LINGUIST List 4.803

Sat 09 Oct 1993

Disc: Shall

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. Larry Horn, Re: 4.787 Pronouns, Shall
  2. mark, shall
  3. John X. Laporta, Re: 4.775 Shall

Message 1: Re: 4.787 Pronouns, Shall

Date: Sun, 03 Oct 93 10:46:48 EDRe: 4.787 Pronouns, Shall
Subject: Re: 4.787 Pronouns, Shall

I couldn't let this discussion of 'will' vs. 'shall' (especially in connection
with Leo Connolly's post, with its citation of #You will not commit adultery,
 #Shall I die?, etc.) pass without mentioning my favorite illustration of the
standard prescriptive line, according to which 'will' indicates
determination (i.e. a root meaning) for first person but simple (epistemic)
futurity for second and third persons, while 'shall' indicates just the
opposite. The classic minimal pair, then, is that of the two swimmers in
 (1) I shall drown; no one will save me!
 (2) I will drown; no one shall save me!
(1) is, of course, the despairing cry of the swimmer who has lost hope of
rescue, while (2) is the determined promise of the would-be suicide. An
elegant, economical theory which unfortunately seems not to bear any
connection with reality for any period in the history of English. (If you
don't agree, you could test the theory by applying for a grant to bring
Dr. Kevorkian to the seashore...)
 --Larry Horn

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Message 2: shall

Date: Mon, 04 Oct 93 10:53:45 ESshall
From: mark <>
Subject: shall

I've always felt "shall" in contemporary spoken American English
to be a sign of the "imperative interrogative". It asks whether
there is a command/desire, on the part of the addressee or some
person or group whose wishes the addressee presumably knows, that
the S be performed. In the first person singular, this can be
made explicit as "Do you want me to S?". In the first person
plural, it's "Do you think we-inclusive should S?" or "Do you want
us-exclusive to S?". In the third person, parallel to the first,
it's "Do you want him/her/them to S?".

Actually, the wisher doesn't have to be the addressee. It just
works out that way most often, because the alternative is that
you're asking the addressee's opinion on someone else's wishes.
This is the only interpretation of "Shall you S?".

The first person plural is the odd man out, different in that in
the inclusive interpretation, which is by far the more frequent,
the addressee is part of both the "authority" and the
"subordinate", the wisher and the performer. But that's the
nature of consensus.

(By the way, I owe the superficially-paradoxical term "imperative
interrogative" to an acquaintance of my teen years, one Danny
Rosenthal. I thought it to be non-referential until I realized
that it exactly describes the Esperanto construction used to
translate "Shall we S?", and by extension the illocutionary force
of this English construction.)

 Mark A. Mandel
 Dragon Systems, Inc. : speech recognition : +1 617 965-5200
 320 Nevada St. : Newton, Mass. 02160, USA :
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Message 3: Re: 4.775 Shall

Date: Mon, 4 Oct 93 9:23:25 EDT Re: 4.775 Shall
From: John X. Laporta <>
Subject: Re: 4.775 Shall

About shall and will, my high school grammar put it this way.
"Shall" means absolute certainty in the second and third
person and mere statement of intent in the first person.
"Will" means absolute certainty in the first person and
mere statement of intent in the second and third persons.

 I shall go to Mexico (I mean to but may not go to Mexico).
 We will go to Mexico (to get our brother out of jail).
 Thou shalt not kill.
 You shall take out the garbage now, no ifs ands or buts.
 You will have a chance to go to the opera this season.

John X. Laporta
Senior Member of Technical Staff
GTE Laboratories Incorporated
40 Sylvan Road
Waltham MA 02254 USA
(617) 466-2095
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