"Shall" Versus "Will"

How British is it to use “shall”?

Bonnie Mills, Writing for
3-minute read
Episode #119


This episode concerns your future: whether you should use shall or will.

Bonnie Trenga (who wrote this week's show) writes, there are two sets of rules: the stickler version and the people’s version. There is also the British version and the American version.

Shall in Britain

The stickler version and British version line up pretty well with each other: tradition holds that you use shall to indicate the future if you are using first person (I or we) and will if you are using second or third person (you, he, she, or they).

So, in England, it would be perfectly normal to say, “I shall have tea with my grandmother tomorrow.” In America, that would sound odd. We Americans would be more likely to have coffee and to say, “I will take my grandmother out for a latte tomorrow.”

Shall With Determination

The British traditionally use shall to express determination or intention on the part of the speaker or someone other than the subject of the verb. Fowler’s offers an example from British author Evelyn Waugh: “One day you shall know my full story.” This does seem to offer a different connotation than “One day you will know my full story.” It makes the author sound more determined. However, using shall in this way isn't common in America (1).


About the Author

Bonnie Mills, Writing for Grammar Girl

Bonnie Mills has been a copyeditor since 1996.