Is the mighty "shall", which in my opinion is much stronger in obligation than "must", still in use?

I would like to start using it in daily speech and in writing.

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    It is, above all else, used in suggestions or offers to help or of service: Shall I open the window? Shall I drive? Shall we go now? or frustation: What shall we do? shall is not a substitute for must.It is also used in contracts: Buyers shall etc. In that sense, it "replaces" must, but not in speech.
    – Lambie
    Commented Nov 26, 2019 at 15:54
  • @Lambie I like to use it in commands, "You shall do it!" where it is much better than must. Commented Nov 26, 2019 at 16:02
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    Use what you like. But it is not common anymore. shall is not must in speech. "You shall do it" is: you had better do it or else. But it is not a command.
    – Lambie
    Commented Nov 26, 2019 at 16:21
  • @Lambie Yeh, great, just the intended attitude. Commented Nov 26, 2019 at 16:25
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    @Lambie Well said. The uses Lambie mentions are enumerated, labeled, and exemplified in this LDOCE entry. Another use of shall I've seen is in technical manuals where its meaning is specifically defined in the introduction. If you want to speak idiomatic English, I'd suggest you always try to imitate the way native speakers of English speak it.
    – user3395
    Commented Nov 26, 2019 at 19:11

2 Answers 2


Shall and must have different usages and connotation as explained in the extract below:

Use “must” not “shall” to impose requirements. “Shall” is ambiguous, and rarely occurs in everyday conversation. The legal community is moving to a strong preference for “must” as the clearest way to express a requirement or obligation.

  1. “Shall” has three strikes against it.

First, lawyers regularly misuse it to mean something other than “has a duty to.” It has become so corrupted by misuse that it has no firm meaning.

Second—and related to the first—it breeds litigation. There are 76 pages in “Words and Phrases” (a legal reference) that summarize hundreds of cases interpreting “shall.”

Third, nobody uses “shall” in common speech. It’s one more example of unnecessary lawyer talk. Nobody says, “You shall finish the project in a week.”

For all these reasons, “must” is a better choice, and the change has already started to take place. The new Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure, for instance, use “must,” not “shall.”

(Prof. Joe Kimble, Thomas Cooley Law School)

  1. “Must” is now being extensively used in the legislation of… Australia and at least three Canadian provinces (British Columbia, Alberta and Manitoba) that have amended their Interpretation Acts to say that “must” is to be interpreted as imperative.”


“Must” may be used to create requirements and prohibitions. However, prohibitions should be drafted in the form of “X must not”, rather than “no X must”.

Drafters should not use “must” and “shall” together in the same Act or regulation. It could raise questions about whether different meanings are intended.”


As you say, shall is stronger than must, and is in fact more closely linked to will. Apparently, when forming the future tense, you should use "shall" with I and we, and "will" with you, he, she, they, etc. "Will you be at the party tonight?" "I shall be there." However, if, as in your comment, you want to convey a strong sense of importance or duty, in the sense of something that is definitely going to happen, this swaps around - "Cinderella, you shall go to the ball!" "I will go to the ball!" "Thou shalt not steal."

As to how common the usage is, I'd certainly understand it easily (UK speaker here). It does perhaps sound a little archaic in the imperative form, though. Will generally seems to be usurping shall, and it's rarely wrong to use will in place of shall (unless, of course, you are asking a question - "Shall we dance?" sounds more natural than "Will we dance?").


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