M.swan PEU (3rd edition-unit:217) says,

" Topic: announcing decisions: will

We often use will when we tell people about a decision as we make it.for instant if we're agreeing to do something.
               e.g:1. OK. we'll buy the tickets.
                      2.The phone's ringing. I'll answer it.

Shall is not used in this way.
               e.g:You can have it for $50. -OK.I'll buy it. (NOT: I shall buy it) "

According to this, we can't use shall (with first persons) for intentions or decisions which made at the time of speaking.but the book 'Cambridge Grammar Of English' and these web seits( 1 , 2 ) say that shall can be used to announce intentions or decisions. for example,

  • I don't want anyone with me.I shall do this on my own. (reference:CGE)
  • I shall contact you again when I have further information.

So my questions is, is it possible to use shall for intentions or decisions as we make them(with I&we)? [if the answer is Yes ,Why do PEU say "shall is not used for decisions "]

I searched on the internet and read lot of grammar book but I could not find a clear answer to this confusion.so any answer is appreciated.

1 Answer 1


There's a useful summary on Grammar Girl, which points out that...

The British traditionally use shall to express determination or intention on the part of the speaker or someone other than the subject of the verb.

But in practice it's a declining usage everywhere - particularly in recent decades, native Anglophones are much more likely to just place heavy stress on will to emphasise "resolute/defiant intention" over and above the standard "future tense" sense of the auxiliary verb.

When Practical English Usage says "shall is not used for decisions", they're talking about the kind of "voluntary, unforced" decision you might make in a restaurant...

1: "I will have the fillet steak" (usually contracted to "I'll have...")
2: "I shall have the fillet steak"

...where the first version is standard, and carries no implications beyond the fact that you've made a choice. The second version (which would be somewhat "unusual", particularly for AmE and younger speakers in general) is only likely to occur in contexts where the speaker for some reason wants to inject a note of defiance/determination (perhaps because whoever's paying the bill has asked his guests not to choose the most expensive items on the menu).

EDIT: There's also this rather quirky BrE "rule": use shall with I/we, and will with you/he/she/it/they (except when expressing determination, in which case the usages are reversed). But as that Oxford Dictionaries link implies, in practice most people don't even know the "rule" (and most of those that do routinely ignore it anyway).

TL;DR: If your coursework specifically addresses "correct" use of shall, and you have an exam to pass, remember and repeat whatever you were taught. If the distinction wasn't covered, or you're not taking an exam anyway, just use will in all cases.

  • 1
    Do you say shall can be used for decisions or intentions which are made at the moment of speaking (like this site says, But It can't be used for voluntary decisions,can it?
    – Dinusha
    Jan 5, 2015 at 18:35
  • 10
    @Dinusha: In practice I think the best advice for learners is probably just "Always use will". We don't use shall so often now anyway, and increasing numbers of (esp, younger) native speakers either don't know the subtle differences in semantics/register, or have a different understanding of them from other native speakers. If you stick with will you'll probably never be "wrong", but it woiuld be almost impossible to learn how to reliably use shall in ways which would never strike at least some native speakers as "odd". Jan 5, 2015 at 18:49
  • 6
    @Dinusha I wholeheartedly endorse FumbleFingers' advice, except in one circumstance: when you are taking an exam. The composers of examinations, alas, appear to be drawn exclusively from those who (having learned 'proper grammar' from teachers trained in the 1940s) have been careful not to notice anything that has occurred in the language for the last 70 years. Jan 5, 2015 at 20:54
  • 3
    @FumbleFingers: Exception to your rule: When trying to fend off a Balrog, use shall :)
    – gexicide
    Jan 5, 2015 at 21:55
  • @FumbleFingers I guess shall can't be used to express willingness with first person in affirmatives. it may be what M.Swan has mentioned as "shall is not used in this way." Do you think shall can be used to express willingness in affirmatives (with I&we)?
    – Dinusha
    Jan 6, 2015 at 20:12

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