Recently I asked: "Are will and shall synonyms?" And they kind of were.

But now I would like to ask: Why are shall and should used interchangeably sometimes?

For example

You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall(should) not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall(will) surely die.”

I guess in first one shall means should

And in the second it means will

  • 2
    "Shall" does not mean "should" in the first one. "Shall" means "must" in the first one. As Nicholas Castagnola says, "shall" in the 2nd and 3rd persons is used to give commands or express rules (it is often found in government legislation, as well as in the traditional version of the ten commandments). "Should" has a weaker sense. If you tell someone that they shouldn't do something, they might say "well, I know I shouldn't really, but I want to". If you tell someone that they mustn't do something, they can't say "I mustn't, but ..." - it barely even makes sense: "must" is absolute.
    – rjpond
    Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 8:16
  • For once, I agree with rjpond; however, I just want to add that this rule is seldom followed in everyday speech. I would play this game with my mother when I was a kid: she would say something like, "Nick, if you continue to do this, you will not go to your friend's house tonight." And I'd tell her that that's not a command because she used "will" instead of "shall", so she's just predicting that I'm not going to go to my friend's house; then she would retort, "Stop playing with semantics, Nick! You know damn well what I meant!"
    – Nick
    Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 21:00

2 Answers 2


Okay, "shall" and "will" are used interchangeably often, but there's a slight difference. See my post herein to read about it: What is the difference between shall and may.

As for "shall" and "should", "should" is the past tense, imperfect, and past subjunctive form of "shall", so they have several overlapping meanings. The modal shall comes from Old English sculan meaning to owe. First-person present indicative of sculan was ic sceal, meaning I shall, whereas the past indicative and past subjunctive were both ic sceolde, meaning I should.

The old future tense rule has the following paradigm:

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

As for your examples above, "you shall not eat" is a command, i.e. "I order you not to eat", and is much more powerful than the simple "you should not eat", which is more of a suggestion such as "you ought not to eat." In your second usage of "shall", "you shall surely die" is far more powerful than "you will surely die." If you used "will" there, it would be more of a prediction that you're going to die whereas the usage of "shall" therein is prophetic: you are like a soothsayer; you can see into the future and so you are prophesying what shall happen. The usage of "shall" almost guarantees that the event will occur.

Here are some examples below using the formal English future-tense rule:

"I shall not be in school tomorrow." (a prediction)

"I will not be in school tomorrow." (you intend to skip school or you intend on not coming)

"You will not eat that fruit." (a prediction)

"You shall not eat that fruit." (a command: "you had better not eat it.")

"They will not pass." (a prediction)

"They shall not pass." (a command: "no way are they passing!")

"We shall die." (a prediction)

"We will die." (we intend to die; this is either suicide or a guarantee of death)

"You will win the game!" (a prediction)

"You shall win the game!" (a prophecy or a guarantee of a future occurrence)

Now, I want to reiterate that the examples above use the old future-tense rule whereon Fowler wrote his treatise in 1908. While some of the above usages still occur in English today although often inconsistently, many of them would be considered quite formal or outmoded. You should be aware of them, however, especially when you are reading the King James Bible or the English Standard Version, because this old rule is often followed in those versions of the Bible.


Should and shall are the same word. Shall is the form in the indicative mood, and should is the form in the subjunctive mood. Should is also the past tense form in the indicative mood.

Grammatically, you might therefore expect the second shall in your quotation to be should instead since it expresses a hypothetical event that will only occur in the event that the fruit is eaten.

Why the translators chose shall, I don't know. Possibly they felt that God, being omniscient, would not speak as if He were uncertain of the future. Possibly they were attempting to represent some grammar in the language they were translating from that does not translate perfectly to English.

In general, Bible translations don't attempt to use English the same way we do in every day conversation.

  • I agree with this assessment, but I should like to add that the translation is the King James version, so that's probably why it uses shall therein.
    – Nick
    Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 7:25
  • No. I didn't interpret second one as should. Because it can't be. 1st one is same as must and second one is same as will. This is what I guess? What say @nicholas_castagnola?
    – user65161
    Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 9:08
  • 1
    You can treat them as the same, but as I've said below, the first one is actually a command that is much stronger than "should" whereas the second one is a prophecy rather than a prediction. If God said, "you will surely die," He would merely be predicting the future, but by saying, "you shall surely die," He is prophesying the future. In other words, Adam's and Eve's respective deaths are guaranteed. In the U.S., the laws are written "no person shall...". This is an order by the government; not a prediction. If convicted, a person "shall" be sentenced to "5 years" or "10 years" in prison.
    – Nick
    Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 14:52
  • When the U.S. government states in its laws, "if convicted, the person shall be sentenced to no less than 3 years and no more than 11 years in prison," I guarantee you the U.S. government is not predicting that this will happen; it is guaranteeing that you shall be sentenced to that as that is the law. In the passage above, God tells Adam and Eve that this is the law and, if they should violate the law, this shall be their punishment, which is how the U.S. government words its laws.
    – Nick
    Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 14:56
  • 1
    @NicholasCastagnola, this is not KJV. It's the English Standard Version, a translation from 2001 (Derived from earlier 20th C translations). The KJV version of this passage is, "Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die."
    – The Photon
    Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 16:19

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