Difference Between Shall and Can (With Table)

English is the most spoken language all over the world, and also it is used in various official works in different countries. For example, in India, English is spoken in every state and is used in various official works. 

English has its own rules and usage. Such as Modal verbs, through which modality is expressed. Nine Modal Verbs are: can, shall or will, could, might, may, would, ought, must and should. Shall and Can both are Modal Verbs used at different places and sentences.

Shall vs Can

The major and the main difference between shall and can is their usage and their form of tense. Shall is used for future action, interrogating information and seeking advice, offering help or something, and Can is used for giving or asking permission and showing the possibility of something happening.

Shall is a type of modal verb which is used very rarely, or people just avoid using it. It is used in more British English as compared to American English. It usually expresses the inevitability of future events. Although ‘Will’ is used by most of the population at the place of ‘Shall’, but understanding its usage and meaning is important.

Can is the most common and most used modal verb. It is used for seeking permission for something and representing the possibility or impossibility of happening. Can is used for asking questions also. Usage of Can is multiple and tricky too. Its use differs from sentence to sentence in a different tense.

Comparison Table Between Shall and Can

Parameters of ComparisonShallCan
UseIt used for some Future Action.It is used for the representation of any possible chance.
Positive Sentence SentencesProbable Positive sentence.Definite Positive Sentence.
Purpose in Formal SentencesIt is used to describe Obligation.It is used to ask for Permission.
ConstraintsThere are No Constraints.There are Few Constraints.
Tenses associated withIt is used for Future Tense.It is used for Present Tense.

What is Shall?

Shall is a type of modal verb which is used for the following purpose;

  • Making suggestions.
  • Certainty
  • Taking or giving advice
  • Promising and many more

Use of Shall:

  • Shall I help you to clean this table?
  • Shall we move to a new house?

In the above sentences, shall is used for the suggestion.

  • I shall never forget the hard work I have done.
  • I shall take care of myself.

In the above sentences, shall is used for the promise.

  • I’m afraid Mr Kapoor shall become our new Principal.
  • We shall overcome depression.

In the above sentences, shall is used for inevitability/certainty.

  • I shall be there in half an hour.
  • I shall not be hurt by anyone.

In the above sentences, shall is used for future action.

It is used in the future tense, which means ‘shall’ defines some future action for something that will take place in the future. It is not used in American English, ‘Will’ or some other suitable modal verb is used in place of it. In a positive sentence, the subject is used along with shall, whereas in a negative sentence, the subject is used along with ‘shall not. There are not any constraints with the usage of shall.

What is Can?

Can is a type of modal verb which used maximum as compared to any other modal verb. It is used for the following:

  • Expressing opportunity
  • Expressing Ability
  • Requesting
  • Asking or giving Permission
  • Showing possibility or impossibility

Use of Can

  • I can read French.
  • I can speak seven languages.

The above sentences can is used to show the ability.

  • We can go to my aunt’s place when we visit Himachal.
  • I can help my friend.

The above sentences can is used for expressing opportunities.

  • Can I come in?
  • Can I go with you?

The above sentences can is used for asking permission.

  • Can you please pass the book?
  • Can I please sit next to your seat?

The above sentences can is used for expressing the request.

  • Any person can become the Prime Minister.
  • You can achieve anything with hard work.

The above sentences can is used for showing possibility.

It is used in the present tense, which means ‘can’ defines some present action for something that is happening at present. In a positive sentence, the subject is used along with can, whereas in a negative sentence, the subject is used along with ‘cannot’.

Main Differences Between Shall and Can

  1. Shall is used for taking advice, helping, or offering something, whereas can is used to represent the impossibility or the possibility of something, to express opportunity, to perform a particular task at some specific time.
  2. Shall is used mostly in a Probable Positive sentence, whereas can is used in a definite positive sentence.
  3. A formal statement shall is to describe the obligations, whereas the purpose of using can is to ask permission.  
  4. Shall does not give a strong statement or gives support but can do give strong support and strong statement.
  5. Shall always be used in future tense and can is always used in the present tense.
  6. There are few constraints in the usage of ‘Shall’ while no such constraints are there with the usage of ‘Can’.
  7. A negative sentence shall not is used with the subject, where cannot is used with the subject in a negative sentence.

Conclusion

Therefore, it is clear where individual use shall and can. Most people don’t understand the importance of modal verbs. But it is very important as it forms the base of the form of another verb. Also, the whole meaning of the sentence is changed by using a wrong modal verb. And most importantly, the use of these modal verbs varies from sentence to sentence, i.e. positive and negative sentences. Shall is not the very important modal verb as it can be replaced with some other modal verb but understanding the use of can is very important, as it is used in every second sentence.

References

  1. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/dc0b/ac9b34a8a3ff4ac1aa8edd70c0e00f4651e6.pdf
  2. https://www.tesl-ej.org/wordpress/issues/volume3/ej09/ej09r11/
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