What is the difference between will and shall in modern spoken English?

For example I have the following sentences:

He will arrive on Tuesday.

He shall arrive on Tuesday.

Are there any rules specifying usage of will and shall?

Reopen note:

I looked at this question here:

But that question is about the use of the first person with will and shall. In addition one of the comments under here states that will and shall are NOT used in the same way in modern English. The linked-to question says they ARE. Which of these is correct and why?

  • 6
    "I will drown! No one shall save me! No, wait, I mean I shall drown, and...hey, where is everybody?"
    – stangdon
    Commented Mar 30, 2017 at 20:05
  • The duplicate covers it pretty well. Short answer: "will" is plan or intention, "shall" is generally imperative (must); but for first person, a more definitive statement than "will".
    – fixer1234
    Commented Mar 30, 2017 at 20:05
  • ... Do people actually use shall in this case anymore?
    – Catija
    Commented Mar 30, 2017 at 20:07
  • 3
    A Lord of the Rings analogy: "You will not pass" would be a prediction of likely events. "You shall not pass" means it ain't happening.
    – fixer1234
    Commented Mar 30, 2017 at 20:12
  • 1
    Will and shall are NOT used the same way in modern English at all. Shall is quite rare in declarative sentences in modern spoken English (although it is used occasionally). Commented Mar 31, 2017 at 12:11

6 Answers 6


The main use of the auxiliary verbs Shall and Will is to form the Simple Future. However these days, the use of Shall to form the Simple Future is becoming rare (especially in the US).

  1. With modern English Grammar the Simple Future is usually formed with Will.

  2. Shall is often used to make suggestions, offers or ask for advice (with questions using I and We):

    • Shall I carry your Bag? (Offer)
    • Shall I get you a cup of coffee? (Offer)
    • Shall we go out tonight? (suggestion)
    • Shall we take a break? (suggestion)
    • Shall I call again on Thursday? (Seeking Advice)
    • What shall we do with this? (Seeking Advice)
  3. Shall and Will are used to make promises, commands or threats:

    • There shall/will be no trespassing on this property. (Command)
    • You shall/will pay for this. (Threat)
    • You shall/will get your money back soon. (Promise)
  4. In American English Shall is still commonly used in Formal or Legal documents.

    • You shall abide by the law. (Legal)

For more information the references are below:
Cambridge Dictionary
My English Pages


Here's the differences between shall and will - they are interchangeable most of the time.

  • Shall has a "fancy" or "formal" connotation to it.

  • Shall can be used in questions to communicate that you want to take care of or provide service to someone, whereas will cannot - i.e. it can be used in place of may. For example, a waiter can say "Shall I take your order?" to ask for a customer's order, but *Will I take your order?" doesn't work.

  • Shall cannot take place of may if may is being used to communicate a possibility (in contrast to something that we believe will 100% happen in the future). "The car may stop working at any moment" is not the same as "The car shall stop working at any moment."

  • When the subject is not a person, there is more likely to be an implication that the statement is really a request or a decree: The sled shall slide down the hill - someone wants the sled to do that as opposed to it happening due to circumstances. This implication can exist with will but not by default.

  • Shall appears in legal documents and contracts and therefore can have such an implication/connotation.

  • 2
    Yes, in spoken English at least, shall is mainly reserved for offers and appears mainly in interrogative sentences. It is quite rare in declarative sentences where it does have a similar meaning to will. Commented Mar 31, 2017 at 12:17
  • @Araucaria As I added in my answer, there are more exceptions to using one over the other. Commented Apr 15, 2017 at 10:04

On the web and in books different sources tell us different information. However, I have analyzed most of that information and I believe the interjections are the true information. So:

  1. In English the outdated rule is that shall is used with first person pronouns (i.e. I and we) to form the future tense, while will is used with second and third person forms (i.e. you, he, she, it, they).
  2. When it comes to expressing a strong determination to do something (to express a strong feeling that something must definitely happen, or that someone must do something as a duty), traditional grammar dictates that in this case will is used with the first person, and shall with the second and third. This mainly applies to American English and mostly British English.
  3. Some varieties of English, including Scottish and Irish English, tend to use will instead of shall when talking about the future, no matter if it’s with the first, second, or third person pronoun.
  4. In practice, the two words are mostly used interchangeably, and this is now an acceptable part of standard British and American English; however, the word shall is now seldom used in any normal context in American English.
  5. In spoken English, shall and will are usually contracted to ’ll, especially after subject pronouns (I, we, you, they, she, he, it) and therefore there’s no need to worry too much about the distinction when referring to the future.
  6. We use shall in questions to make suggestions or offers, or to ask for advice rather than to refer to future time.
  • Shall we have coffee? (not will)
  • Shall I open the window? (not will)
  1. Shall is most often used in formal written English especially when referring to a legal duty or formal instruction.
  • This document states that she shall not keep the child to herself.
  1. Rule: Will, but never shall, is used to ask or order someone to do something.
  • Will you visit Ann once you're in London? (never shall)
  • Will you shut up, please! (never shall)
  1. The short form of shall not - shan't is very rare in American English and rare in British English.
  2. When talking about the future, will is dominant and shall seems to have fallen into disuse (especially in American English). Shall occurs mainly in questions expressing suggestions or seeking agreement, and in legal usage.
  3. When used with second and third person pronouns shall expresses a command. Both shall and will are sometimes used to make a promise or to express a threat.
  • You shall go to bed now!
  • He shall/will get what he wants if he does what I told him to do.
  • You shall/will pay for this!
  1. When we express willingness we use will.
  • 'I'm sorry, he's talking on the phone right now.','Alright, I will wait.'

The sources of all this information are mainly these:

  1. Oxford Dictionaries
  2. Cambridge Dictionary
  3. Daily Writing Tips
  4. Learn English British Council
  5. Difference Between
  6. English Grammar
  7. Education First
  8. Business Dictionary
  9. BBC Learning English
  10. Woodward English
  11. Merriam-Webster Dictionary
  12. Oxford Dictionary Blog
  • Your post is self-contradictory, old bean ... And some of it is misleading. For example, you write "Some varieties of English, including Scottish and Irish English, tend to use will instead of shall when talking about the future, no matter if it’s with the first, second, or third person pronoun." I don't know a variety of English that that isn't true for!!! It's true for all modern English. Also I don't think the 'traditional' (read nineteenth century prescriptive) rule is of any use whatsoever to readers here, or learners anywhere. Commented Apr 14, 2017 at 23:50
  • @Araucaria Could you argue with the sources? Wherever I read the sources admit that mostly English tends to use will instead of shall for first person in modern English, but not always. Traditional has to be understood. Even while modern English has changed traditional rules still exist and should be known by learners. I myself am a learner and I need to know this. Commented Apr 15, 2017 at 10:02
  • 1
    That's not helpful for learners at all. Because it doesn't work!!!!! :D Don't teach rules that don't work. A rule that doesn't work is not a rule! Commented Apr 15, 2017 at 11:50
  • @Araucaria Excuse me but what rules don't work? Commented Apr 15, 2017 at 13:59
  • 3
    Traditional is dubious. It's better to say that the rule is outdated, old-fashioned, or anything that makes it clearer that the rule is incorrect in Present-Day English. (cc @Araucaria) Commented Apr 16, 2017 at 4:52

Here's what you need to know about will and shall in English.

(1) Will is far more frequent in English than shall. In American English shall is very rare.

(2) Will and shall are both used to describe the future in general:

  • I will be there at around 9 am.
  • I shall be there at around 9 am.

However, speakers are far more likely to use will than shall here. In addition shall can sound too formal or haughty in the wrong situation.

(3) We use shall for offers and suggestions. We can't use will for this. We always use a question form:

  • Shall I open the window?
  • Shall we go to the cinema?

In the first example, I am offering to open the window. In the second example, I am suggesting that we go to the cinema. In both examples I want the listener to make the decision. This use of shall is less common in American English.

Advice for learners

Use will, not shall, for talking about the future in general. Use shall for offers and suggestions.


My English teacher used to say "I and we 'shall' and everybody else 'will'", but this was many years ago and probably doesn't reflect modern English usage.

  • It's the same in modern English but there is a lot more to the usages of shall and will. Commented Apr 8, 2017 at 7:13
  • If you were to edit out the 'probably' you might be in danger of getting a 500 point bounty!!! Commented Apr 14, 2017 at 23:52

The OED has 29 separate primary senses for "shall, v.", and 52 for "will, v.¹".

The short version is that will (indefinite future), going to (near future), and about to (immediate future) are all preferred to shall in modern spoken English with a very few exceptions.

Proper use of shall is based on its original sense of obligation or necessity, as opposed to will's bare statement of desire or fact regarding the future. This is why its use became restricted to the first person: you can make binding promises as to your or your group's own future actions, but cannot properly do so on behalf of others who are outside your control.

Using shall for the second or third person is tantamount to giving orders ("You are obliged to...") and, appropriately, the context where it sees use is in law and legal documents (contracts, wills, prenuptial agreements, &c.). Will and the other expressions have made inroads there as well but shall remains relatively common in most jurisdictions with precisely the divine and obligatory nature implied by the Thou shalts... and Thou shalt nots... of the Ten Commandments. NASA's lawyers even use it for a particular form of imperative in their contracts and requirement specs "to dictate the provision of a functional capability".

(The idea that certain future events take shall in the 2nd- and 3rd-person comes from misunderstanding this feature of the word: will is just as certain but shall connotes a duty to make efforts to ensure its certainty.)

The one redoubt of shall in daily life is in asking questions. Because of the vanilla sometime-in-the-indefinite-future nature of will, it is not usually used to make requests or ask about the near future. Will we dance? is a largely impersonal question about a future event. Will I take your order? is a question that only waiters themselves can answer for certain. Shall I take your order? is a polite request to know if now is a good time for that certain action and Shall we dance? is spoken while rising from a chair and extending a hand. Shall we say... is particularly common, though less so than its effective synonym Let's say... Less often, similar questions can also be asked in the 2nd person—Shall you come?—and essentially wonder whether the listener agrees to place themselves under the obligation to perform the action (I shall come being equivalent to, Yes, I promise that I will come).

  • 2
    I feel you're misunderstanding (or inadvertantly misconstruing) the Oxford entry. It is not "standard" (as in common or normal) in British English to use will and shall in different ways according to different grammatical persons. Rather that used to be a prescriptive grammar 'rule' promoted by nineteenth century pedants and early twentieth century usage guides. It is virtually entirely ignored in modern English -even in formal English- and many, if not most, speakers are entirely unaware of it. Do you have any evidence for your test assertion. Anecdotally, I don't find it convincing ... Commented Apr 14, 2017 at 23:36
  • 2
    ... I've been teaching for quite a while now, (and studying, of course). I've never seen or heard of any modern test that uses that prescriptive rule. I like the part of your post where you say "The short version is that will (indefinite future), going to (near future), and about to (immediate future) are all preferred to shall in modern spoken English with a very few exceptions." <-- to which I don't think British English is that much of an exception. Commented Apr 14, 2017 at 23:38
  • @Araucaria With respect, I don't think my reading comp is the one suffering here. Both the Oxford entry and my post make it very clear that every variety of English mostly doesn't bother with shall at all. On the other hand, as stated, the Oxford cite very clearly supports that extremely formal situations in British English do make note of the distinction.
    – lly
    Commented Apr 15, 2017 at 13:28
  • As far as tests, it certainly isn't part of the American TOEFL but Oxford and the British sources continue to mention it. I'll defer to a cite that it's a nonissue but it still features in IELTS material and is certainly a feature of the Oxford and other British test materials used in the PRC and on the native Chinese Gaokao, the college entrance examination that essentially sets the career trajectories of the leadership of the next superpower.
    – lly
    Commented Apr 15, 2017 at 13:35
  • In any case, for the British grader who does have a hair up his whatsit over the issue, this is how it's supposed to work. As already mentioned, yes, in most informal situations the only oddity would be using shall in the first place. The reply is most likely to be something along the lines of a faux-obsequious "What was that, m'lud?"
    – lly
    Commented Apr 15, 2017 at 13:38

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