Tag Archives: shall

Shall We Say ‘Shall’?

medieval-dancers

Shall we dance?

Who uses the word shall these days? In American English, at least, many of us say will or should, have to, ought to, or need to when our ancestors would have used shall:

  • AS A COMMAND: You shall pick up your toys and put them away.
  • FOR SIMPLE FUTURITY: When shall we expect you?
  • TO EXPRESS AN INTENTION: We shall have to prepare for the storm.
  • TO EXPRESS A STRONG ASSERTION: We shall survive.
  • IN CERTAIN QUESTIONS: Shall we have chicken or fish?

Shall is still formally used in laws and rules:

  • No one shall enter these premises between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.

Do you think that shall is archaic? To modern ears it might sound stuffy or old-fashioned… yet, though we’re not aware of it, some of us use shall quite often, though in an abbreviated form, pronouncing it like “sh’l” or omitting the L-sound altogether:

  • Where sh’l we go for lunch?
  • What sh’ we have for dinner?

Shall in its full form survives even in colloquial speech in suggestions such as

  • Shall we go?
  • Shall we dance?

Traditionally, in the future tense, shall was used in the first person, will in the second and third persons:

  • SINGULAR: I shall, you will, he/she/it will
  • PLURAL: We shall, you will, they will

I suspect, though I have no solid evidence, that British speakers of English use shall more frequently than Americans.

Sources

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