4

What can I substitute "shall" with in these sentences to sound less formal?

You look cold. Shall I put the heater on?

What shall I bring you, tea or coffee?

2

Just to add further, and more informal alternatives to Walter's answer.

You could say to a friend:

You look cold. Do you fancy the heating on? (very informal)

You look cold. Do you want the heating on? (informal)

You look cold. Would you like the heating on? (less formal)

and:

Fancy a cup of tea? (very informal)

What / How about a nice cup of tea or coffee? (informal)

Would you like tea or coffee? (less formal)

  • 3
    Generally agree, but: Perhaps this is a regionalism, but "fancy" is an archaic term in this context anywhere I've lived. It's a phrasing I'd expect to find in a Victorian novel, not a modern conversation. – Jay Jun 20 '13 at 15:13
  • Suddenly, I feel quite old. (I say: fancy when expressing preferences.) I suppose I could of wrote: D'ye wanna a cuppa? Infinitely more modern. :) – Mari-Lou A Jun 20 '13 at 16:27
  • What does fancy mean in your sentences? – EnglishLearner Jun 20 '13 at 16:36
  • It's almost slang for "like", note the auxiliary verb and the subject is missing but the sentence is still understood to be a question. – Mari-Lou A Jun 20 '13 at 16:43
  • 3
    @Mari-LouA I think it is probably a regional thing rather than an age thing. Nobody that I know in the United States would ever say "fancy" with that meaning. Even elderly people wouldn't say it. On the other hand, I can imagine that it might be used in the UK or perhaps other places. – Daniel Jun 20 '13 at 20:34
7

"Should" is likely the best candidate for your purposes. When used in this context as an auxiliary verb it is less formal than "shall", but the meaning is nearly the same and the sentence would need little to no other changes.

You look cold. Should I put the heater on?
What should I bring you, tea or coffee?

This worksheet should help to learn more about the similarities and differences between "shall" and "should".

Alternatively, you could use a phrase to replace "shall" and restructure the sentence a bit to retain more of the original meaning. For example:

You look cold. Would you like me to put the heater on?

  • +1. In my experience in the UK and the US is that the form "Would you like me to..." is always more common than "Shall I ...". The shall form, whilst valid, sounds quite archaic to my native English ears, except when used as part of stock phrases and idioms such as "shall I put the kettle on?". – Matt Jun 21 '13 at 17:28
3

"Shall" is very uncommon in American English, and is considered very formal when it is used. I believe it is much more common and has less implication of formality in Britain. So first consider your audience, it may be that "shall" would be just fine if you're in the UK.

In America, you could use any of these in informal situations:

Should I put the heater on?

Do you want [me to put] the heater on?

Would you like [me to put] the heater on?

Can I put the heater on for you?

  • Two of your suggestions were already made by Walter. And "Do you want ..." was suggested by me. But you are right to point out the differences between American and British usage. – Mari-Lou A Jun 21 '13 at 11:30
  • @Mari-LouA, the fact that you and Walter already mentioned those sentences doesn't make them incorrect. So I don't see what's wrong with including them in my answer. – The Photon Jun 21 '13 at 15:53
  • There's nothing wrong with including them in your answer, I could have included Walter's answers in mine, too. – Mari-Lou A Jun 21 '13 at 17:10
  • @Mari-LouA, so why did you bring it up? – The Photon Jun 21 '13 at 17:18
  • Because the ending didn't match your introduction, which was more relevant, interesting and ultimately more useful for learners. – Mari-Lou A Jun 21 '13 at 17:44

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