Grammar Tip – Shall Versus Will

Workshop participants often ask me when to use shall as opposed to will. Both words express the following thoughts:

A. future time

B. promise or threat

C. willingness

However, shall is now considered slightly dated and is used more in formal writing and speech. In standard business writing, will is the correct word.

A. Future Time
In standard business writing, use will with all three persons.

Examples

I will attend the meeting.? You will want to read this report. ?He will present the findings next week.

In formal writing, use shall with the first person (I or we) and will with the second or third person (you, he, she, it or they).

Examples

We shall be pleased to welcome the delegation from China.?He will be able to meet the delegation from China.

B. Promise or Threat
In standard business writing, use will with all three persons.? In formal writing, use will for the first person (I or we) and shall for the second and third persons (you, he, she, it or they).

Examples

I will place this congratulatory letter in your file. You shall be responsible for your actions. They shall be escorted from the meeting if they do not remain quiet.

C. Willingness
In both formal and normal business writing, use will with all persons.

Examples

I will be able to attend.

They will be available after 5 p.m.

Does all this information sound complicated? Personally, I use will in all standard business writing. But if I am working on a formal document, such as an annual report, I pull out my shall/will information and ensure I am correct.

Like Sherlock Holmes, I believe in memorizing only essential information. On the limited occasions I need this grammar point, I look it up.

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