"Which way did they go, Peeves?" Filch was saying. "Quick, tell me."

"Say 'please."'

"Don't mess with me, Peeves, now where did they go?"

"[A] Shan't say nothing if you don't say please," said Peeves in his annoying singsong voice.

"All right - please."

"NOTHING! Ha haaa! [B] Told you I wouldn't say nothing if you didn't say please! Ha ha! Haaaaaa!" And they heard the sound of Peeves whooshing away and Filch cursing in rage.

–– Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

It seems to be [B]’s highlighted part isn’t a remoteness expression but a backshifted preterite from “I won’t say nothing if you don’t say please.” Does Peeves use won’t in [B] to denote semantic difference from [A]’s shan’t?


There's no semantic difference. shan't is a contraction of shall not. shall is just a modal auxiliary that indicates the future tense. In B, the event is now over, so the future is changed to the past where would is now the proper modal auxiliary to indicate the past tense.

Peeves probably uses shan't instead of won't because he's from a bygone era where shall and shan't were much more prevalent than nowadays.

  • 1
    Isn't shan't still used in England? – Peter Shor Jan 13 '14 at 4:18
  • @PeterShor- it might well be. – Jim Jan 13 '14 at 5:14

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