According to John Seely in his book the Oxford A-Z of Grammar & Punctuation, you use “shall with I and we”, i.e. the first person singular and plural and you use “will with all other persons” e.g. he will and they will. Here are some examples to illustrate this:
- I shall be at the cinema at 8pm, if you want to join me.
- Jack and Sam will not be coming to the cinema.
- We shall not be having school dinners today.
- Mum will be making us a packed lunch for our school trip.
John Seely explains that there is an exception to the rule – when there is an emphasis on the word, the grammar rules are reversed, for example:
- “I will have a biscuit with my tea!” said Jamie.
- You shall go to your room!
Does anyone use the word ‘shall’ anymore?
The word shall is infrequently used nowadays; did you know that despite the number of times the word ‘I’ is heard in speech, “will is used fourteen times more frequently than shall in conversations” (according to John Seely)? Graham King in Collins Improve your Grammar writes that shall is “increasingly ignored in writing (American English, shall is hardly ever heard or seen; will is standard) to the extent that there is a danger of shall disappearing altogether”. An interesting point that he mentions is that with the increasing use of it’ll, they’ll, she’ll (where it could mean either ‘will’ or ‘shall’) is helping the extinction.
My thoughts: By using the word ‘shall’ more often in my writing, I shall feel like I am helping to preserve it; however, if I am unsure which one to use, there are always the short form – it’ll, she’ll, I’ll etc.
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John Seely The Oxford A-Z of Grammar & Punctuation, USA
Graham King The Collins Improve your Grammar, UK