Will and shall: has the rule changed?
Will and shall are both modal verbs used to talk about the future or make suggestions about particular actions. Traditionally, shall is used with first person pronouns (I and we), while will is used with second and third person pronouns (you, he, she, it and they).
- I shall be in Jos next weekend.
- We shall provide all necessary assistance.
- They will send delegates as requested.
- Don’t mind them, you will check the document later.
The contraction of both will and shall is ‘ll, so when we use she’ll, we’ll, I’ll, etc., we don’t bother about the distinction because the shortened forms do not reflect which of the two is used.
The negative forms are will not (won’t) and shall not (shan’t: not common in American English).
Shall is used in suggestion, offer, request or to ask for advice in both British and American English.
- What shall I eat tonight?
- Shall we approve the 2016 budget?
- Shall I lead the protest?
Shall is also common in law but it’s losing its popularity, according to Garner’s Modern American Usage.
- The plaintiff shall present the document and other evidence as and when due.
Will is used when we order or ask someone to do something.
- Will you stop that silly prank!
- Will you attend to them while I make tea?
To be polite in this context, use would or could in place of will.
Changing the rule
When expressing strong determination to achieve something, will is used with I and we, and shall is used with you, he, she, it and they, which means there is a reversal of roles—another rule from traditional grammar. This rule is less followed in present-day English, but you should consider it in formal writing.
- I will not allow that to happen.
- You shall attend to her when I say so!
- They shall wait like everyone else.
Generally, will and shall are now used interchangeably almost all the time. However, will is preferred to shall in everyday English.