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The use of "shall" and "will" in first person singular and plural
Thread poster: Tjasa Kuerpick

Tjasa Kuerpick  Identity Verified
Slovenia
Local time: 17:40
Member (2006)
Slovenian to German
+ ...
Jul 29, 2007

In my old English Grammar book (British English) it says we for first person "I shall sing" and "we shall sing". Now I have received a new grammar book from Britain in which "shall" is not mentioned anywhere, instead the author writes "I will" and "we will". What happened with shall?

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Magdalena Psiuk  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 17:40
Member (2016)
English to Polish
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Natural process I guess. Jul 29, 2007

From what I have noticed, using 'shall' with first person singular and plural for future simple tense is a bit outdated now, and as you said, it has been almost fully replaced with 'will". "shall' is used for suggestions or offers only, as in e.g. 'Shall I help you?'

But let's wait for native English people to speak their minds.


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xxxCMJ_Trans
Local time: 17:40
French to English
+ ...
dumbing down Jul 29, 2007

This is all part of the dumbing down of the English language. I was reading a book by an award-winning novelist the other day and in it the author never once used the subjunctive. Every time she wrote (or maybe her editor corrected her original, who knows?): "I wish I was there" or "If I was you".... Naturally, in "proper" English, these should have been "were" in both cases.

I fear that the process is only just starting. Obviously, there are those who will say that language is for communication and that, as long as people understand each other, the rest is unimportant but it seems to me that it is a great pity that style and flow are being sacrificed to make life easily for the lazy.

Just my opinion but, as a lover of language, I hope it is hared by others.


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xxxE2efour
United Kingdom
Local time: 16:40
Swedish to English
Shall and will Jul 29, 2007

The practice of writing "I shall" (British English) is going out of fashion and it is rare in American English (except in literary styles in the first half of the 20th century, I would imagine).

There never has been any justification for writing "shall" after I or we, but it has always been held up as a mark of good style, and if you are always reading it, you are naturally influenced to copy it!

Since I have been translating (for over 30 years) I have moved from writing "I shall" and now nearly always write "I will".
In my view, "Shall" is best limited to the meaning "must" and expressions such as "shall I open the window?"

Trask (Mind the Gaffe, 2001) rightly describes the rule as "bizarre".

Another point is that no-one says "I shall" or "I will" in practice, but "I'll".


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Language Creations
United States
Local time: 17:40
Member (2011)
Polish to English
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shall is disappearing... Jul 29, 2007

I can quote from Michael Swan, Practical English Usage:

"British people use I shall/I will and we shall/we will with no difference in meaning in most situations. However, shall is becoming very much less common than will. Shall is not normally used in American English."

As an American I can say that we never use it. Maybe someone from England can confirm, but I'm guessing it's just not popular anymore.


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lexical  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 17:40
Portuguese to English
the language has changed Jul 29, 2007

It is certainly true that, years ago (when I was at school), we said "I shall" and "we shall", and "you/he/she/it/they will". This form is now virtually obsolete in modern English.

"Shall" still survives in two forms:

1) In invitations and suggestions: e.g. "It's rather hot in here. Shall I open a window?" or "Shall we go to the cinema tonight?"

2) As an alternative to "must" in contracts and other legal documents: e.g. "The Second Party shall pay the First Party $xxxx on the first day of the month".

Having said that, you will still meet it in books published over 40-50 years ago.

Hope this helps.


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anya doherty  Identity Verified
Chile
Local time: 11:40
Spanish to English
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1st person "shall" Jul 29, 2007

Your old grammar book reflects how "shall" used to be used. Today, for simple future "will" is used for all persons.

However, "shall" may still appear in very formal or literary contexts.
However, "shall" still has some important functions
It is used for making offers and suggestions in interogative form eg. "Shall I buy some bread?" or "Shall we go to the beach?"
It is used to ask for an opinion eg "What shall we do this weekend?"
It is also used as a tag question, at the end of sentences that start with "Let's" eg "Let's ask for directions, shall we?" - which is essentially a suggestion.

That's all I can think of at the moment, hope it helps.


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Steven Capsuto  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 11:40
Spanish to English
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Language changes Jul 29, 2007

I don't think it's necessarily "dumbing down"; languages evolve.

Years ago I read a book about language change that quoted a 16th- or 17th-century century grammarian who lamented that the younger generation was running around saying "you" when they really meant "thou." This was, he implied, evidence that English was decaying beyond recognition. Change isn't decay; it's just change, and it usually moves toward simplification and consistency.

[Edited at 2007-07-29 12:12]


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xxxCMJ_Trans
Local time: 17:40
French to English
+ ...
another point Jul 29, 2007

It seems that many people have forgotten ( or never knew?) that, in fact, there was a difference in meaning between I/we will" and I/we shall" (or you shall/you will) in the good old days.

We shall/you will was the future tense.

We will/you shall - expressed determination or even or an order.
We shall go to London tomorrow = future intention
We will go to London tomorrow (we are determined to go, come hell or high water)

The verb conjunction used to be and still ought to be:
I/we shall
You/he/she/it/they will

Sadly, outside influences seem to be ironing out this interesting nuance




[Edited at 2007-07-29 12:23]


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Tjasa Kuerpick  Identity Verified
Slovenia
Local time: 17:40
Member (2006)
Slovenian to German
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TOPIC STARTER
A few decades in language Jul 29, 2007

Sure! Some time ago I realized the different use of shall and will in Emails. Will is certainly becoming more popular nowadays, isn't it?
But after all I still would like to know the opinion of the English people here. It would be quite interesting to hear, what is taught in British schools about the use of Future tense

So far "shall" seems to be preserved only in the the following meanings as for example in "I shall go to London" = "I intend to go to London" or "I expect to go to London", "I am determined to go there" or it means that I definitely will go to London.
and in a directives in the meaning of an obligation, and at last at last in questions, invitations or as a polite suggestion: Shall we go? Shall she go shopping?

I am sure this is not the only example of how quickly our language changes (was just thinking about that there are only one or two decades since we have learned those rules).


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José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 12:40
English to Portuguese
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Hands-on semantics Jul 29, 2007

lexical wrote:
"Shall" still survives in two forms:
1) In invitations and suggestions: e.g. "It's rather hot in here. Shall I open a window?" or "Shall we go to the cinema tonight?"
2) As an alternative to "must" in contracts and other legal documents: e.g. "The Second Party shall pay the First Party $xxxx on the first day of the month".


I fully agree with you, Lexical. Looking for a practical way of intuitively conveying the difference in the ideas across languages, the attempted explanation that came to my mind was: The "W" words involve the action itself, while the "SH" words involve the need for that action.

Compare:

a) I would have gone out if it were not raining.
In this case, the rain prevented me from going out.

b) I should have gone out, even if it were raining.
Here it implies that there was something important to be done ouside, and the rain is not an acceptable excuse for not having done it.

Now going to two identical phrases:

c) I will pay the full amount upon delivery of the goods.
As I understand it, it implies a sequence of actual events: First they deliver, next I pay.

d) I shall pay the full amount upon delivery of the goods.
This implies that I won't (be committed to) pay until (and unless) the goods are delivered.


This is one of the numerous issues that kept me at a distance from CAT tools for years, and still keeps me out of clients who want discounts for 100% matches, fuzzy matches, and alikes. CAT tools make it too easy to treat such delicate differences as no-brainers and accept them as just the same thing.

Before anyone takes me wrong, no, I'm not an activist against CAT. It's a valuable tool for certain cases, but these must be carefully selected. In the late 1970s I translated 23 technical manuals where CAT tools would have shortened the timeline by some 90%. But several years elapsed between that and my very first contact ever with a microcomputer - an Apple II, which came up years before the first CAT tool.

Such jobs, where differences between one pub to another are limited to numbers, tables, illustrations, and the presence or absence of some phrases or whole paragraphs, are still around. Between these cases and the delicate issue exemplified here, there is a wide gray area. As usual, common sense should prevail.


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xxxE2efour
United Kingdom
Local time: 16:40
Swedish to English
Is there a future tense? Jul 29, 2007

Tjasa Kuerpick wrote:

It would be quite interesting to hear, what is taught in British schools about the use of Future tense

So far "shall" seems to be preserved only in the the following meanings as for example in "I shall go to London" = "I intend to go to London" or "I expect to go to London", "I am determined to go there" or it means that I definitely will go to London.
and in a directives in the meaning of an obligation, and at last at last in questions, invitations or as a polite suggestion: Shall we go? Shall she go shopping?



I don't know what is taught in British schools unfortunately, but it is unlikely that there would be any reference to the future tense, which does not exist in English, we are told. Open a modern grammar book and you will see that there are only two tenses, present and past. In any case what do teachers of English know about grammar, since presumably their studies have mostly been of English literature?

It is fairly common to express intention in writing (or volition according to the grammar book) with "I shall speak to her tomorrow", but this is only a stylistic variant of "I will speak" and confined to the UK. The future is mostly expressed by the present or "will be -ing" plus a time adverb, e.g. "I'm going to London tomorrow", "Tomorrow we'll be flying to Madrid." I find a sentence such as "Tomorrow I will spend the day in the woods" rather unnatural.

By the way, I can't imagine a native speaker of English ever saying "Shall she go shopping?" I don't know what it would mean.


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Spencer Allman
United Kingdom
Local time: 16:40
Finnish to English
shall still exists in the first person Jul 29, 2007

It is quite rare, especially in spoken language, but it is still used occasionally in the first person (at least in the UK). It is often for emphasis, or for effect. This is sometimes more a matter of genre, register and usage than pure grammar. Use a concordancer to find uses of shall and I am sure you will find some interesting examples.

The mistake that some non-native speakers of English make is that they think shall as the first person form is the rule, because of what is written in outdated gramar books. But nothing could be further from the truth.

I am not sure that it is disappearing either: it has simply remained rather rare (in the first person affirmative, non-interrogative form) for quite a long time.


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xxxmediamatrix
Local time: 11:40
Spanish to English
+ ...
To avoid repeating myself ... Jul 29, 2007

... as regards the use of 'shall' and 'will' (also 'is' or 'may be', etc.) in technical standards documents (ISO, IEC, ETSI, etc.):

http://www.proz.com/topic/54270

Other than to add that in many of these texts, the translation into French, German etc. is also different, depending on whether it's 'shall' or 'will' in the English.

MediaMatrix

[Edited at 2007-07-29 13:37]


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lexical  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 17:40
Portuguese to English
2 minor points Jul 29, 2007

Tjasa,

"Shall" in suggestions ("Shall I go shopping?") is only used with "I" and "we". We don't say "Shall she go shopping?"

Your other example ("I shall go to London") would only really be used for emphasis or contradiction e.g. "I don't care that you have forbidden me go. I SHALL go to London". Even then, it sounds rather literary; in modern speech, I think most people would use "will" here.

The famous, often quoted example of "shall" as contradiction is from Cinderella (La Cenerentola), where she is told "You shall go to the ball, Cinderella" (It doesn't matter that your sisters say you can't go, or that you don't have a ball gown or a coach - you SHALL go).

On the whole, it's probably best not to think of "shall" as Future any longer.

[Edited at 2007-07-29 13:45]


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