What is the difference when we ask for instruction with simple future and simple present. For instance:

Where do I pay?


Where shall I pay?

Both of these sentences ask for instruction. Are there something differences between them?

  • shall is first person future.
    – Maulik V
    Jul 5, 2014 at 8:43
  • @MaulikV There is a quote from the unit about shall/will: Questions with shall I/we are used (especially in British English) to ask for instruction [...] Jul 5, 2014 at 9:36
  • @MaulikV I don't understand the point of your comment. Jul 5, 2014 at 9:37
  • The text in body reads present perfect and present simple. I just confused with this!
    – Maulik V
    Jul 5, 2014 at 9:49
  • @MaulikV It was just a typo. I meant future simple, but typed present perfect. I'm sorry. Jul 5, 2014 at 16:53

5 Answers 5


They are basically equivalent. Of the two, I would more naturally say 'Where do I pay?', or even more naturally 'Where can I pay?' or 'Where should I pay?'.

If there is a difference in meaning: 'Where do I pay?' is present simple, which usually has the meaning of 'always' - the question means 'Where always is the place to pay?' (which is unidiomatic, but you get the idea. 'Where shall I pay?' is modal present simple, but is usually understood as future simple(-ish) - the question means 'Where in the near future is the place to pay?' (which may be the same place as anyone always/usually pays, or may be somewhere different on this occasion).


I hardly see any difference in meaning between the two sentences, but I've tried to figure out two situations where each would be more appropriate:

  1. It's my first visit to a store and I haven't noticed any cash desk. I ask someone:

    Where do I pay?

  2. There are several cash desks in front of me and I do not know which queue to join according to my means of payment, I could show my specific credit card and say:

    Where shall I pay?

As other possibilities we could consider:

  • can

    Where can I pay?

    which I feel could apply to both 1. and 2. above. It could also serve as asking for options, for example if I inquire about train tickets and I want to know where and when to get them:

    Where can I pay?

    The answer would be:

    Either at the station or on the train.

  • should
    which is more asking for advice. Following the preceding conversation:

    Where should I pay?

    which indicating I'm expecting to be advised on the best option:

    At the station, because on board the train you'd be charged with a supplement.


By using shall you're talking about an inevitable situation. This is going to happen.

With do it's a factual form, so you might not actually carry out the task you're asking about.

Clearly in this context they are the same, but the difference in general is certain.

Where shall you work today?
Who shall you vote for? Future definite.

Where do you work?
Who do you like in the elections? General routine question.


I believe it's a dialectical difference. "Where do I pay" sounds more natural to me as an American, while "shall" sounds British to me.

I would not recognize a difference in meaning in most contexts.


"Where shall I pay?" ~ Unlike British English ~ In Australia where I come from, is a question a person asks of another, for advice, or of himself or herself when making up their mind as to what they will choose, like:

"Where shall I go on holiday?" , or in a restaurant,

"What shall I eat?"

Although a menu suggestion from a dining partner could be offered, it is not expected. More likely, the other will say nothing, taking the comment as a cue that the person wishes to stop talking and get down to the business of choosing something to eat.

If a person were to ask, "where shall I pay?" it might be greeted with a smile, because it would be taken as a joke - perhaps because there are so many cashiers to chose from. Or, because they're being facetious, (as if they have a choice).

So, when in a department store and wishing to pay for goods, an appropriate question can be:

"Where do I pay?" or "Where should I pay" or "Where can I pay?

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