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Natives & Tenses: Chapter 12. Future 5: Shall

[All information copyrighted to EnglishAdam.com]

- Most modern usage is as a Modal (describing Mood not Time)
- Use in American English is not common
- Increasingly used less and less in all forms of English

Even so, it is used and it's use (even as a Modal) is normally about the FUTURE, so let's begin!

If COULD is considered the Past of CAN.
What would be the PAST of SHALL?
(The answer is a much more frequently used Modal)


Click me!

And when do use SHOULD?

Well, SHOULD is often used to give advice.
Specifically to tell someone what is 'BETTER'!
'Better' in the sense 'THE RIGHT THING'.
Which is of course SUBJECTIVE!!!

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And if SHOULD is a 'PAST' form, what does that signify?

Well, as we have mentioned, and we will come back to in PART 14,
The PAST is a DISTANCE, it can communicate:
- PAST TIME (obviously!)
And SHOULD is most often associated with being POLITE, FORMAL.
You should study, it's the right thing to do.
You should have rung your grandmother yesterday. (It would have been the best thing to do)

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So let's look at this idea of DISTANCE a little bit more.
Consider these three uses of CAN and COULD:
A) I can swim but I couldn't when I was six.
B) If it rains, I can't come... but I could if you came to collect me!
C_ Hello friend, can you tell me the time?
Hello stranger, could you tell me the time, please?

If something is CLOSE it is PRESENT, REAL and PRIVATE.
If something is FAR it is PAST, UNREAL, or PUBLIC.

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So when something is...
we use...


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So when something is... either
we use...


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So SHOULD is...


Click me!

And so SHALL must be...


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Which is Stronger?
Shall (close) or Should (far)?

Should is 'polite' where SHALL is 'direct'
Should can mean 'better' where SHALL can say 'best'
Should is 'advisable' where SHALL is 'correct'
Should is 'recommended' but SHALL says 'the natural, the moral...result'
SHALL says how things are 'to be'.

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In contracts, which do you think, SHOULD or SHALL, will be used?

There is no discussion, or options/advice here.
"The Hirer shall be responsible for all damages."
That is how it is to be!

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So what might "Shall I...?" communicate?

Perhaps.. "Is it best that I...?"
Shall I phone you later? Is that the best thing to do?
What shall I do? What is the best thing to do?

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So if SHALL is "it is best","it is so", "it is right"...
And it is STRONG, do you think it is COMMON when it is NOT a question to oneself?

Not really.
Because it is so strong and subjective advice, it is often considered too direct between people.
It exists of course!
For example in law, contracts and courts "You shall pay the sum of $10,000."
Or angry parents, "He shall tidy his room, whether he likes it or not!"
And in religious works: "He shall be punished."

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And in Star Wars!
Darth Vader: "Your powers are weak, old man."
Obi-Wan: "You can't win Darth. If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine."
What is the idea of SHALL here?

That this is what will happen.
That it is destiny, written in the stars.

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It would appear that WILL and SHALL share a common feature in relation to TIME, namely?

Neither of them have a PAST in terms of the ACTION happening.
The ACTION sits there and occurs irrespective of BEFORE.

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How would Obi-Wan's phrase change if he had said:
"I will become more powerful..."?

Perhaps here we can see how WILL is personal, it becomes just Obi-Wan's plan...
while SHALL is IMPERSONAL. It is a plan from 'Above'
Like the Universe, the powers of Right and Wrong.
Parents, The Law, God.

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Not always, but often this means that SHALL carries a very DIRECT MORALISTIC tone.
Especially if you are simply trying to give advice about "best" actions...
How do we often reply to the question:
"What shall I do?"?

We do not copy the modal SHALL, but soften our answers,
"Well, I think you should/could ..."
In fact even the question is quite strong and in modern usage:
"What should I do?"
is more common.

Click me!

So quite possibly the reason why SHALL has fallen away in popularity in modern times is because we live in very...

...secular times.
And where we try (publically at least), to be less judgemental and less moralistic about others as a GENERAL culture.
Rightly or wrongly.

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Consider the four sentences:
A) I will help you.
B) Will I help you?
C) I shall help you.
D) Shall I help you?
In your opinion, which are the most natural and/or most commonly used?

Well, A and D!
Let's have a look at each sentence in turn.

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What is the most probable meaning here?
A) I will help you.

This sentence, often said "I'll help you.", is a very common way to OFFER something.
Using WILL indicates that is a NEW PLAN, not thought of BEFORE NOW,
and probably said because of some NEW INFORMATION.
For example I see that your hands are full and you are approaching a door.
It is also possible that the help is not NOW, just that the plan was made now.
"Look don't worry about next week's dinner, I'll help you cook."

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What is the most probable meaning here?
B) Will I help you?

So this is a little strange...
You are asking the OTHER person what YOUR PLANS are in a future given moment.
WILL is indeed used in QUESTIONS when the person believes the ANSWERER can not know for certain the answer.
"What time do you think Johnny will arrive? He's so unpredictable!"
In Sentence B the person is possibly testing the other person.
"So what do you think will happen if you have an accident? Will I help you? "
It's almost like asking someone to PREDICT something BASED ON OPINION, or possibly OBSERVABLE DATA or FACTS
See Part 10 Future 3: Predictions!

Click me!

What is the most probable meaning here?
C) I shall help you.

This would not be a very common expression.
Ok, so this is similar to "I will help you" but there is the tone of DUTY, OBLIGATION,
and possibility MORALS.
Here it has a very similar tone to "I WILL help you", where WILL is the MODAL of DETERMINATION.
See PART 9 Future 2 for more info.

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What is the most probable meaning here?
D) Shall I help you?

This is a very possible usage.
You are simply asking if the best thing to happen is for you to help someone!

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[Sourced: EnglishAdam.com]

Test Your Knowledge!


What would be the PAST of SHALL?

Theory Test

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Click to show


No specific notes on this question yet, sorry.



Practice Your Knowledge!

Cards coming soon!


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