"Nearly there!" Harry panted as they reached the corridor beneath the tallest tower. Then a sudden movement ahead of them made them almost drop the crate. Forgetting that they were already invisible, they shrank into the shadows, staring at the dark outlines of two people grappling with each other ten feet away. A lamp flared. Professor McGonagall, in a tartan bathrobe and a hair net, had Malfoy by the ear.
"Detention!" she shouted. "And twenty points from Slytherin! Wandering around in the middle of the night, how dare you ––"
"You don't understand, Professor. Harry Potter's coming –– he's got a dragon!" "What utter rubbish! How dare you tell such lies! Come on –– I shall see Professor Snape about you, Malfoy!"
(Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone)

Shall is used for saying what you intend to do in the future, and will is used for saying that you are willing to do something or that you intend to do it. Then which is the stronger expression, "I shall see Professor Snape about you" or "I will see Professor Snape about you"?


These remarks are not intended to compete with kiamlaluno's admirable observations on contemporary use of shall and will, which specifically address OP's question and which I have upvoted. They are rather addressed to an additional aspect of JKR's use in the passage at hand.

The use of shall here is more a matter of characterization than semantics.

Hogwarts is a very old-fashioned scene: basically the world of the English Public School as depicted in school stories of the 19th and early-to-mid-20th centuries. A linguistic feature of these tales (I cannot say whether it reflected the reality) has always been that the faculty speak with marked formality, especially to students—the notion being, I suppose, that the faculty are concerned both to provide sound linguistic models and to maintain their own formal authority.

Prof. McGonagall is not only very senior faculty, she is an elderly woman: according to the Harry Potter wiki, she was born in 1935. She thus belonged to a generation which was trained in (as I still was in the 1950s), and which adhered strictly to (as I do not), the "traditional rule" described in kiamlaluno's NOAD citation: "... shall is used with first person pronouns (I and we) to form the future tense ..."

So Minerva McGonagall's use of shall does not express any heightened determination; it expresses her age, education, and status.

  • When I studied English, I was taught the traditional rule too. :) – kiamlaluno Jul 27 '13 at 16:41

Using shall for the following purposes is becoming old-fashioned:

  • (used with I and we) for talking about or predicting the future
  • to show that you are determined, or to give an order or instruction

This time next week I shall be in Scotland.

He is determined that you shall succeed.

Shall can also be used in questions with I and we for making offers or suggestions or asking advice.

Shall I send you the book?

Also will is used when talking about or predicting the future. In that case, there isn't a strong form between will and shall; shall is becoming old-fashioned, which means will is probably preferred, but that doesn't say anything about which one is a stronger expression, or expresses a stronger determination in doing something.

The NOAD has the following notes about using will and shall:

There is considerable confusion about when to use shall and will. The traditional rule in standard British English is that shall is used with first person pronouns (I and we) to form the future tense, while will is used with second and third persons (you, he, she, it, they), e.g. "I shall be late"; "she will not be there". To express a strong determination to do something these positions are reversed, with will being used with the first person and shall with the second and third persons, e.g. "I will not tolerate this"; "you shall go to school." In practice, however, shall and will are today used more or less interchangeably in statements (though not in questions). Given that the forms are frequently contracted (we'll, she'll, etc.) there is often no need to make a choice between shall and will, another factor no doubt instrumental in weakening the distinction. The interchangeable use of shall and will is now part of standard British and US English.

  • kiam, however, on page 194, "Practical English Usage" by M. Swan, it is written "stressed will can express a strong intention or determination", and the same is for "shall". So, OP's question doesn't make sense, because the "strongest form" depends from how one stresses "will" or "shall", not from which of two is used, no? – user114 Jul 27 '13 at 13:06
  • I think the OP is asking which modal verb expresses a stronger determination of doing something. The answer is that none of those modal verbs expresses a stronger determination. – kiamlaluno Jul 27 '13 at 13:13
  • +1 I have supplied some additional observations about JKR's literary purposes, but this is an excellent and authoritative answer. – StoneyB Jul 27 '13 at 16:06

The word shall is for emphasis or determination.

For example:

"You shall go the ball, Cinderalla!"

"But I have no nice clothes! The servants will turn me away!"

Here, the fairy godmother is determined that Cinderella is to go to the ball. Cinderella's response is more mild, merely predicting that, upon arrival, she will be turned away.

Indeed, the servants may respond upon her arrival:

You shall not enter.

An example of this is where the Black Knight says to King Arthur and his knights (in Monty Python And The Holy Grail):

None shall pass!

The use of the word shall is much more emphatic, indeed almost a command. For example, if you used "will", instead:

You will not enter.

Why not?

Oh, the door is locked, and we lost the key.

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