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June 17, 2019

A Grammatical Change in the Use of WILL and SHALL


Here is another pair of words in which a grammatical change has occurred. They are the verbs WILL and SHALL, which are used to form the future tense. Formerly, the verb ‘shall’ was always used with ‘I’ and ‘we,’ and ‘will’ was always used with ‘you,’ ‘he/she/it’ and ‘they’.

There was an exception to this. ‘Will’ was used with ‘I and ‘we,’ and ‘shall was used with the other personal pronouns when a firm intention was being expressed, as in:

‘You shall go to the ball,’ said the fairy godmother to Cinderella.
A Grammatical Change in the Use of WILL and SHALL
In modern usage, ‘will’ is now commonly used in most relevant contexts. The future tense of verbs is formed by using ‘will or ‘shall,’ or a contracted form of these, with the infinitive form of the main verb, as in:

i. The new shop will open for business next week.

ii. We will start work tomorrow.

iii. I shall deliver the goods tomorrow.

iv. She will start her duties next week.

v. Believe me, I will finish this in time.

vi. My wife shall have that diamond necklace, however much it costs.

The word ‘shall is sometimes used when questions are being asked or suggestions being made when these relate to the immediate situation, as in:

i. Shall I proceed?

ii. Shall we get going?

In informal and relatively informal contexts, the contracted form is used, as in:

i. Who'll go first?

ii. What'll you have?

iii. I'll go with you.

iv.They'll get the information tomorrow.

The only thing that is new about this is that this contracted form was formerly found only in spoken English, or in very informal written English. Nowadays, in accordance with the new spirit of informality that has spread through the language, this contracted form is used in some more formal contexts. It should still be avoided in most formal contexts.

© Joseph Baidoo
Joseph Baidoo is a Ghanaian and is popularly known on social media as Misty Joe.

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