Dear all,

I would like to know whether native English speakers are using the model auxiliary verb "shall" in their writings and conversation. I've heard that native speakers are now using "shall" only in interrogative sentences, in the first person e.g. Shall we buy a scooter? and in the second and third persons "will" is generally used e.g. Will he play for our team? Kindly tell me whether my observations are correct.

Thank you.


Usage of "shall" may vary in different English-speaking regions. I am a BrE speaker, so my answer will be from that perspective. I use "shall" as you describe – in first-person questions such as "Shall I put this here?" or "What shall we do now?". I also sometimes use "shall" in first-person affirmative sentences, such as "I shall ask him about that". Use in first-person negative statements is reasonably common in BrE, often using the contraction "shan't": "I shan't be going there any more".

I would not commonly use "shall" in the second or third person, especially not in speech. Depending on the exact context and formulation, such usage may feel anything from formal/official to literary to archaic. A randomly Googled example, "they shall remain nameless", feels fine to me in (relatively) formal English, whereas a conversational "Ask him if he shall be coming to the party" would sound weird.

cat navy 425Kindly tell me whether my observations are correct.

They are certainly correct for speakers of English in the United States.

Even sentences of the type "Shall we buy a scooter?" are much more often rendered as "Should we buy a scooter?" And you are much more likely to be struck by lightning than ever to hear the negative "shan't".

In the U.S. you can literally live your whole life without ever using the word "shall" either in speech or writing — though you may hear it or see it once in a great while.


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CalifJimEven sentences of the type "Shall we buy a scooter?" are much more often rendered as "Should we buy a scooter?"

Just to note for the OP's information that "Should we ~" as an alternative to "Shall we ~" is also colloquially common in BrE (with faintly different nuance).

GPYwith faintly different nuance

A little less enthusiasm with "should"; a little more enthusiasm with "shall"? In other words, "shall we" is closer to "let's".

That's roughly the difference in U.S. English.


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