You probably know that both ‘will’ and ‘shall’ are modal verbs. Also, you may have learnt that these modal verbs are used to denote actions that will take place in the future. Having said this, it is important for you as a learner of the English language to understand that besides functioning as a modal verb, the word ‘will’ can function as a noun and also a main verb. Yes, you read that right! This means that like all the main verbs, ‘will’ can take a total of five forms – will, willed, willed, willing, and wills.
Have you heard anyone say something like ‘I am willing to do this task.’? Or have you ever told someone, ‘I am willing to help you.’? Well, if your answer is ‘yes’ to both these questions, then you probably know that it is the -ing form of the main verb ‘will’ that is used in these sentences. But, what makes this word interesting is that when functioning as a noun, it can mean ‘testament’. We are sure your parent has a will for the house he/she owns. Note that when ‘will’ functions as a noun, it is preceded by an article. However, this word has got more meanings; and therefore, we suggest you click on the link given at the end of this post to get to know all the meanings of the word.
In this post, our focus will be on explaining the key differences between the modal verbs ‘will’ and ‘shall’ since many learners have the misconception (a wrong opinion) that we use ‘will’ with the second person (you) and third person (he, she, they, it) pronouns and ‘shall’ with the first person pronouns, namely ‘I’ and ‘we’. And while it is true that ‘will’ can be used with any pronoun to denote a future course of action, there are some situations when we cannot use ‘will’. Doing so may not only change the meaning of the sentence, but the sentence may end up being grammatically incorrect as well.
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Let us first consider a few sentences before getting to understand the differences between these modal verbs. Study the below-mentioned sentences carefully and try answering the questions that follow.
- We will meet with our boss on Wednesday.
- My father will leave for New York on Monday.
- They will have arrived at the railway station.
- He will know where your daughter is.
- I think my mother will return to Delhi tomorrow.
- Expenses shall not exceed 500 dollars.
- If you misbehave, the principal shall suspend you.
- They are terrible people, and that’s why I believe they shall kill your son.
- You shall complete your homework today.
- I shall call you tomorrow.
As you can see, the first five sentences contain the modal verb ‘will’ whereas the last five sentences contain the modal verb ‘shall’. Moreover, not all the sentences talk about a future course of action. The third and fourth sentences, for instance, talk about a very high possibility. Therefore, we can say that ‘will’ as a modal verb can denote not only a future course of action but also a very high possibility. But why do you think the last five sentences contain ‘shall’? Can we use ‘will’ in these sentences instead of ‘shall’? Let’s discuss.
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Use the modal verb ‘will’ with ‘I’ and ‘we’ to denote a promise, determination, warning, threat, or compulsion. To talk about a future course of action, you can use either ‘will’ or ‘shall’ with these pronouns. Look at the sentences given below:
- I shall call you tomorrow. (This is a future course of action; hence, you can also say, ‘I will call you tomorrow’.)
- We will not/won’t allow you to enter the room if you come after ten in the evening. (Warning – Negative construction)
- I will see to it that he gets punished. (Threat)
- We will definitely help your son with his assignment. (Promise)
- I will defeat him in the match come hell or high water.* (Determination)
- We will have to submit the assignments tomorrow. (Compulsion – Please note that we use ‘have + infinitive’ after the modal verb ‘will’ to denote a compulsion; however, in almost all situations, it is possible to omit ‘will’, and use just ‘have + infinitive’ to talk about compulsion.)
*Come hell or high water is an idiomatic expression which means ‘no matter what difficulty or obstacle’.
Use the modal verb ‘will’ with a noun or pronoun to talk about a very high possibility. Use ‘have + verb’s third form’ with ‘will’ to denote that the event is already over or will be over before a specified time in the future. Consider the below-mentioned example sentences:
- They will have arrived by now. (They have most probably arrived.)
- We will have reached Delhi by seven in the morning tomorrow. (The action will complete taking place before a specified time in the future.)
- As you will have observed, the people of this locality are protesting the new land reforms. (Denotes a very high possibility)
- Our father will have spoken with her. (Our father has most probably already spoken with her.)
Use modal verb ‘will’ with ‘you’, ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘they’ and ‘it’ to predict something or denote a future course of action. Look at the following sentences to understand this rule better:
- He will address a gathering next week. (Future course of action)
- The astrologer says you will die of cardiac arrest. (Prediction)
- She will not/won’t complain about us. (Prediction – Negative construction)
- It will be fine. (Prediction)
- They will participate in the competition next year. (Future course of action)
Use the modal verb ‘shall’ with ‘I’ and ‘we’ while talking about a future course of action. However, in modern English, it is also possible to use ‘will’ to denote such actions. Look at the following example sentences:
- We shall/will meet with our boss on Wednesday.
- I shall/will call you tomorrow.
- We will/shall attend this seminar on Sunday.
Note: If your subject happens to be ‘I’ or ‘we’, you can use either ‘will’ or ‘shall’ to talk about a future course of action. If you are a beginner, we suggest you use ‘will’ with these pronouns regardless of whether it denotes a future course of action, promise, determination, warning, threat, or compulsion. That makes things easy, right?
Use the modal verb ‘shall’ with ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘they’ and ‘it’ to denote a promise, determination, warning, threat, or compulsion. Look at the sentences given below to understand this important rule:
- You shall complete your homework today. (Compulsion)
- They are terrible people, and that’s why I believe they shall kill your son. (Threat)
- She pledges she shall make all the purchases. (Promise)
- He avers he shall design the best model. (Determination)
- He shall call me tonight. (Compulsion)
- They shall not/shan’t visit this place henceforth. (Compulsion – Negative construction)
If your subject is a noun, use ‘shall’ to denote a promise, determination, warning, threat or compulsion and ‘will’ to denote a future course of action. Consider the sentences given below:
- Expenses shall not/shan’t exceed 500 dollars. (Compulsion)
- I think my mother will return to Delhi tomorrow. (Future course of action)
- If you misbehave, the principal shall suspend you. (Warning)
- The marriage shall not/shan’t take place this year. (Threat/Compulsion – Negative construction)
- The marriage will not/won’t take place this year. (Future course of action – Negative construction)
So far, we have only discussed affirmative and negative sentences. You need to know that in interrogative sentences, the rules undergo a drastic change. We use ‘shall’ with ‘I’ and ‘we’ to seek permission or make an offer. Study the example sentences given below to understand this rule better:
- Shall I use your phone? (Permission is sought)
- Shall we help you with the project work? (Offer is made)
- Shall I discuss the details with you on Sunday? (Permission is sought)
Use ‘will’ with ‘I’ and ‘we’ in interrogative sentences only if you wish to confirm something. With nouns and other pronouns, use this modal verb to frame a question that deals with a future course of action. Consider the following sentences:
- Will we be attending the function? (Asking to confirm – Please note that here the stress must be placed on the pronoun ‘we’. Also, this sentence is in Future Continuous Tense.)
- Will I have to talk to her? (Clarification is sought)
- Will you go to the market tomorrow? (Because the subject is ‘you’, we cannot use ‘shall’ in this sentence.)
- Will they answer our questions? (Again, ‘shall’ can’t be used because the subject is ‘they’.)
- Will she send us an email today or tomorrow? (The subject being ‘she’, we cannot use ‘shall’ in this sentence too.)
- Won’t they dine out tonight? (This is a negative interrogative sentence with ‘they’ as the subject.)
If your subject is a noun or a third person pronoun, you can use ‘shall’ only if you are seeking permission for someone else. In all other situations, you must use ‘will’. Study the below-mentioned sentences to understand this rule better:
- Shall my son stay at your place tonight? (Permission is sought)
- Shall she make the call this afternoon? (Permission is sought)
- Will his father convey the message to her? (No permission is sought here; hence, the modal verb ‘will’ is used. In this sentence, the speaker wants to know whether or not the father will convey the message.)
Here’s the Catch
Interestingly, both ‘will’ and ‘shall’ have the same contracted form – ‘ll. This means that you can use the contracted form with any pronoun in affirmative sentences, thereby conveying the meaning you intend to convey. Notwithstanding, you have to be careful if the subject happens to be a noun or if the sentence is interrogative/negative interrogative.
Categories: English Lessons