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You must be aware of your “will” before you write it

Staff ReporterUpdated: Sunday, May 21, 2023, 05:20 AM IST
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We shall not fail or falter; we shall not weaken or tire. Neither sudden shock of battle, nor the long-drawn trials of vigilance and exertion will wear us down. Give us the tools and we will finish the job. – Winston Churchill

In his famous speech, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill finely distinguished between “shall” and “will.” He began his speech with an emotional appeal by using “we shall” and then ended it with “will finish” showing determination, resolution, and intention.

An author must distinguish between the full verb, “will” and auxiliary, “will.” The former is literary, and it is fully inflected: he wills, willed and infinitive to will and willing, and it can take an ordinary object.

CT Onions writes: “The fundamental meaning of shall is ‘is to be under a necessity’ ‘to be obliged.’ The fundamental meaning of will is to ‘resolve.’ The past tenses should and would have meaning corresponding to their respective presents.”

It means "shall" denotes obligation and "will" indicates resolve or willingness. This is how Onions distinguishes between shall and will.

“I will (I am resolved to) live as a bachelor. Will you (do you wish to or intend to) take it with you? Or shall I (am I to) send it?”

We find a fine example of the correct use of “will” meaning volition in W Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

Hamlet wishes to will, but never wills anything.

Whatever God wills is holy, just and good.

“Will” is popularly ascribed to lifeless things as well as to living beings.

Murder will out.

Seeing that death, a necessary end, will come when it will come – W. Shakespeare.

Similarly, “will” applies to lifeless things. In that sense, it denotes power and capacity.

The hall will seat five hundred. That will do.

“Will” sometimes indicates habit. In the words of Otto Jespersen, “What one does willingly, one is apt to do frequently; hence, "will" often denotes habit.”

I know he will come late (The speaker is talking about the habit of the third person).

Similarly, he will work for hours without saying a single word.

On the other hand, “will” signifying volition in the present context is chiefly used with “have.”

Who will have a cup of tea?

I won’t stand any non-sense.

Coloured future

The coloured future is generally used in the first person. In this sense, “I will do it” means I am willing (determined) to do it. It also indicates certainty of fulfillment, promise or threat.

I will tell you the story some other day. It means I won’t forget it.

I will call him (determination). He shall pay for what he has done (threat).

I will never again consume a drop of wine. It means promise. Nevertheless, in the other persons, promise, determination and threat may be denoted by “shall.”

Pure future

There are many cases in which “will” has lost the meaning of wish. It simply indicates futurity, but it is common in the second and third persons.

You (he, she) will marry next year. You (he, she) will soon be forgotten. It will be very cold next year.

To denote futurity, “will” does not go well with the first person, since “I will”, and “we will” are also used to express willingness and determination. This is the reason that “shall” is used in the first person to denote mere futurity.

Nonetheless, “I will” and “We will” are gaining ground to indicate futurity. Still, grammarians prefer “shall” to “will” in such cases. It so happens, because it is difficult to differentiate between “volition” and “pure future.” Ergo, many people use “I will and we will.”

“Will” may also indicate supposition: This I think will be a point of discussion at the meeting.

Therefore, you must know what you want to say, because the tendency to use “will” everywhere has become a habit. This happens because of a desire for finding an easy way out to talk of futurity. As a result, the actual volition or intention of the speaker goes into oblivion.

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