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Studying Shall with the Help of Corpus Data

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Studying Shall with the Help of Corpus Data 1 Introduction In this essay I will discuss the use of shall. How frequent and important is it when making statements and asking questions about the future? To begin with, I will introduce material from different grammar books. To make the structure clear, I will discuss the uses in statements and questions separately. Furthermore, I will also distinguish the uses with 1st person subjects from the uses with 2nd and 3rd person subjects. In section 3, I will go on to examine a random sample of 50 examples of shall gathered from the British National Corpus online search facility. 2 Description of shall in the grammars Shall is a modal auxiliary verb which goes with the infinitive in all persons. Leech (1987, 88-89) argues that the speaker has authority in statements with shall, but in questions, the authority is in the hands of the hearer. In his view, shall is more common in questions than in statements, because consulting someone else's wishes is more polite than asserting one's own. 2.1 Shall in statements 2.1.1 Use with 1st person subjects According to Jespersen (1933, 278), shall is considered the natural auxiliary expressing the future, because will is often associated with volition. Shall is therefore often used to indicate predictions. Jespersen goes on to argue that "When a future state of one's own feelings is to be mentioned I shall is the natural expression, because one does not like to imply that they depend on one's will." ...read more.


For example, shall can be used when making a threat. Close to this is the idea of insistence introduced by Quirk and Greenbaum (1973, 54): You shall do as I say. He shall be punished. Another use of shall is making a promise. Jespersen (1933, 276) argues that this use has the idea of an obligation on the part of the speaker. However, COBUILD English Usage (1992, 622) states that using shall in this kind of meaning sounds old-fashioned and therefore, is also frequently replaced by will: You shall have the money as soon as I can get it. You shall not find me ungrateful for what you have done. 2.2 Shall in questions Leech (1989, 426) introduces three different kinds of uses of shall in questions: offering to do something, asking about some future event or asking for advice or suggestions. (1) Shall I...? or Shall we...? are generally used in making an offer. In these kind of questions, Leech (1987, 89) states, the speaker is consulting the wishes of the listener. Therefore, the will of the person addressed is important and, in fact, Leech states that Do you want me/us to...? can be used as a way of rephrasing: Shall I open the door? Shall we carry those bags for you? (2) Shall we...? is also used in making suggestions about the future or as a tag question after Let's. ...read more.


According to the corpus data, the use with 3rd person subjects is clearly less frequent with only 11 examples of the total of 50. However, what is interesting about these sentences, is that they are all categorised as rules and regulations: B3A 380 The board of the faculty shall deem a student to have withdrawn.... FRB 871 The democratic process demands that ministers shall be accountable.... As there was only one example of the use of shall with 2nd person subjects in the 50 samples, I did an additional search on they shall and you shall. In these examples shall was most frequently used in old-fashioned / biblical contexts or threats / insistence respectively: ALH 722 Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. FSJ 53 If you don't put that knife away, I promise you shall die a criminal's death under the law. 4 Conclusion In this essay I have discussed various uses of shall in different contexts. By using both grammar books and a corpus data, I have taken into consideration not only how the grammarians advise the learner to use shall, but also how shall has actually been used by native speakers. The corpus gives a good overall view of the frequency of shall. For example, it showed very clearly that the main use of shall is with 1st person predictions about the future, in which cases it can usually be replaced by will. Furthermore, what also became evident, is the fact that with 3rd person subjects, shall is mainly used in rules and regulations. ...read more.

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