General grammar thread (was Re: Checking in)

minnow at belfry.org.uk minnow at belfry.org.uk
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
go:

"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
Scotland?".

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.

Minnow


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