Commonly Confused Words: Shall and Will

Granted, there isn’t really a distinction between “shall” and “will” in Modern English, other than a vague sense that “shall” is more formal. Yet I’ve wondered about their difference, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. If nothing else, why would we need a more formal version of “will”?

The words have different origins; “shall” comes from roots meaning “necessity” and “will” from “wish.” It makes sense, then, to have verbs that effectively mean the same thing but with different flavors. I shall do it because I have to; I will do it because I wish to.

For a time, some grammarians suggested that “shall” be used when discussing the future and “will” for any other time. “I will do it” = I will do it right now. “I shall do it” = I will do it in the future.

Other grammarians suggest “shall” is for first person (I shall, we shall) and “will” for second and third (you will, they will).

These days, “shall” tends to sound pretentious. A writer does not have to follow any of the above rules for shall and will, since those are barely rules to begin with. As always, consider the audience: what makes the most sense for them?

About Natasha

Natasha Luepke is a composition instructor and medievalist. She received her MA in Literature and Culture in 2008 from Oregon State University. Currently she lives in Oregon with her husband and cats.
This entry was posted in Commonly Confused Words and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s