Difference Between Shall and Can

In English grammar we have particular words (modal verbs) that simplifies a larger action sentences into simple words that denotes future action or events in the lineup.

In modern English, ‘shall’ has become uncommon. That means most people just don’t use this word. In fact, in American English, ‘shall’ is very rarely used – it’s mainly found in some questions.

There are some words like ‘can’ used to show ability, possibilities and polite expressions.

There are some words like ‘shall’ used to represent normal future events and strong future events.

Shall vs Can

The main difference between Shall and Can is that Shall is utilised as the future tense while making an offer or giving suggestions. Can is utilised as the present tense in order to express opportunities or alternatives, to promise or for volunteering.

Shall vs Can


Comparison Table Between Shall and Can (in Tabular Form)

Parameter of ComparisonShallCan
PurposeThe word shall is used for the purpose of representing a future actionThe word can is used for the purpose of representing possible chances
MoodCreates a probable positive sentenceCreates a definite positive sentence
UsageFormal statements to describe obligationsFormal statements to ask permissions
SituationWe use shall when we need to make an offer or suggestionWe use can when we need to proclaim the output that is a result of finishing a task
First person pronoun usage allowedShall is allowed without any constraintsCan is allowed under certain constraints


When to Use Shall?

Shall belongs to the category of modal verbs that are used to indicate the future action. It is most commonly used with the first-person pronouns I and We to express a future action.

In formal English, Shall will be used to explain and describe the events that will happen in the future and always gives a room for expressing the happenings as predicted.

Shall is usually more used and heard in British English when compared to American. The usage is also seen most in the formalized format of the language.

Shall is used to express determination in a context (formal context).

Example 1: “All visitors shall observe our regulations”

The next usage of the word shall is for suggestions like an introductory example.

Example 2: “Shall we start our lessons? “.

In British English, shall is used for an intonation more promising or volunteering for something.

For positive sentence, we use a subject with shall, verb and an object. For negative sentences, we use a subject with shall and not, verb and an object. For interrogative sentences, we use WH with shall, subject and verb with an object.

Uses of shall in a nutshell:

We use shall for determination, suggestions, promise and volunteering, future events that indicate inevitably. Below mentioned are some of the examples:

  1. Shall I get some coffee?
  2. That luggage looks heavy. Shall I carry it?
  3. What Shall I do with your instructions?

When to Use Can?

It is one of the most commonly used modal verbs in the English Grammar. We usually use this word can to express an opportunity or ability, permissions and to find out / project the possibilities.

Example 1:

Speaker says: I can leave my car in that parking space.

Here the example says that the speaker will possibly leave the car.

Example 2:

Speaker asks: Can you help me with my work?

Here the example focus on the informal request.

Can is used in a sentence in both positive and negative forms based on the context of general ability, ability during a specific event and in an opportunity also and they can also be categorized for all three forms i.e.

The three major applications of can in sentences are:

  • Expressing ability : Physically able to perform the task or complete the task
  1. Example 1: I can cook well.
  2. Example 2: Birds can fly.
  • Finding out the possibility : It is about predicting the possible outcome
  1. Example 1: I know you can get good results.
  2. Example 2: I can get this task done for you in a day.
  • Offering concept : Offering help for someone in need.
  1. Example 1: Can I carry a bottle of water for u?
  2. Example 2: Can I get back to you in some time?
  • Request something : To ask for permission
  1. Example 1: Can I sit in that chair allotted to me please?
  2. Example 2: Can I go ahead with your confirmation?

Main Differences Between Shall and Can

  1. The main difference between shall and can is the tense that is associated with. Shall is always in future tense and can is always in present tense.
  2. Shall focus on making an offer or suggestions but can focus on expressing opportunities, promising and volunteering.

Difference Between Shall and Can


These little words shall and can causes so much confusion among the general public of different grades because of its usage form in the tenses and the purpose of using these modal verbs.

Most of the formal or informal sentences have these modal verbs that indicates the positivity or the negativity of the sentences hence before using these modal verbs, one should probably understand the context of using these words.

Shall majorly focus on the suggestions and the possibilities of things happening in future and can majorly focus on expressing opportunity, suggestions and voluntarily doing things in the present and it is usually used in those contexts which are usually informal.

Key Differences Between Shall and Can (PDF Format)

Download the key differences in .PDF format, to read or print them later:

Difference Between Shall and Can


  1. https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/shall
  2. https://www.dictionary.com/browse/can
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