In this situation, is there any difference between these three expressions?

The situation is as follows.

You and your friend are hanging out. You guys went to a cafe and enjoyed talking there for some time. As you and your friend are getting out of the cafe, you are not sure what to do next. You can suggest going to a movie theater or just depart and go home or whatever. So you are saying one of the three expressions below.

  1. What do we do (now)?
  2. What shall we do (now)?
  3. What will we do (now)?

Thank you as always.


"Shall" and "will" mean basically the same thing -- they are referring to the future. The traditional grammar rule is that "shall" is only used with the first person ("I" or "we"), and "will" is used in all other cases -- but nobody actually follows this "rule" with any consistency. Effectively, "shall" and "will" are interchangeable, except "shall" sounds a little more formal.

(Here's a Wikipedia page about "shall" vs. "will".)

"What do we do now" is in the present tense, and is the most correct of the three options, since the speaker is talking about actions in the present. "Will" and "shall" are future tense -- so "will" is correct if you are asking, "What will we do after the movie?"

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    I think I'd be more inclined to use should before I'd use do, will, or shall. – J.R. Mar 29 '18 at 19:47
  • Thank you very much for answering, Matt Cline. You said What will we do now is incorrect because of the wrong tense. But I would like to know how wrong that sentence sounds to native English speakers. And is What will we do with now dropped out correct? – Smart Humanism Apr 3 '18 at 20:23
  • @J.R. Thank you. Then, is there any difference in meaning or nuances between the use of should and the use of will or shall in that sentence? – Smart Humanism Apr 3 '18 at 20:26
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    @SmartHumanism: it's all about making sure your tense matches what you are trying to say. If you are talking about the future, then "What will we do?" is correct. "What will we do now?" is incorrect because "now" is talking about the present, but "will" is the future tense. In contrast, "What will we do tomorrow?" is correct, because "tomorrow" agrees with the future tense. As far as "how wrong does it sound", this is a relatively minor error. I think a native speaker would understand the sentence. But that doesn't mean it's correct. ;) – Matt Cline Apr 8 '18 at 18:45
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    @SmartHumanism -- I'm not sure what you're asking that I haven't already covered. There isn't an objective scale of "weirdness" that I can point you to. – Matt Cline Apr 9 '18 at 20:41

All three expressions are common and valid, but:

What do we do now?

is typically a question asked when people are in trouble and wondering what action to take:

It's nearly dark and we're hopelessly lost; what do we do now?

The distinction between will and shall has long since been lost for the great majority of native English speakers. However, it's easier to ask what will we do now? (what 'ill we do now?) and thus the more likely construction when people are speaking to one another.

The bottom line is that all three are asking the same question. You can use which ever comes to mind.

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    According to Google Ngram, "What do you want to do now?" (related: "What do you feel like doing now?" has surpassed "What will we do now?" and "What shall we do now?", which matches my experiences of common speech. – Chemomechanics Mar 29 '18 at 19:50
  • Thank you so much, for the kind answer which is very helpful a lot by sorting out. :) – Smart Humanism Apr 3 '18 at 20:29

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