General grammar thread (was Re: Checking in)

minnow at minnow at
Sun Jan 25 06:09:24 EST 2004

Roger and Charlie:

>> I have a version of that which I've never heard anywhere else. Roughly
>> formulated, it is something like this:
>> For first person, "shall" indicates intention and is for normal use ("I
>> shall go to the cinema tomorrow"), while "will" indicates an emphatic
>> intention or perhaps a serious undertaking ("I will have vengeance").
>> For second and third persons, this is reversed ("He will go with you",
>> "They shall pursue you to the ends of the Earth").
>> Has anyone else met this?
>Yes, is all I can tell you. I've no idea what its linguistic *bona fides*
>might be, but this is the way my grandfather's grammar books (my source for
>grammatical knowledge of English when I was a child, and probably dating
>from about 1920) put it.

As far as I can make out Fowler agrees, at vastly more length in the 1926
than in the 1965 edition.  Blake must have thought that was how it should

"I shall not cease from mental strife
"Nor will my sword sleep in my hand".

"We will fight them on the beaches, we will fight them on the
landing-fields" and so on has not got the same force as "We shall" do these
things, either.  I asume Churchill did it on purpose.

It's all complicated by another thing: when it is inverted into a question
all bets are off; as in "Shall you be attending the House next week?" being
asked of Disraeli in a letter, or in a Buchan novel, "Shall you go into

Oooh, and I am reminded: in at least one version of *Matty Groves* from the
1960s the lyric goes

"and you shall strike the first blow
"and strike it like a man
"and I will strike the next blow
"and I'll kill you if I can."

which makes quite a difference, depending whether the person who wrote it
down was following the 1920s rules or was not.


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