Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: shall; will.

shall; will. Grammarians formerly relied on the following paradigm, which now has little utility: to express simple futurity, “I shall,” “you will,” “he will,” “we shall,” “you will,” “they will”; to express determination, promise, or command, “I will,” “you shall,” “he shall,” “we will,” “you shall,” “they shall.” But with only minor exceptions, “will” has become the universal word to express futurity, regardless of whether the subject is in the first, second, or third person. “Shall” is now mostly restricted to two situations: (1) interrogative sentences requesting permission or agreement {shall we all go outside?} {shall I open the present now?}; and (2) legal documents, in which “shall” purportedly imposes a duty {the tenant shall obtain the landlord’s permission before making any changes to the premises}. In both of those situations, “shall” seems likely to persist, but in law it is declining because of increased recognition of its hopeless ambiguity as actually misused by lawyers. Professor Gustave Arlt of the University of California summed it up well, writing in the late 1940s: “The artificial distinction between ‘shall’ and ‘will’ to designate futurity is a superstition that has neither a basis in historical grammar nor the sound sanction of universal usage. It is a nineteenth-century affectation [that] certain grammarians have tried hard to establish and perpetuate. . . . [T]hey have not succeeded.” Quoted in Norman Lewis, Better English 270 (rev. ed. 1961). And if the distinction isn’t real, there’s simply no reason to hold on to “shall.” The word is peripheral in American English. Language-Change Index — “will” for old-school “shall” with first-person nouns: Stage 5. ——————– Quotation of the Day: “Ours is a society with a voracious press, so that officials often have to say something when they have nothing to say, or nothing they can say.” Richard A. Lanham, Revising Prose 63 (3d ed. 1992).
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