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shall and will

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shall and will

Postby Philip Hudson » Tue Apr 03, 2012 7:10 pm

Many modern grammarians agree that the distinction between shall and will is moot. It may be so in ordinary conversation, with will taking first place and both meaning the same.

I think this is (or was) the definition of the words in context as follows:

"You (or it) shall..." - It must happen.
"I shall..." - I will probably do it as a matter of course. I predict it but do not guarantee it. This is called simple futurity.
"You (or it) will" - It will probably be done as a matter of course. I predict it but do not guarantee it. This is called simple futurity.
"I will..." - It must happen.

I know this sounds like some rules somebody arbitrarily created. That may be true.

I have written many US military contracts and specifications. In the military's case the above complex rules still obtained when I was writing. If I said, "The device shall be smaller than a bread box," then the resulting box had better be smaller than a bread box or the provider would be in breach of contract. If I said, “The device will be smaller than a bread box,” I was simply making a prediction and failure to actually be able to put the finished device in a bread box did not represent breach of contract.

I hear some people saying shall or will with a definite sentence accent on the word to express determination, and no sentence accent to express simple futurity. That won't work if you are writing unless you capitalize the word, a habit frowned upon by many grammarians.

Has anyone else had this experience? How do you use shall and will?
It is dark at night, but the Sun will come up and then we can see.
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Re: shall and will

Postby Audiendus » Tue Apr 03, 2012 8:39 pm

There are three different uses of shall and will: (a) simple futurity, (b) obligation, and (c) determination. The rules are as follows:

Simple futurity
I shall, we shall, you will, he/she/it will, they will. (1st person = shall, 2nd and 3rd persons = will.)

Obligation
"Shall" in all persons. (Equivalent to "must".) Mostly restricted to 2nd and 3rd persons. Hardly ever needed in 1st person* (you don't give yourself orders!) but there could be rare cases in reported speech – e.g. "The only condition in the deal is that I shall [i.e. must] not disclose my address".

*Except in questions, e.g. "Shall I go now?" (= "Ought I to go now?")

Determination
"Will" in all persons. Mostly restricted to 1st person, but can be used in 2nd and 3rd persons to suggest obstinacy (e.g. "You just will not listen!" "He will keep telling these stupid jokes") or habit ("Every time she comes, she will always apologise for being late").

Philip Hudson wrote:I hear some people saying shall or will with a definite sentence accent on the word to express determination, and no sentence accent to express simple futurity. That won't work if you are writing unless you capitalize the word, a habit frowned upon by many grammarians.

Or you can underline or italicize the word.
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Postby Perry Lassiter » Wed Apr 04, 2012 12:14 am

I believe in legal documents and laws the use of shall indicates no decision on the one carrying it out."He shall lose his license on the second offense." often in contrast to "may," which would indicate judgement on the part of the executor. I believe I was taught "I shall go" and "you/he will go" as simple futurity. If you reverse them, it indicates determination or obligation.
pl
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Postby Philip Hudson » Wed Apr 04, 2012 12:26 am

Audiendus:
Thank you for the shall/will rule set. Our rule sets are at odds with each other. The U S Military gave me the rules I presented. That was thirty years ago. I am sure your rule set is also a standard although with it "I shall" seems to have an indeterminate meaning. I am glad that I don't have to use either rule set in modern parlance.
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Postby Philip Hudson » Wed Apr 04, 2012 12:48 am

Perry: Your response and mine crossed in the mail. I started mine before you started yours, but I am as slow as Christmas so yours got posted first. Your rules seem to be the same as mine so it may be according to the side of the Pond on which we were educated.

Audiendus: "Or you can underline or italicize the word." You could, but I spurn such machinations, although I have no idea why. It might come from my advanced age and my having learned to keyboard on an ancient Underwood typewriter when I was a lad.
It is dark at night, but the Sun will come up and then we can see.
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Postby Perry Lassiter » Wed Apr 04, 2012 12:05 pm

The medium is the message. Hard to underline on most typewriters. Easy to hit the All Caps button. Hard to do lots of things so far on ipads. Our purposes are aimed at making sure we communicate the emphasis, did you mentally emphasize "is" in my first sentence? I did.
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