Will and shall
Will and shall are modal auxiliary verbs that primarily express the future, predictions, and promises. Let’s look further at these two modal auxiliaries.
We use will and shall to make predictions about the future
- I reckon he will have finished the report by Saturday.
- Next week, I’ll be on vacation.
- We shall find out about the results for next month.
We use will in instant reactions when we want to express willingness
- Could you let me know about the poll results? Yes, I will let you know.
- Can you help me? I’ll help you right now.
- I shall get your stuff ready.
Note, too many non-natives make the mistake of answering in the present simple when having to respond with willingness. This is incorrect, and if the speaker shows willingness then they must use the ‘will’ form.
We use will and shall to express certainty, either in making a promise or anything the speaker is certain about
- We shall win this election, and we’ll do whatever it takes.
- Go to my boss’s office, she’ll help you out.
- They’ll come around to pick up their stuff tonight at 20h.
We use will and shall to make requests and offers
- Will Sarah let me know what she’s doing in regard to her holiday?
- Shall you come with me?
- I’ll give you 50 dollars for that chair, what do you say?
A quick lesson with context and analysis
(At the supermarket)
- Lisa, will you watch the trolley while I go and get some bread?1
- Sure, no problem, mum. Can I get some beer2 as well?
- Beer? For what exactly?
- Well, I have plans to go out3 this weekend with friends, and they asked me to chip in with some of the drinks.4
- Where will you guys go out?5
- We will go to Amy’s house in the city centre.6
- So, what will they bring?
- They told me that they would bring some wine and other drinks.
- I don’t know if I like the sound of this.
- Honestly mum, it’s no big deal I promise.
- Yes, but you’re still very young, and I don’t like the idea of you going out drinking.
- I will be home by nine o’clock, I promise.7
- Will I be able to speak to Amy’s mum?8
- Of course, I’ll look for her number now.9
- Thanks, Lisa.
- Will you watch the trolley while I go and get some bread? The noun bread is preceded by the determiner some to limit its quantity. Determiners are very frequent in English.
- Can I get some beer as well? The determiner some is used here to limit the quantity of the noun beer. If you only wanted one beer then you would use the indefinite article a. I.e., can I have a beer, please?
- I have plans to go out this weekend with friends. The phrasal verb go out is used here to refer to her ‘leaving for the night’.
- They asked me to chip in with some of the drinks. Chip in, is a phrasal verb with the sense of ‘contribute’. I.e., I need to buy some bread, would you mind chipping in two euros, please?
- Where will you guys go out? The phrasal verb go out is being used here.
- We will go to Amy’s house in the city centre. The main auxiliary verb will is being used here to talk about the future. Shall could also be used, i.e. we shall go to Amy’s house in the city centre. But, will is preferred because it’s much more common and far less formal.
- I will be home by nine o’clock, I promise. Will is used to make a promise. We also use will/shall to make predictions, requests, and talk about the future.
- Will I be able to speak to Amy’s mum? Will is used here to make a request.
- Of course, I’ll look for her number now. Remember, will is used in instant reactions when we want to express willingness to do something. I.e., can you help me please? Absolutely, I’ll help you right now. Can you call the boss? Sure, I’ll call her now. In the above sentences, and in the answers, will is used as an instant reaction to express willingness to do a task.
Modal auxiliary verbs:
- Articles (a/an, the, zero article)
- Pronouns: subject, object and possessive
- Question tags
- English conditionals
- Interrogatives in English
- Phrasal verbs
- Prefixes and suffixes
- Reported and direct speech
- Punctuation: apostrophes, colons, semi-colons, commas, dashes, full stops, question marks, exclamation marks, and quotation marks
- Numbers: cardinal, ordinal, and Roman numbers
- The verb: “get”
- ‘Get’ vs. ‘go’ and ‘got’ vs. ‘gotten’
- Copular verbs
- Cleft sentences
- Subjunctive in English
- Vulgar and taboo in English
- Split infinitive
- Emphasis with inversion
- Gerunds in English
- To + infinitive
- Bare infinitive
- British and American spelling