Let the gentle, kindly phantoms haunt us as they will; we are not afraid of them.

I an confused about the phrase "as they will" – does this "will" means an intention? Like, "all they want?"


Pretty much yes, it's a rather archaic verb form of 'will' as noun -

Pronunciation: /wɪl/
"the thing that one desires or ordains:"
Jane tells St. John that she could marry him if she only knew it was God’s will

[with object]
chiefly formal or literary intend, desire, or wish (something) to happen:
their friendship flourished particularly because Adams willed it


at will
at whatever time or in whatever way one pleases:
he seemed to think he could walk in and out of her life at will

In your context "as they will" is a somewhat archaic phrase meaning "whatever way they want".

You'll nowadays find this expression in the fundamental tenet of the Wiccan faith:

Wiccan morality is expressed in a brief statement found within a text called the Wiccan Rede: "An it harm none, do what you will."

It means: Do whatever you want, just don't harm anyone.

Another common phrase where you hear it is military "Fire at will" - order to open fire at the enemy picking targets of opportunity - not salvos, not cover fire, you pick your targets, and moments to shoot.

  • If I understand correctly, there was no future tense in Old English. Even in modern English, when I hear someone says "I will ...", I still got an impression that he "choose" to do that (by his own will). Am I correct about these? Dec 16 '13 at 9:40
  • I can't say anything about Old English, but in modern the "intent" part is long dead - if you want to imply intent, you use "is going to" although the two are usually interchangeable.
    – SF.
    Dec 16 '13 at 9:56
  • Yes, you're right -- the modern use of "will" for future evolved from this old use. However, that evolution has long since happened, so there's nothing at all strange sounding in a sentence like "I will go to the store tomorrow, even though I don't want to."
    – hunter
    Dec 16 '13 at 11:26
  • In the US, at least, we also talk about a job being "an at-will job", meaning that you have no contract, so you can quit at any time and they can fire you at any time.
    – Jay
    Dec 16 '13 at 15:45
  • @snailboat: outside of "to will something into existence" and the few idiomatic phrases it's very rarely used, replaced almost entirely by "wish", "desire", "want", "like"
    – SF.
    Dec 17 '13 at 0:12

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy