Difference Between Shall and Will In English Grammar (With Table)

‘Shall’ and ‘will’ in English Grammar are both modal verbs, a subset of auxiliary verbs. They are used to express modality. They are different from other verbs for their defectiveness and neutralization. Their prime usage is expressing the proposition of the future, usually called the ‘future tense’ in elementary English.

Shall vs Will In English Grammar

The difference between shall and will in English Grammar is that, as a general rule, ‘shall’ is strictly used for making an offer or putting up a suggestion imperatively in question form, whereas ‘will’ is used for affirmative or negative sentences, usually expressing request. In modern-day English, will has replaced nearly all usages of shall. 

Historically, linguistic prescription suggested that shall is to be used to show futurity only when the pronoun is in the first person. The logistic behind it was that shall is used to express inevitably or certainty of action. And such certainty of action can only be ensured when the pronoun talks of itself.  

Though will was commonly prescribed to use with second or third person pronouns, it has no such restrictions. Will has always been used not just to express futurity but also to express desire, consent, or negative constructions, as demanded by the sentence formation. It can be further explained with the help of the following example- 

I shall visit Ani next week. She will cook my favourite food. 

Comparison Table Between Shall and Will In English Grammar

Parameters of ComparisonShall In English Grammar Will In English Grammar
Traditional English usageTraditionally, shall is to be used with first person pronouns only. Traditionally, will is to be used with second and third person pronouns. 
Tone of meaningThe usage of shall in a sentence expresses the inevitability or certainty of the action in the future. Will is used to express desire, consent, affirmation, or negation, as dims fit in the sentence. 
Clarity in usageAccording to modern-day English speakers, its usage is ambiguous.No such ambiguity has arisen regarding its usage yet. 
Modern-day English usageOwing to its heavy misuse, present-day writers, both American and British, are advised not to use the word at all.In present-day English, will is taking over the usage of shall.
Exception from common usageOnly while expressing a command or determination, shall is used after everything except ‘I’ and ‘we’.Only while expressing a command or determination, will is used after ‘I’ and ‘we’.

What is Shall In English Grammar?

Etymologically, shall is derived from a word of old English, sceal, used to merely express futurity. But today, it is being used to express certainty or expectations in the first persona. It is also used to express intentions, obligations, or orders for the second and third persona. Its usage is as follows: 

  • To express futurity.

Example- I shall do my work.

We shall be obliged upon our selection.

  • To suggest or ask. 

Example- Who shall I post this letter to?

Shall we help you?

Shall I help you?

  • To express certainty or assurance of a future event. 

Example- I shall go trekking soon.

We shall visit Kedarnath. 

They shall return us the money. 

  • To offer something. 

Example- Shall I show you around?

Shall we consider you available? 

  • To indicate politeness in the first persona. 

Example- Shall we talk?

Shall I proceed with it?

  • With indication towards a third person in legal documents by people of authority. 

Example- Mr Ganguly shall attend the mediation, as summoned by the court. 

Taxes shall be paid in accordance with the new guidelines issued by the RBI. 

Sometimes, shall is also replaceable by the modal verb ‘must’ such as- 

They must return us the money. 

I must do my work. 

What is Will In English Grammar?

The modal verb ‘will’ has derived from the word ‘willan’ of old English, meaning to want or wish something. However, today, it has a wide genre of usage. Apart from expressing the happening of future events, it expresses desire, consent, intention, capacity, habit, or can also form negative constructions. Furthermore, will is used to express command and determination after first persona pronouns, i.e. ‘I’ and ‘we’. Its varied usage is as follows:

  • To express the surety of events happening in the future.

Example- They will sue us.

We will sue you for your greedy deed.

She will return tomorrow by bus.

  • To express an intention or wish. 

Example- I will buy the car of my dreams. 

We will submit the assignment on time. 

We will make up for the inconvenience caused. 

  • To express a request. 

Example- Will you please pass me the water? 

Will you help me with the assignment? 

Will you shut the door after you?

  • To command or order.

Example- Students will do the assignment on time.

Will you let me live in peace?

Will she shut up? 

  • To express a habit of third person pronouns.

Example- He will mess it up.

She will live up to the expectations of her family. 

Main Differences Between Shall and Will in English Grammar

  1. In traditional English usage from a linguistic perspective, ‘shall’ is restricted to be used only with first persona pronouns, i.e. ‘I’ and ‘we’. Whereas ‘will’ is prescribed to be used with second and third persona pronouns. 
  2. Exceptions in the above rule are only made when the sentence has a tone of determination or order. Only then, will is used with first persona pronouns and shall, with everything else. 
  3. Shall is used with the first persona as its tone is indefinite and of certainty. Whereas will is used with second and third persona because of less certainty about them.
  4. On the one hand, the usage of shall is diminishing day by day because of its ambiguous meaning. Whereas on the other hand, will is replacing its usage because of its versatility.
  5. Shall is common in British English, whereas in American English, mostly, will is used. 

Conclusion

‘Shall’ and ‘will’ are both modal verbs that express future happenings. Although rare in traditional English, in present-day English, they are very often used interchangeably. Yet, they are not synonymous. Traditional English provides rules for their usage, but in present-day English, the only rule that is followed is the rule of convenience.

‘Will’ and ‘shall’, both are used in a sentence when it dims fit and delivers the appropriate tone of the sentence. On the one hand, shall expresses certainty and an imperative tone, whereas, on the other hand, it is also used to express politeness. Similarly, in some sentences, will express the desire or wish, whereas, in other sentences, it also has a tone of command. Thus, their usage solely depends on the speaker.

References

  1. https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/english-today/article/i-shall-and-i-will/EDE409372C337849E5A6B52D4A932834
  2. https://www.degruyter.com/document/doi/10.1515/9783110895339.267/html
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