1

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted .every hill and mountain shall be made low , the rough places will be made plains , and the crooked places will be made straight , and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed , and all flesh shall see it together.

Could someone help me in understanding why did the speaker not use "shall be" instead of "will be" in the bold area; although, in all lines he used "shall be" even when "will be" should be used.

2

(1) one day every valley shall be exalted

(2) every hill and mountain shall be made low

(3) the rough places will be made plains

(4) the crooked places will be made straight

(5) the glory of the Lord shall be revealed

(6) all flesh shall see it together.

As clusterdude has suggested, this could have been entirely random. And "the interchangeable use of shall and will is now part of standard British and US English."

Having said that, I think that "shall" sounds a bit more epic and even ancient than "will", and that those with "shall" -- (1), (2), (5) and (6) -- are more epic or even ancient than are those with "will" -- (3) and (4). Therefore, assuming that MLK chose the words really carefully, it could have been intentional word choices on the part of MLK.

1

While technical differences exist between "shall" and "will", most native speakers are unaware of those differences. So most speakers use both of these two words the same way, with "will" being much more frequent. That appears to be the case here, although you could also say that Dr. King was using these words poetically, to avoid over-use of one of the other.

  • I will also add that Dr. King was a preacher from the south, and his speech was fashioned in the style of a sermon, drawing heavily from biblical verses. The King James version of Bible often uses the word "shall" instead of "will" (often incorrectly). – clusterdude Jul 6 '16 at 2:43
  • What is the technical difference? – XPMai Jul 6 '16 at 3:05
  • 1
    When referring to the future, "shall" should only apply for first person pronouns ("I shall ask", "We shall dream"). In other cases, "shall" denotes compulsion/command (it's often used in legal documents to indicate a duty or legal expectation). Interestingly, when used in the form of a question, it has no such feel. Example: "Shall we go?" is roughly equivalent to "Are you ready to go, and would you like to go now?" Whereas, "Will we go?" comes across as, "I don't know if we will go, but you do, and you can tell me...but it's unclear if we will go, or when." – clusterdude Jul 6 '16 at 7:08
  • 1
    Also, at least in the US, "shall" generally carries an archaic feel, and doesn't get used very often. That's even more the case with its contraction "shan't" (shall not). You will often hear people say such words in an affected manner, as if pretending to be someone from the Victorian era. Still, most everyone understands it. Using "shan't" (especially in speech) would be akin to using thy/thee/thou/thine. Anyone speaking that way today would probably be understood, but persistent usage of those terms would be considered extremely odd, at minimum. – clusterdude Jul 6 '16 at 7:19

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.