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Shall or Will: Understanding the Difference and Proper Usage

Shall or Will? Do you often get confused about the proper usage of these modal verbs? Check out the helpful information and examples in this post!
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Whether you’re a newbie or a well-experienced English writer and speaker, you have probably committed some nasty writing mistakes in the past. It’s quite annoying how a single word can quickly damage your credibility, particularly when it comes to writing, right? And let’s admit it. We often get confused with shall or will.

Shall or Will – Which is Correct?

While it can sometimes be fun to break formal and grammatical conventions, sometimes it simply doesn’t work, especially if you are in the blogging or copywriting industry. While most professional writers today embrace the trend of showing off their personal styles, we cannot deny that there are writing mistakes that we need to address to be able to deliver the message we want to convey in a concise and appropriate manner. In this blog post, we’re going to crack one of the most common mistakes we encounter when it comes to using the English language. I shall or I will, which is correct?

Shall or Will: Time for Fun English Grammar Lessons

In this lesson, we will explore the usage differences and grammatical rules of the modal verbs “shall” and “will”. While the two verbs are commonly used to indicate the future tense in English, their usage can be confusing for both native and non-native speakers.

Will and shall are two of the modal verbs in the English vocabulary. Both words have a variety of uses, which include the expression of propositions, particularly pertaining to the future. In the English language, it is commonly referred to as “future tense.”

According to prescriptive grammar, when the subject (first person) wants to express pure futurity, shall is the more appropriate modal verb. For example, “On Friday, we shall go to the ball and celebrate with our classmates in this last year in college.”

Over time, English writers and speakers took for granted this rule, particularly those who live in the United States. The modal verb “will” had fundamentally replaced “shall” in the majority of English contexts.

However, shall is still a part of today’s vocabulary, primarily in bureaucratic documents written by legal professionals. Because of heavy usage, the meaning of this word became ambiguous. The US government even advised English writers not to use the word shall at all. As emphasized by the experts, “shall” is for imposing an obligation on the subject of the sentence.

The Etymology of the Modal Verbs “Shall” and “Will”

To get a better understanding of the word in question, let’s check a little history. The word shall came from Old English “sceal.” It functions as an auxiliary, either representing obligation or simple futurity.

Meanwhile, “will” derives from another Old English world “willan” which means to wish or want. Within the English vocabulary, this modal verb also bears linkage to the lexical verb and noun “will.”

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Both will and shall derive from verbs that had the preterite-present conjugation in Germanic and Old English. It means both words were conjugated as the present tense when using the preterite form. For this reason, will and shall do not take to common –s in Modern English compared to other modal verbs.

Both words’ contracted form is –‘ll. Usually, they appear in affirmative statements, in which they usually follow a subject pronoun. Meanwhile, their negations, will not and shall not, can be contracted to won’t and shan’t.

Shall or Will: Specific Uses

These two modal verbs have been used heavily in the past, and they are still being used up to this day with varying meanings. Although it’s easy to interchange words when we use them as future markers, each of these verbs has particular uses, and it would be hard to interchange them without getting confused about the meanings.

When it comes to everyday English, the verb shall is commonly used in questions that usually suggest or offers something. “Shall I…?”

In terms of statements, shall is primarily used to express instruction or order, usually in the formal or elevated register. However, it is emphasized that will, instead of shall be used to refer to habitual action.

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Here are some examples:

  • You shall submit a book report after reading the novel.
  • One shall strive to be good at all times.
  • We shall make decisions wisely to avoid regrets.
  • He will drink alcohol, whatever I say.
  • He will often cook his favorite dish now that he has learned it.

Likewise, will is also used to tell about something that is likely to happen in the present or future time.

For instance:

  • A car will last a few decades when taken care of properly.
  • That will be my delivery at the door.
  • I think Mary and Mark will get married soon.
  • You will reach your dreams if you work hard for it.
  • Someday, I will become a successful businesswoman.

Will is also used in the English vocabulary to express intention, desire or willingness. This definition blends with its usage, especially in expressing futurity.

How to Use Will and Shall in Expressing Futurity

Again, will and shall can be used to highlight a situation that would occur in future time.

  • Will they arrive tomorrow?
  • I shall finish my dream house someday.
  • Shall we see a new movie?

When both modal verbs govern the main verb’s infinitive, as emphasized in the given examples above, the sentence construction is referred to as the “simple future.” Future marking can work in combination with aspectual marking, ultimately forming the “future progressive tense.”

For example:

  • He will be finishing…(future perfect)
  • He will have finished…(future perfect progressive)

Whenever you have confusion, keep in mind that will is generally considered as ambiguous in a statement with a first-person point of view. Meanwhile, “shall” becomes ambiguous when used in statements with second and third-person POV.

To remove such ambiguities, prescriptive grammar established a rule concerning these usually-interchanged modal verbs. As clarified in this rule, first-person subjects such as I and We go with shall.

Shall or WIll: Their Technical Contexts

When software is involved, the words “will” and “shall” has different special meanings, whereas the word “will” is used to provide a statement for the future, while the word “shall” is used to denote something that is required. 

Moreover, NASA and Wikiversity also distinguished the uses of will and shall. The function of the word “will” is to state a system or device’s purpose, and the use of the word “shall” is to state a system or device’s requirements.

Furthermore, according to the standards set by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission), IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers), using the word “shall” is a mandatory requirement because it implies “have to” or “must”. Meanwhile, the United States Department of Defense (DoD) also clarifies that the word “will” is for futurity or intention, and requirements should use the term “shall” and not the word “must”.

A Recapshall or will

Most writers, especially experienced ones, tend to use unfamiliar words to spice up their works. They do this to bring about a sense of artistry as their readers scroll about their published materials. Whether we admit it or not, this is what we do to establish our independence. Some of us even use unique and old words to describe simple things. This is how we comfortably portray the professionalism or whimsicality of our works.

If you are either an experienced or newbie writer, you are undoubtedly familiar with this topic. You cannot deny the fact that every once in a while, you use certain words that could definitely raise some eyebrows. Whether we admit it or not, it is fascinating. It also brings a sense of uniqueness to our writings. Remember, will and shall are two of the precious ingredients that make up excellent written works. However, some people use (or overuse) them, making their writings harder to understand.

Some writers tend to think that making their works harder to read could give them more recognition. This, of course, is wrong. If people could not comprehend what you are saying most of the time, you are failing to express your message. This is why we should always keep our writing as simple as possible. Apart from that, we should know how to use these modal verbs properly. It is not enough that we place them in our writings for the sake of fragrant sentences. You will get to convey your messages more clearly by using the appropriate method of putting these words.

Shall or Will? Few Key Takeaways and Grammar Tips

We can commonly use the modal verbs  “shall” or “will” when we are forming the future tense. This is the main reason why we use them in the first place. When we write sentences with these words, most of the time, we can use them both. The only difference is when we ask questions. For example, it would be awkward to ask someone, “Will we dance?”, right? That is where the word “shall” comes in. It delivers a more sophisticated and respectful question, rather than forcing someone to do something with you. Meanwhile, it is noteworthy that most people these days, especially in the US, use “will” almost every time for their sentences since it is the safer choice. It is more modern, and it makes understanding our messages quite easier.

To put it in simpler terms, if you want to sound old, artistic, or a little bit dramatic, you can use “shall” for your sentences. If you want to sound a bit up-to-date with the current word choices, then “will” present itself as the ideal choice.

In a technical and casual aspect, we hope you learned something new from this post. Think of what you use often and refer to this post if you are using the words right. Remember, being able to distinguish and use these modal verbs properly might be one of the main ingredients of your success as an English writer or speaker!

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