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Posted by R. Berg on May 08, 2001

In Reply to: Shall posted by K. Yone on May 08, 2001

: Hi again!

: After my American friend told me that 'shall' is rarely used in spoken American English I kind of concern more about when and how to use 'shall.' I've come up with the four sentences which I don't feel any problem to use 'shall' in spoken English. Do you feel these sentences sound too formal? Do you have any better way to express in spoken English?

: I try myself first.

: 1.What shall I write with?
: 2.Assuming it rain tomorrow, what shall I do?
: 3.Shall we go out for supper?
: 4.Suppose he refuses, what shall we do then?

: What should I write with?
: Assuming it rain tomorrow, what should I do?
: Let's go out for supper?
: Suppose he refuses, what should we do then?

: Sentences sentences 1, 2 and 3 may have different meaning; the first three sentences sound 'obligatory.' Am I right?

: Thank you for your help.

: Sincerely,

: K. Yone

You didn't ask this question, but in 2 and , "rain" should be "rains."

I'm not sure what you are using "obligatory" to mean. In American English, "shall" does sound somewhat formal or old-fashioned even when it is correct, as your friend said. Still, educated Americans might use sentences 1, 2, 3, 4 without making people look at them strangely. Sentence 1, especially, would be normal in a business office. Sentences through sound all right too. Americans who haven't gone to college would probably use those instead of saying "shall." Sentence should end with a period rather than a question mark.

Some of the meanings are different. To say "Shall we go out to supper?" is to ask somebody whether he or she agrees to go. To say "Let's go out to supper" is to make a suggestion. "Should" has to do with ethics (right and wrong) and "shall" doesn't, so that "What should we do then?" might be a question about what the moral thing to do is, not just a question about what our plans are.

People often use "will" in place of "shall." "Suppose he refuses, what will we do then?" But "will" and "shall" aren't interchangeable. "Will we go out to supper?" is a request to be told what will happen (to be told whether we will go or we won't); "Shall we go out to supper?" expresses the speaker's intention to make something (the outing) happen.