When I studied English, I was taught that shall is used to express the future tense for the first person (singular, or plural), and will is used for the same purpose in the other cases.

When I look for shall on the NOAD, I read the following sentence, in a note about the usage of shall:

In practice, however, shall and will are today used more or less interchangeably in statements (although not in questions).

Does that mean shall and will are used with almost the same meaning?

Does I shall return have the same meaning of I will return?

  • I generally use will with I in formal/informal situation, whatever the case maybe, but I did not know in interrogative sentecne I should use shall. Let's see what our experts say!
    – Mistu4u
    Commented Feb 20, 2013 at 16:39
  • 4
    @Mistu4u In questions shall can have a different meaning. For example, "Shall we go?" is different from "Will we go?" The first question is making a suggestion, while the second one is asking if something is going to happen.
    – apaderno
    Commented Feb 20, 2013 at 16:42

2 Answers 2


The NOAD is right. As ‘The Cambridge Guide to English Usage’ comments:

*Will is now the standard choice for expressing future plans and expectations, everywhere in the world. Shall is stylistically marked with volitional meaning in legal and regulatory statements, and expresses politeness in first person questions.

  • 1
    That seems the opposite of "used more or less interchangeably": Will is used for a purpose, and shall is used from a different purpose. At least, I understand interchangeably as meaning that I could replace will with shall and the meaning would not change.
    – apaderno
    Commented Apr 7, 2013 at 20:58

What you were taught is still correct today, it is just commonly used differently. But that doesn't make it proper English!


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