shall love you forever" is a bit like "I promise to love you for ever", so your view is similar to mine - "I shall..." is a little like "I promise to...".
     

    Trisia

    Senior Member
    Romanian
    The conclusion was... that there was no conclusion :( (well, yes, that I was completely wrong but I wouldn't own up to it :D)

    Yes. To me, shall is a tad closer to promise than will.
     

    idialegre

    Senior Member
    USA English
    I was taught in school that there was a difference between "will" and "shall," but I have forgotten what the supposed difference was, and I would guess that 99% of Americans also have. "Shall" has, to my ear, a slightly more refined sound, probably because it is used much less. For the same reason, some hear it as more emphatic.

    There is, by the way, one case in which "shall" cannot be replaced by "will," and that is in the first person plural interrogative:

    "Shall we go on foot, or take the bus?"

    This - to my ear slightly British sounding - usage means, "Should we..." or "Which do we want to do?" It doesn't have quite the same flavor with "will."
     

    Arrius

    Senior Member
    English, UK
    There is a relevant joke about a party of grammarians who were holding a convention in the seaside town of Brighton. A foreigner, not of their party fell into the sea and cried "Oh, I will drown and nobody shall save me!" so the grammarians allowed him to sink beneath the waves and perish without offering any assistance.
    Note: I will indicates volition, and nobody shall, a wish or order on the part of the speaker. He should have said "Oh, I shall drown and nobody will save me", in which case the basically humanitarian but pedantic grammarians would have rescued him.
    I no longer have Fowler's English Usage, but I recall that there are two full pages on this alternating use of shall and will which made my head spin whenever I consulted the article. One may often avoid the issue by using the identical contracted forms I'll and nobody'll(he'll) and. besides, these niceties are considerably blurred, like so much else, in current common usage.
     

    Mezzofanti

    Senior Member
    Native speaker of pukka UK English
    I am one of the dinosaurs who still use the classic English distinctions of "will" and "shall". To me, "I shall return" is not a promise, but a prediction - which is the basic meaning of a future tense. I will return states the determination of one's will. I shall return states the fact that - willy-nilly - the return is going to happen.
    Catholics may remember that the Act of Contrition says "I will not sin again". We were told that you can't say "I shall not sin again" as you can't be sure you won't succumb to temptation (this proved to be true!); you can only state that you have a firm resolve at the present time - hence will and not shall.

    "I shall return at 6 if nothing happens to frustrate my plans" is good classic English. "I will return at 6", if said by an Englishman who still respects these distinctions, is not the natural form of the future - it lays stress on the intention.

    So in fact, in the classic rules, "will" is more emphatic, because "shall" is used with "I" and "we" to express a simple future tense.
     

    englishinmadrid

    Banned
    England - English
    There is, by the way, one case in which "shall" cannot be replaced by "will," and that is in the first person plural interrogative:

    "Shall we go on foot, or take the bus?"

    This - to my ear slightly British sounding - usage means, "Should we..." or "Which do we want to do?" It doesn't have quite the same flavor with "will."
    True, and I think you'll find the same is true in FP singular too, e.g. "Where shall I meet you?" or "Shall I help you?".

    To attempt to illustrate the difference:

    Q: "Shall I call you tomorrow?" --- A: "Yes please."
    Q: "Will I call you tomorrow?" --- A: "I don't know, will you?"

    But to be clear - my original topic question is about shall vs will in statements, not questions.
     

    englishinmadrid

    Banned
    England - English
    ....So in fact, in the classic rules, "will" is more emphatic, because "shall" is used with "I" and "we" to express a simple future tense.
    Interesting, and clearly I can't disagree. I'm only asking about what people's current understanding is. I suspect that, if anything, the respective meanings have become reversed.

    Ok, thinking about it more: Your view could support mine, because "I shall return" would be a categoric prediction of the future, whereas "I will return" only says what you want the future to be.
     

    Arrius

    Senior Member
    English, UK
    I think that elements both of generational and regional usage enter this question.
    An English teacher, meticulous in his usage, always used to ask me "Shall you come to the meeting/ party this evening?" Which I would never say myself. I am not sure whether it was because he was 87 years old (in 1970) or because he was a Yorkshireman, or both.
     

    DearPrudence

    Dépêche Mod (AL mod)
    IdF
    French (lower Normandy)
    Interesting, and clearly I can't disagree. I'm only asking about what people's current understanding is. I suspect that, if anything, the respective meanings have become reversed.

    Ok, thinking about it more: Your view could support mine, because "I shall return" would be a categoric prediction of the future, whereas "I will return" only says what you want the future to be.
    It's funny because at university we were taught that modals have 2 values:
    epistemic & radicale (I don't know what it's called in English :eek:).
    When epistemic, shall = will to express the future, a mere prediction with the first persons. It's even funny because in the 60s, French pupils learnt that:
    I shall
    You will
    He will
    We shall
    You will
    They will

    Anyway, now we more or less say "will" even for "I" & "we" when we want to indicate a prediction.

    When you use it with a "radical" value, then "shall" with I (then I suppose the "shall" is stressed indeed) expresses a strong determination as seen with a sentence like this:
    "Like it or not I shall see him"

    I suppose it's clear as mud but just to let you know what's taught abroad :rolleyes: Happy to see I'm not the only one to have difficult with that "shall" ...

    But in conclusion I would agree with you

    "I shall return" would be a categoric prediction of the future, whereas "I will return" only says what you want the future to be.
     

    englishinmadrid

    Banned
    England - English
    There is a relevant joke about a party of grammarians who were holding a convention in the seaside town of Brighton. A foreigner, not of their party fell into the sea and cried "Oh, I will drown and nobody shall save me!" so the grammarians allowed him to sink beneath the waves and perish without offering any assistance.
    Note: I will indicates volition, and nobody shall, a wish or order on the part of the speaker. He should have said "Oh, I shall drown and nobody will save me", in which case the basically humanitarian but pedantic grammarians would have rescued him.
    I no longer have Fowler's English Usage, but I recall that there are two full pages on this alternating use of shall and will which made my head spin whenever I consulted the article. One may often avoid the issue by using the identical contracted forms I'll and nobody'll(he'll) and. besides, these niceties are considerably blurred, like so much else, in current common usage.
    Thanks for that. I hadn't thought about the context of giving an order. Yes "You shall do your homework, boy!" sounds like the sort of thing my old English teacher might have said (actually it would more likely have been the Latin teacher.) As an order, "You will..." doesn't sound so authoritative.

    Re. contracted forms, personally I would not say I'll for I shall - I would probably shorten shall to sound like "shl", and "Shall I" would become "Shl-I" --- "Shall we" becomes "Shwe"
     

    Mezzofanti

    Senior Member
    Native speaker of pukka UK English
    To Englishinmadrid: I think the "I shall return", by the classic rules, can be a simple future, in the sentence "I shall return by train if there are no buses", but can be emphatic and heavily predictive, even prophetic if one dwells on the word "shall", especially if the sentence ends there. Or if one speaks with solemnity - "we shall fight them on the beaches..."

    To Arrius: I knew a priest who was a stickler for proper wills and shalls, born in 1913, who said to me "Shall you be coming by train?" I think the justification in that question is that the word "shall" in the question anticipates the "shall" of the reply in the first person. I don't think he'd have said "You shall be coming by train" in the same context.
     

    nichec

    Senior Member
    Chinese(Taiwan)/English(AE)
    I'm interested in your views (especially those of native speakers) as to whether: "I shall..." is more emphatic than "I will...", or vice versa, or are they simply equivalent in meaning? I'm referring to modern usage only.

    My view, for example, is that "I shall return" is a bit like saying "I promise I will return".

    The same goes for "we shall" -- "We shall not be moved" is more emphatic than "We will not be moved." Or is it?
    --I shall be only yours, forever. (if you would like me to be)
    --I will be only yours, forever. (I want to be)
     

    Arrius

    Senior Member
    English, UK
    I think General MacArthur and Winston Churchill both used "shall" (in the !st person singular and plural respectively) in the foregoing historic pronouncements to indicate futurity not intention. They wished to refer to a certainty, "a sure thing"; their intention went without saying.
     

    Mezzofanti

    Senior Member
    Native speaker of pukka UK English
    I think General Patton and Winston Churchill both used "shall" (in the !st person singular and plural respectively) in the foregoing historic pronouncements to indicate futurity not intention. They wished to refer to a certainty, "a sure thing"; their intention went without saying.
    Precisely. But the futurity was not the everyday future, it implied inevitable destiny. Hence I would say that "shall" in the first person is (traditionally) the straightforward form of the future tense, that "will" adds a note of determination, but that for a heavier and more solemn effect still, one comes back to "shall", which now has the sound of a biblical "it shall come to pass".
     

    Harry Batt

    Senior Member
    USA English
    There is a great deal of difference in the meaning between shall and will from a legal standpoint. Shall is a command. Will is less emphatic and in some cases only directional or precatory. In a contract or any other legal document such as a statute the use of shall means that the drafter meant an absolute must.
     

    englishinmadrid

    Banned
    England - English
    Precisely. But the futurity was not the everyday future, it implied inevitable destiny. Hence I would say that "shall" in the first person is (traditionally) the straightforward form of the future tense, that "will" adds a note of determination, but that for a heavier and more solemn effect still, one comes back to "shall", which now has the sound of a biblical "it shall come to pass".
    So that would mean:

    1. "I shall return" (most likely you will see me again)
    2. "I will return" (you'll see me again if I get my way)
    3. "I will return" (you'll see me again, I'll make sure of it)
    4. "I shall return" (God/destiny will ensure that you'll see me again)

    Yes?
     

    Mezzofanti

    Senior Member
    Native speaker of pukka UK English
    Yes, that's my understanding very clear set out, as far as the first person usage is concerned, and allowing for the fact that I wouldn't use "likely" as an adverb. :)
     

    Allegro molto

    Senior Member
    Japanese
    Hello

    A. I will never forget your kindness.
    B. I shall never forget your kindness.

    B has a stronger will than A. Am I right in thinking that way, please?

    Thank you
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Hello

    A. I will never forget your kindness.
    B. I shall never forget your kindness.

    B has a stronger will than A. Am I right in thinking that way, please?

    Thank you
    Bear in mind that I live outside the bit of BE where discrimination between shall and will is still practiced.

    By my understanding, B is a simple statement of fact in relation to the future. I believe that your kindness is unforgettable.

    A is a statement of determination, of intent not to forget.

    A BE shall/will specialist is required.
     

    Allegro molto

    Senior Member
    Japanese
    Bear in mind that I live outside the bit of BE where discrimination between shall and will is still practiced.

    By my understanding, B is a simple statement of fact in relation to the future. I believe that your kindness is unforgettable.

    A is a statement of determination, of intent not to forget.

    A BE shall/will specialist is required.
    Thank you very much for your reply.

    My understanding seems to be contrary to your explanation.
    (posted for confirmation)
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Thank you very much for your reply.

    My understanding seems to be contrary to your explanation.
    (posted for confirmation)
    That could be because I got it the wrong way round.

    Here is a post from another thread, by someone who declares himself to be a speaker of genuine UK English.
    I am one of the dinosaurs who still use the classic English distinctions of "will" and "shall". To me, "I shall return" is not a promise, but a prediction - which is the basic meaning of a future tense. I will return states the determination of one's will. I shall return states the fact that - willy-nilly - the return is going to happen.
    Catholics may remember that the Act of Contrition says "I will not sin again". We were told that you can't say "I shall not sin again" as you can't be sure you won't succumb to temptation (this proved to be true!); you can only state that you have a firm resolve at the present time - hence will and not shall.

    "I shall return at 6 if nothing happens to frustrate my plans" is good classic English. "I will return at 6", if said by an Englishman who still respects these distinctions, is not the natural form of the future - it lays stress on the intention.

    So in fact, in the classic rules, "will" is more emphatic, because "shall" is used with "I" and "we" to express a simple future tense.
    Note that this applies only to first person usage.
    For second and third person, the meaning reverses.
    This, amongst other things, makes it hard for non-experts to understand.
     

    Allegro molto

    Senior Member
    Japanese
    Thank you very much, panjandrum, for introducing the thread by Mezzofanti. As I read it, it proved to be of great help to me. :)
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    Moderator note: I have merged the newer thread with an older one where the same question was asked.
     

    Prower

    Banned
    Russian
    So that would mean:

    1. "I shall return" (most likely you will see me again)
    2. "I will return" (you'll see me again if I get my way)
    3. "I will return" (you'll see me again, I'll make sure of it)
    4. "I shall return" (God/destiny will ensure that you'll see me again)

    Yes?
    So how do you know what it is meant?

    Am I right in my conclusion that

    1-2 - The old concept
    3-4 - The mordern concept
     

    Mezzofanti

    Senior Member
    Native speaker of pukka UK English
    Am I right in my conclusion that

    1-2 - The old concept
    3-4 - The modern concept
    No. I believe that EngishinMadrid is trying to set out the full range of distinctions possible using the traditional nuances of will and shall. Numbers 1 and 2 represent the ordinary classic distinction between shall and will in the first person : "I shall" states that it is going to happen, "I will" states that you firmly intend it to happen. Numbers three and four introduce rarer nuances which are recognised by vocal emphasis and by context.
    But today, most people have abandoned this system. Shall is disappearing except for suggesting ideas : "shall we go to the seaside?" And will has therefore become the auxiliary for forming the future tense in all persons. This reduces the number of nuances possible and therefore makes the expression of simple futurity easier in day to day use. But it deprives us of full understanding of the former system and IMO of useful subtlety and elegance.
     

    Prower

    Banned
    Russian
    I see. Just to make sure. Based on this statement how would you answer this question?

    I am one of the dinosaurs who still use the classic English distinctions of "will" and "shall". To me, "I shall return" is not a promise, but a prediction - which is the basic meaning of a future tense.
    You shall return at 6.

    It's not a predection it's an order, isn't it? I mean is it so in conjunction with your system?
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    You shall return at 6.

    It's not a predection it's an order, isn't it?
    I still speak conventional (proper?) BE.

    I shall/we shall - normal future tense
    you will/he will/they will - normal future tense

    I will/we will - emphatic future tense
    you shall/he shall/they shall - emphatic future tense

    Which is why, in Cinderella, the Fairy Godmother says "Cinderella, you shall go to the Ball"

    ... and why the answer to your question is "yes".

    By the way, when Churchill said "we shall fight them on the beaches..." he did not apply particular emphasis to shall. He used it in its conventional sense, as a normal future tense, repeated many times in that speech. You can find the original recording on YouTube. He had no need of emphasis because from his point of view the only possible action the British could take was to fight the enemy wherever they might be.
     
    Last edited:

    Mezzofanti

    Senior Member
    Native speaker of pukka UK English
    Prower, the recent posts above have been talking about the use of either "shall" or "will" in the first person, singular or plural, according to the traditional distinctions of British English. Quite different rules apply to the second and third persons.
    In the second and third persons "shall" implies, ordinarily, the imposition of the speaker's will on the person spoken to or of. Hence :

    "You will do this" is a prediction, just as "I shall do this" is a prediction. Both express simple futurity.
    But "You shall do this" means as you correctly say, that I am ordering you to do it and expect to be obeyed.

    So, yes, this not an exception to my rule that "shall is simple prediction of a future event" because my rule strictly applies only to the first person, traditional English usage.

    In summary, to state what is going to happen in the future, with no other overtones about anyone's desires or orders, the traditional English conjugation is : I shall, you will, he will, we shall, you will, they will.
    In the traditional English usage, "I will" or "we will", do not express bare futurity. They retain something of the original force of the word "will" found in German wollen, French vouloir and Latin velle.
    However "shall" in the other persons ordinarily expresses the speaker's will or command. "He shall do as I say!"

    That said, there are other possible explanations of some of these uses. For instance,
    in reported speech, traditional English usage retains the original form used by the original speaker. "Jack says he shall come" if Jack said "I shall come". "Jack says he will come" if Jack said "I will [intend to] come".
    Or again, in asking questions, there may be a polite attraction of the modal into the form which the interlocutor will naturally use in replying. "Shan't you be cold if you go without a coat ?" "Will you have sugar in your tea ?"

    All of this and more is set out clearly in the Concise Oxford Dictionary and more fully still in the complete OD.

    I hope I haven't left you more confused than before!
     

    Matching Mole

    Senior Member
    England, English
    I see. Just to make sure. Based on this statement how would you answer this question?



    You shall return at 6.

    It's not a predection it's an order, isn't it? I mean is it so in conjunction with your system?
    It's most likely an order (in the "classic" system). More generally, "you shall" indicates an order, obligation, threat, an inevitable fated action, etc. Essentially, acts not controlled by the will of the speaker, but by another. Out of these, an order makes most sense in "You shall return at six" (note that a question about this order, by the person ordered, would be "Shall I return at six?"). In the plain future it is "I/we shall" and "You [and all other persons] will".

    I'm afraid I don't agree about "You shall go to the ball", if this is indeed in the "classic" system. Plain future prediction would be "You will...". "You shall go to the ball" is not the future, but "pure" shall/will, indicating that this action is willed or caused by another, or that it was her fate: the fairy godmother ensures that this will happen is the most likely interpretation to me.
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    I'm afraid I don't agree about "You shall go to the ball", if this is indeed in the "classic" system. Plain future prediction would be "You will...". "You shall go to the ball" is not the future, but "pure" shall/will, indicating that this action is willed or caused by another, or that it was her fate: the fairy godmother ensures that this will happen is the most likely interpretation to me.
    My interpretation of what you have written is that we do agree. The Fairy Godmother uses "shall" because she is going to make damned well sure that Cinders does go to the Ball.
     

    Matching Mole

    Senior Member
    England, English
    My interpretation of what you have written is that we do agree. The Fairy Godmother uses "shall" because she is going to make damned well sure that Cinders does go to the Ball.
    Sorry, I must have misinterpreted your post. I'm glad we agree!
     
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