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Shall versus Will

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Shall versus Will

Postby Philip Hudson » Mon Nov 11, 2013 1:14 am

The modern opinion is that shall and will mean exactly the same thing and can be used interchangeably. It is true that the fine distinction made by some obscure grammarian in the past was created out of whole cloth. However, when writing a U. S. military document in my day, I had to mind my shalls and wills. The ghost of the pedantic grammarian of the past would jump up and bite me if I didn't. When I wrote, "The item shall be a twenty centimeter cube," that meant that the government WILL measure the product and, if it is not a twenty cm cube, it WILL be rejected. When I wrote, "The item will be a twenty centimeter cube," I was merely stating an intention that had no penalty if not achieved.

Has anyone experienced another example when determination and simple futurity are contrasted by shall and will?
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Re: Shall versus Will

Postby bnjtokyo » Mon Nov 11, 2013 5:18 am

H. W. Fowler, revised and edited by Sir Ernest Gowers says ". . . the English of the English differs from the English of those who are not English. The idiom of the former may be roughly summarized thus: that in the first person 'shall' is the 'plain' auxiliary and 'will' the 'coloured', and in the second and third persons it is the other way about."

They define the 'plain' auxiliary as the auxiliary that causes the following verb to be understood in the future or conditional sense while the 'coloured' auxiliary "retain something of the senses or ordering or permitting ('shall') and intending ('will') that originally belonged to the stems."

In my opinion, "shall" is falling (has fallen?) into disuse in the American dialect.
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Re: Shall versus Will

Postby Philip Hudson » Mon Nov 11, 2013 11:49 am

bnjtokyo:

The definition you posted is the one to which I referred. There is no doubt that shall is falling out of the American dialect. If shall and will mean the same, that makes sense.

I am no longer involved in U. S. military contracts and do not know what obtains at the present. My previous observations were based on 30 year-old data, when I was an employee of a large military contractor.
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Re: Shall versus Will

Postby Audiendus » Mon Nov 11, 2013 12:45 pm

In the UK also, shall has mostly been replaced by will, except in formal writing (e.g. "the owner shall provide...") and in questions where one seeks agreement to a suggestion (e.g. "Shall we go now?", "Shall I open the box?").

Philip Hudson wrote:Has anyone experienced another example when determination and simple futurity are contrasted by shall and will?

Here is a three-way distinction:

He will arrive tomorrow. [simple futurity]
He shall not prevail. [my determination]
He will keep telling these silly jokes! [his determination]
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Re: Shall versus Will

Postby Perry Lassiter » Mon Nov 11, 2013 2:57 pm

I've heard there is a legal distinction. Lawyers?
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Re: Shall versus Will

Postby gailr » Mon Nov 11, 2013 9:11 pm

Audiendus wrote:In the UK also, shall has mostly been replaced by will, except in formal writing (e.g. "the owner shall provide...") and in questions where one seeks agreement to a suggestion (e.g. "Shall we go now?", "Shall I open the box?").

Will we go now?
People are milling around aimlessly, no one is likely to respond, no exits will be commenced.

Shall we go now?
Let's get this show on the road, people! But the "getting consensus" subtext makes it sound friendly. :wink:
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