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From Middle English schal (first and third person singular form of schulen), from Old English sceal (first and third person singular of sculan ‎(to be obligated or obliged to, shall, must, owe, ought to), from Proto-Germanic *skulaną, from Proto-Indo-European *skel- ‎(to owe, be under obligation). Cognate with Scots sall, sal ‎(shall), Dutch zal ("shall"; from zullen), German soll ("ought to"; from sollen), Danish skal ("shall"; from skulle). Related to shild.



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shall ‎(third-person singular simple present shall, present participle -, simple past should, past participle -)

  1. (modal auxiliary verb, defective) Used before a verb to indicate the simple future tense, particularly in the first person singular or plural.
    I shall sing in the choir tomorrow.
    • 1900, L. Frank Baum , The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Chapter 23
      "My third command to the Winged Monkeys," said Glinda, "shall be to carry you to your forest. Then, having used up the powers of the Golden Cap, I shall give it to the King of the Monkeys, that he and his band may thereafter be free for evermore."
  2. Used similarly to indicate determination or obligation, particularly in the second and third persons singular and plural.
    (determination): You shall go to the ball!
    (obligation): Citizens shall provide proof of identity.
  3. Used in questions to suggest a possible future action.
    Shall we go out later?
  4. (obsolete) To owe.

Usage notes[edit]

  • Shall is about one fourth as common relative to will in North America as in the UK. Some in North America may consider it formal or even pompous.
  • In the past, will and shall have been used similarly as auxiliary verbs for the future tense. The simple future tense traditionally uses shall for the first person ("I" and "we"), and will for the second and third persons.
    I shall go.
    You will go.
  • An emphatic future tense, with a sense of must, reverses the two words, using will for the first person and shall for the second and third person.
    I will go.
    You shall go.
  • Usage can be reversed in questions and in dependent clauses—especially with indirect discourse. For example: Shall you do it? is equivalent in meaning to Will you do it? as it anticipates your response I shall do it. Or: he says that he shall win or he expects that he shall win report his saying I shall win, not I will win.


See also[edit]