LINGUIST List 4.775

Thu 30 Sep 1993

Disc: Shall

Editor for this issue: <>


  2. , Shall and should
  3. "Don W.", Shall or what?

Message 1: Re: Shall

Date: Tue, 28 Sep 1993 12:36:58 Re: Shall
From: BIASCA DEBRA HALPERIN <biascayertle.Colorado.EDU>
Subject: Re: Shall

In response to Larry Coen's posting:
> Interestingly, in the last couple of years I have learned that certain
> government documents (e.g. DoD requests for proposal and contracts)
> distinguish strictly and systematically between their usage of _shall_
> and non-marked terms like _will_, _should_, etc. In these documents,
> _shall_ invariably conveys specific, scheduled contract requirements,
> and the other non-marked synonomous terms are not used in this way.

I note with some surprise that the non-legal community seems unaware of the
distinction, hearty and alive in legalese, between the obligatory "shall" and
the optional "may." "Thou shalt not. . ." is the same usage.

Debra Halperin Biasca
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Message 2: Shall and should

Date: Tue, 28 Sep 93 21:45:30 EDShall and should
From: <>
Subject: Shall and should

I was a little surprised by John Lawler and John Goldsmith's postings
suggesting that 'should I/we' has replaced 'shall I/we' in normal
colloquial speech. Maybe that's right, but at first blush I have
trouble seeing how 'Should we dance?' can be said in place of
'Shall we dance?' or how 'should' can replace 'shall' in
'I know I shouldn't be doing this, but shall I try anyway?'.
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Message 3: Shall or what?

Date: Wed, 29 Sep 1993 22:48:23 Shall or what?
From: "Don W." <webbdCCVAX.CCS.CSUS.EDU>
Subject: Shall or what?

Aside from the use of "shall" as a kind of third-person
imperative, noted elsewhere in the same issue, a query about
the following observation:

>"Shall I go get the groceries?" is something I'd naturally
>say to a much older person; I don't use it in a non-inverted
>or negated context. (To an equal, not in a deferential
>category, I'd say "should I go get the groceries", but
>that would normally be pronounced "[shay] go get the groceries.")
>John Goldsmith

The social-context approach merits consideration, but my
ear detects a difference in meaning between "shall" and "should"
in the examples provided by J. Goldsmith.

 "Shall I go get the groceries?"
 (Implied: "If 'yes', then I'll go get the groceries.")

 "Should I go get the groceries?"
 (Implied: "If 'yes', I'll think about it.")

A somewhat similar question arises in connection with
"will" + infinitive as opposed to "to be going to" + infin.
I would contend that they are not synonymous, contrary to
claims I've heard.

Scenario: You are sitting at a kitchen table. George enters
and says, "I'm going to bake some cookies." You think, "How
nice! George had formulated the intention of baking cookies
before he came into the kitchen."

Repeat scenario: George enters the kitchen, looks at you
and says, "I'll bake some cookies." You think, "What?
Do I look like I need cookies? What, in the present
circumstances, has caused George to formulate the intention
of baking cookies?"

Further: You knock at a door. A person opens and you ask
for George. The person answers, "I'll get him." You answer,
"Okay, I'll wait."

Again: The person answers, "I'm going to get him." Startled
speechless, you think, "What a coincidence. This person was
going to summon George before I even knocked."

What does LINGUIST think? Are "shall" and "should" synonymous
in some contexts? "Will" and "to be going to"?

Don W. (DonWebbCSUS.Edu)
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