Shall vs. will

  • In the future tense, the use of shall and will is easily distinguished. One is always expected to use will.


    In questions, it is still appropriate to use shall for first person singular (I) and plural (we). However, using shall usually carries a subtext of comedy or irony. Most use will in all cases.


    The original usage of will and shall was able to carry more meaning. If a person wanted to have what he or she said carry a sense of duty or honor, he or she would use shall for the second and third person, and will for the first person. In today’s usage, the meaning would be lost on most.


    1. J. C. Smith says

      I drafted a document about 20 years ago with two attorneys. One of them made a big deal of the “shall-will” difference (as in “carry a sense of duty or honor”) and taught me that lesson in such a way I will not forget it.

    2. “Shall” is often used in architectural specifications (and, I suspect,
      many other similar documents) in contrast to “should.” For instance,
      “Studs shall be 18 gauge” requires that the direction be followed, while
      “Insulation should fill the cavity” is a recommendation (a strong
      suggestion, really), but is not required.

    3. 12July1947_Clifford_Martin says

      “I shall treat that remark with the respect it deserves” is an elegant putdown.

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