the use of shall


why do i use the term "shall i go" instead of "will i go"

asked Jul 03 '12 at 17:51 Jillmaree New member

1 answer


Shall is always used with the pronouns I/We. Shall is used to ask permission. Will is used with the rest of the subjects.


Shall is archaic or formal nowadays.



Nevertheless, the basic distinction is that shall denotes obligation, and will, desire.


I shall do something ... because in some way I have to.
I will do something ... because in some way I want to.


Likewise for the second and third persons.



Here's a quote from Francis Bacon that makes this distinction very clear:

"If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts, but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties."



However, shall for the second person (you) sounds very pretentious, or with biblical overtones: thou shalt not kill. In the third person shall is used fairly commonly, though very formally, to mark an absolute, legal, requirement.


In questions the same distinction holds, but it becomes rather tricky.

"Will I do something?" is a kind of reply when I have already been asked if I want to do something.


"Shall I do something?" is my question about whether or not I am required to do it.

Therefore "Will we sing?" makes no sense as a first question. It is "Shall we sing?", because the man(?) is asking the woman(?) whether there is anything between them to facilitate their turn on the floor. [If the woman is unsure, she could reply, dreamily, "will we dance....". You get the picture. :) ]


"Shall you do something?" and "Shall they do something?" carry the same meaning, but are scarcely used today.



"Will you do something?" and "Will they do something" are quite normal.


If this is all very confusing, the solution is very simple.

Use "I will, we will" when you want to do something.

Use "I must, we must" when you have to do something.

Use "you, he, she, it, they will" in all cases unless "must" is called for.

In questions, use "shall I?" and "shall we?", but, depending on what you want to say, "will you/he/she/it/they" or "must you/he/she/it/they".

link comment edited Jul 03 '12 at 18:02 sanjay Expert

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