shall - our system shall never block an account

TommyGun

Senior Member
Hello,

Imagine a dialog between a client and a technical support:

- Oh god, yesterday I paid for my internet, but today I've found that my account is blocked.
- Unbelievable. Our system shall never block an account if there is some money on it.


Do I use "shall" right? Wouldn't it better to substitute it with "must" or another suitable word?
 
  • TommyGun

    Senior Member
    Why doesn't "shall" work here?

    My book says that "shall" can be used in a formal style describing rules, for example:
    The hirer shall be responsible for maintenance of the vehicle.

    The fact that the system must not block an account with money can be perceived as a rule, why not?
     

    Szkot

    Senior Member
    UK English
    'Shall' might be used in a contract or other legal document, but not in a dialogue such as the one you invented for your original post.
     

    TommyGun

    Senior Member
    No, because 'may' expresses possibility. This is not possibility, it is a fact.;)
    It could express allowance. The system isn't allowed to block an account by the programmers of the system.

    The fact that you didn't suggest this interpretation makes me think it is rare and be careful not to use it in such contexts. :)

    It has to either either "will" (predictive) or "should" (normative).
    Actually, I'd like to grope for the contexts where using "shall" would be legitimate.

    Let's change the dialog by speculating about the future.

    Client: - I just paid you for the Internet and I want to be sure that it will work tomorrow.
    Me: - Calm down. Our system shall never block an account if there is some money in it.


    I see the following possible senses of this "shall":
    1. Obligation. Our system is obliged by the programmers not to block an account. The sense of this "shall" is similar to "should", but stronger.
    2. My prediction (promise). I take it on me that the client's account will not be blocked.
    3. Determined future. For example, the fact that it will not block accounts is predestined by the nature of the system.

    "Shall" can be emphatic and bizarre, but people different and if one should want to decorate their speech and writing with "shall" in a similar way, will he be understandable?
     

    london calling

    Senior Member
    UK English
    Yes, may can also express permission, but if I were to read Our system may never block an account even if there is some money in it it would not occur to me that it meant that.;)

    And I agree with the others: shall would sound odd in your sentence,as I would only expect to find it in a very formal and/or legal document. If you use it here it will sound very old-fashioned. Not that you won't be understood, of course, but you might get a few smiles.:)

    Can I suggest you read what the WRF Dictionary and all the various threads (here) say about 'shall'?;)
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Britons never shall be slaves. Shall can certainly express firm intent, at a very high register.

    Unfortunately I'm not clear that the technical support wishes to express firm intent, or to strike a very high register here; that opening 'unbelievable' suggests rather the opposite.

    If you are groping for a context in which shall would be legitimate, other than with the first person, try putting you shall into the British Corpus, and you get things like:

    'You shall bear your iniquity,’ he continues, ‘forty years, and you shall know my displeasure.’

    ’You shall not be tempest-tossed, You shall not be work-weary, you shall not be discomforted.’


    I hope you see what I mean about the very high register. If someone on technical support started talking to me like that, I'd ring off.
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    USA English
    We see shall regularly in legal documents, usually as a synonym for must, and it occurs to me we would have no reason to change it when quoting such documents, directly or indirectly:

    (The by-laws clearly state that) our system shall never block an account with money in it.

    Otherwise, I agree with the others that the use of shall does not seem register appropriate.
     

    TommyGun

    Senior Member
    Thank you all.
    We see shall regularly in legal documents, usually as a synonym for must, and it occurs to me we would have no reason to change it when quoting such documents, directly or indirectly:

    (The by-laws clearly state that) our system shall never block an account with money in it.
    Is it normal to use "shall" in technical specifications? Can a specification be regarded as a law, not for people but for a mechanism?

    For example, the phrase "The system shall never block an account if there is money in it" could be a line in the specification for the system.

    If it is so, let's go a little further. Can "shall" be used in a change request for a technical system?

    In our case, let the system be allowed to block accounts first. Suppose that in some time it turned out to be inconvenient for the customers, and a change request was issued. Would it be normal to write in this request like this:
    "The system shall never block an account if there is money in it"
    or would it be better to use "must" instead of "shall"?

    And Forero, as you are a programmer :), would it be normal for quality control engineers to use "shall" in the description of a new bug? In each of the two cases: when the implementation is explicitly contradict the specification, thus the specification could be cited; and if it is an implicit contradiction.
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    USA English
    Thank you all.

    Is it normal to use "shall" in technical specifications? Can a specification be regarded as a law, not for people but for a mechanism?

    For example, the phrase "The system shall never block an account if there is money in it" could be a line in the specification for the system.
    I can imagine it in a legal specification document.
    If it is so, let's go a little further. Can "shall" be used in a change request for a technical system?

    In our case, let the system be allowed to block accounts first. Suppose that in some time it turned out to be inconvenient for the customers, and a change request was issued. Would it be normal to write in this request like this:
    "The system shall never block an account if there is money in it"
    If the request is official/legal, for example between a company and a contracted programmer. Shall suggests a penalty (e.g. not being paid) for an infringement.
    or would it be better to use "must" instead of "shall"?
    I don't think must fits the context I am thinking of, that of a requirement being set out and agreed on as a sort of work order. If you don't want to use shall, use will, or if you mean to allow some leeway should/ought to.
    And Forero, as you are a programmer :), would it be normal for quality control engineers to use "shall" in the description of a new bug? In each of the two cases: when the implementation is explicitly contradict the specification, thus the specification could be cited; and if it is an implicit contradiction.
    I am not sure what you mean by the description of a new bug, but shall is appropriate referring to a requirement or a promise, but not to inadvertent behavior.
     

    TommyGun

    Senior Member
    Thank you, Forero.

    It seems that "shall" makes sense if it is applied to people, or events controlled by people; not just to bare things such as a system.

    It reminds me of another modal verb, "be to".

    We can say:
    The bridge is to open on Saturday. :tick: (controlled by people)
    but can't
    The comet is to return to our solar system in around 500 years. :cross:

    Similarly,
    All payments shall be made in cash. :tick: (by people)
    Our system shall never block an account if there is some money in it. :cross:
     
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