Distinction between Shall and Will

November 5th, 2009 in English Grammar, English Learning, ESL

The distinction between shall and will is becoming less significant and is now strictly observed only by precise speakers. Shall is becoming much less common with second and third person pronouns. In the first person, however, shall is still being used to talk about simple future.

Another point that needs to be noted is that in conversation people generally use the shortened ’ll and it may be the contraction of either shall or will.

I think I’ll send him a wire.

Precise speakers will use shall in the sentence given above, but the shortened ’ll doesn’t express whether it is will or shall.  A recent research has proved that most people consider ‘ll to be the contraction of will, which shows that in actual usage will is replacing shall.
We have seen that will is steadily replacing shall in the second and third persons. Another common practice is to use other verbs and forms of expression instead of using shall.
So for example, instead of  saying ‘You shall go at once’, people often say:
You will have to go at once.
You are to go at once.
You must go at once.
You ought to go at once.

Similarly instead of ‘You shall obey me’, we might say:

You will have to obey me.
I will see that you obey me.
You are to obey me.
You will be obliged to obey me.

More examples are given below:

He shall be dismissed. (Less common)
He will be dismissed. (More common)

In questions

In questions, shall is usually used only with first person pronouns.

Shall I go? (seeking permission or advice)
Shall we go for a walk? (making a suggestion and ascertaining the wishes of the listener.)

In questions will is usually used with the second and third person pronouns. Sometimes it is also used with first person pronouns.

Will you come with me to the market? (NOT Shall you come with ….?)
she play with me?
Will they accept our offer?
Will I get a medal if I stand first in the examination?

Notice also how the meaning changes when will is replaced by shall.


The college will remain closed. (= It is possible that the college will remain closed.)
The college shall remain closed. (= It is ordered that the college shall remain closed.)
You shall not throw stones at the dog. (=You are commanded not to throw stones at the dog.)
You will not throw stones at the dog. (=You are not going to throw stones at the dog. I am determined to prevent you from doing that.)