I'm sorry if all this has been already discussed, but I couldn't find an exact answer to my question anywhere. I hope you will bear with me. My question is what are the semantic differences between the usage of shall and will in first, second and third person? Especially what should be used in (official/formal) sentences like: The council shall/will appoint a moderator to moderate moderately modearate moderation activities.

Thanks in advance.

Awaiting, illuminating replies
``Quidquid latine dictum, altum viditur''
1 2
Hi Shanth,

Welcome to English Forums.

This subject is a can of worms, and nobody wants to touch it, because opinions are sure to differ. One thing reasonably certain is that 'shall' is fading away, and about the only place you'll see it is in first person questions ('Shall we adjourn?', 'Shall I get the tea?') and in formal or legal written statements like the one you have presented:

'The council shall appoint a moderator to moderate activities.'
Thanks for your quick reply.

I do suppose that the distinction is slightly fuzzy.


``Quidquid latine dictum, altum viditur''
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Dear Shanth,
The distinction is very clear.
SHALL means SHOULD and WILL means WOULD and CAN means COULD.
SHALL is mandatory; something which should be done. Taking your example, "The council SHALL appoint a moderator..." means that it is incumbent upon the council to appoint a moderator and if it does not do so, it is guilty.
WILL is something which is expected, though not compulsory. Taking your example, "The council WILL appoint a moderator..." means that though it is expected of the council to appoint a moderator, but if it does not do so, it is not binding upon it.
CAN means it is the sweet will of the council to appoint or not appoint a moderator and nobody can do aything about it.
Does this help you?
I disagree.

In my work in California environmental law:

"shall" means "must",
"should" implies a suggestion or recommendation,
"will" is obligatory,
"would" is the hypothetical "will",
"can" implies able,
"could" implies possible.

In either case "The council shall..." or "The council will..." they are required to so. This is often (but not often enough) followed with designation of who will see to it that they have, and what the consequences are for failing to do so.

"The council can..." however, I agree is wholy optional. Though I prefer "The council may"
Shall, will, would and should used to have clear meanings. Now, English speakers are using them differently. Unfortunately, we no longer agree on what they mean.

"If you would know the new meanings, then you should look at the old distinctions."

Old textbooks may have the following conjugations:


I shall --- we shall
--- you will
(s)he will --- they will


I shall --- we shall
--- you shall
(s)he shall --- they shall


I should --- we should
--- you would
(s)he would --- they would


I should --- we should
--- you should
(s)he should --- they should

This is unfortunate, all four words were different.

will = what the subject wants and is going to do.
shall = what the speaker wants the subject to do, the subject is going to do it.

would = what the subject wants to do. The subject might do it, but might not.
should = what the speaker wants the subject to do. It might happen, maybe not.

When the subject = the speaker ("I", "we") then shall=will, should=would
and shall and should were the preferred words.


Now we are not so happy being told what to do. They probably weren't happy being told what to do back then; but, they used to accept it more gracefully.

But we do make a big distinction between what we actually do and what we ought to do.
I see the meanings moving in this direction.

will = the actual future wanted or not
shall = the correct future

would = what actually happens under a condition
should = the correct thing to happen under a condition
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I agree with what you have said, but do you have a source for your statements?
shanth_phy: Mr. Henry Fowler, an English gentleman who wrote The King's English way back in 1906, brutally opined that only those "to the manner born" (raised in an upper-class family) could ever hope to use "will" and "shall" correctly. Thus, I have given up.

Here in the United States, most Americans in ordinary conversation use "will" regardless of person. Except in a few questions ("Shall we dance, darling?") and orders ("You shall eat your vegetables and like them!"), the use of "shall" is hardly heard in ordinary conversation.

As one writer said, it is a shame. He pointed out that there is (or should be) a difference between "I shall be here at 9 a. m. as usual" (indicating ordinary future) and "I WILL be here at 10 p.m., waiting for you" (indicating determination).

The US Constitution, not surprisingly, is full of 'shall'.

Here's an interesting example.

No person except a natural born citizen, or a citizen of the United States, at the time of the adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the office of President;

This is of current importance to some opponents of Obama, and I believe it was also used by opponents of John McCain.

Best wishes, Clive
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