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Shall versus Will

The rule below about shall/will also applies to should/would, as described at the end.

People may sometimes tell you that there is no difference between shall and will, or even that today nobody uses shall (except in offers such as "Shall I call a taxi?"). This is not really true. The difference between shall and will is often hidden by the fact that we usually contract them in speaking with 'll. But the difference does exist.

The truth is that there are two conjugations for the verb will:

1st Conjugation (objective, simple statement of fact)
  Person Verb Example Contraction
Singular I shall I shall be in London tomorrow. I'll
you will You will see a large building on the left. You'll
he, she, it will He will be wearing blue. He'll
Plural we shall We shall not be there when you arrive. We shan't
you will You will find his office on the 7th floor. You'll
they will They will arrive late. They'll
2nd Conjugation (subjective, strong assertion, promise or command)
  Person Verb Example Contraction
Singular I will I will do everything possible to help. I'll
you shall You shall be sorry for this. You'll
he, she, it shall It shall be done. It'll
Plural we will We will not interfere. We won't
you shall You shall do as you're told. You'll
they shall They shall give one month's notice. They'll

It is true that this difference is not universally recognized. However, let those who make assertions such as "People in the USA never use 'shall'" peruse a good US English dictionary, or many US legal documents which often contain phrases such as:

  • Each party shall give one month's notice in writing in the event of termination.

Note that exactly the same rule applies in the case of should and would. It is perfectly normal, and somewhat more elegant, to write, for example:

  • I should be grateful if you would kindly send me your latest catalogue.

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