Me and my brother were talking about a girl

So he said I shall be perfect for her.

Does shall mean the same as may?


The modal verb "shall" does not mean "may", but it is a synonym for "will" and it is virtually interchangeable with "will"; however, there are slight differences in some cases and there is an old rule that still exists, particularly in England. The old rule says that the simple future looks like this:

Simple Future: I shall, you will, he will, we shall, you will, they will

Emphatic Future: I will, you shall, he shall, we will, you shall, they shall

H.W. Fowler once wrote a treatise on the differences between "shall" and "will". An example of his was that if a man yelled,

"I shall drown; no one will save me!"

he would be crying for help; in this situation, the man would be drowning and in need of being saved, whereas if a man yelled,

"I will drown; no one shall save me!"

then nobody would save the man because the man intends to die. In essence, a man who shouts this is committing suicide. That's what the difference is "technically". If your brother said about himself, "I shall be perfect for her," he was basically saying the equivalent of "I will be perfect for her." It was nothing more than his simple future prediction and he was using "I shall", which is technically more correct than "I will" in this situation, since it is a mere prediction and that's what the rules of English grammar technically call for, although it's a rule that is seldom followed. If he said to you, "You shall be perfect for her," he was basically saying, "You will be perfect for her"; however, he is being assertive about it. In essence, he was almost guaranteeing that you will be the perfect person for her.

The modal "shall" corresponds with "should" just as "will" corresponds with "would". In fact, "should" is the past tense, imperfect, and past subjunctive form of "shall" whereas "would" is the past tense, imperfect, and past subjunctive form of "will", so, essentially, you say "shall" all of the time when you say "should"; this is just its past tense, imperfect, or past subjunctive form depending upon the context wherein it may be used.

Also, grammatically-speaking, "Me and my brother were talking about a girl" is incorrect; it should say,

"My brother and I were talking about a girl."

I hope that might have helped you out. Take care and good luck.

  • I don't think there's evidence for calling Me and x as subject "incorrect", except in some people's opinions (ie, it's prescriptive; it violates some people's ideas of how people ought to speak). If grammar describes how people acceptably produce and receive a language, I'd say, offhand, that rather than being "incorrect", such constructions are used by some speakers of standard English, and not others, or in some varieties of standard English, but not others. It's certainly less formal than X and I as a subject. Me was talking, on the other hand, is ungrammatical in standard English. Nov 20 '17 at 13:40
  • All I know is that I was in 1st grade and I wrote "Me and my mother went to the store" and the teacher crossed it out and wrote above it "My mother and I" and I have followed the rule ever since. In my mind, it is ungrammatical. Is it said a lot? Yes, probably by people whose teachers had never corrected them before the error became rampant in their speech; however, an error is an error. The rule about "shall" and "will" above is one that I'd call the difference between formal and informal; not this one.
    – Nick
    Nov 20 '17 at 14:05
  • If we went by the definition of grammar as "how people acceptably produce and receive a language," then you would be like my former college English professor, who had taught Ebonics as a subject at Ohio State University, if I recall, before becoming a teacher at my school. He was a white guy too. I remember asking, "So you're an expert on Ebonics? Don't you know the word 'ebony' meaning 'black' is in there? I also can't believe the school could get federal funding to teach that as a class. What did it count as? A foreign language?" He explained it was more of a cultural class with grammar.
    – Nick
    Nov 20 '17 at 14:10
  • Yes, he taught Ebonics grammar and that stunned me. He talked about the Ebonic subjunctive and teaching that aspect of grammar. I just shook my head. What a waste of my tax dollars at work, I thought. I could see it as a culture class, but if he was teaching the subjunctive and other grammatical aspects, then he was teaching people to talk like that, and it is not something one should want to learn to speak. If I were interviewing someone for a job and he spoke like that, he wouldn't get the job. The school should have thought about that first and foremost before being that liberal.
    – Nick
    Nov 20 '17 at 14:17

No. Shall means I am (certainly) perfect for her or I will/would (certainly) be perfect for her (if/when she hires me, dates me, marries me, etc.).

May means I might be perfect for her. (I am not certain.)

Note that shall is not very commonly used in this way, at least not in American English. We are much more likely to say I'd be perfect for her (if she chooses me). (I'd = I would.)

Or I'll be perfect for her (once she chooses me). (I'll = I will.)

  • 1
    "I'll" can mean both "I will" and "I shall".
    – Nick
    Nov 20 '17 at 1:48
  • 1
    @Nic Good point, I hadn't caught that. Still, I meant that I'll stood for I will in the example I gave, illustrating my point that "I shall" is relatively seldom used, at least in contemporary American English, and that the contraction is more likely than I will in such sentences. Nov 20 '17 at 13:32
  • Yeah, I gave the old rule, which I sometimes follow, especially when being formal. I figured that would help him understand it better. Fowler's two examples above are really good to show the difference as well.
    – Nick
    Nov 20 '17 at 13:58

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