I celebrate myself, and sing myself,

And what I assume you shall assume,

For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

As far as I am concerened, shall has had an old usage in first person . What does the word shall here mean in natural modern English? With which word it could be substituted?

2 Answers 2


You are correct in your analysis of "shall" except in two cases (that I know of):

  1. We tend to still use shall when we propose or ask to proceed with something. In this usage it is synonymous with "is it ok if...?": Shall I call you tomorrow? Shall I pour the wine? It looks formal, but it's used with friends in casual conversation as well: Shall I call you, or do you want to call me at your convenience?
  2. It is still used in very stern imperatives, as in your example, usually issued by parents or persons in authority. In this usage it is synonymous with will: You shall not leave this room until I give you permission!

The most suitable word you could substitute would be 'will'.

And what I assume you shall assume

And what I assume you will assume

  • 1
    Agreed that 'will' is the most natural substitute for for 'shall', but shall is being used here to very specific effect. Shall implies an obligation, a sort of must-ness that 'will', for all its dominance, lacks. An example: "You will do it, because I say so" vs "You shall do it because you must, because you are required, because it is an obligation".
    – Saoirse
    Commented Jun 24, 2015 at 14:07

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