Difference Between Will Be and Shall Be

Edited by Diffzy | Updated on: April 28, 2022

       

Difference Between Will Be and Shall Be Difference Between Will Be and Shall Be

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Introduction

We live in a world of uncertainty. You wake up and your pets are not over your bed, mauling you to take them for a walk. Instead, they are sleeping deeply at the foot like a couple of best boys. Or, you turn on the TV and the newsreader is blasting on about how listening to Justin Bieber can relieve your stress. Or, you walk in the street and all of a sudden you see a massive saucer-shaped floating object appear before you, lighting a path for you to tread upon. Or, you have been ordered by your company to stay at home until further notice because of a deadly viral pandemic. The last one is true and the others are merely strange predictions that most definitely will not come to pass. Although, if a spaceship did appear, that would be pretty awesome.

The future is uncertain but that does not stop us from coming up with fancy hypotheses. Isn’t that what storytelling is all about anyway? Grammatically, we have learned that there are essentially 3 tenses – past, present and the future. Deeper learning gives us further categorization of these tenses with the addition of simple, continuous, perfect and perfect continuous to these tenses. For example, the future tense can be categorized as future simple, future continuous, future perfect and future perfect continuous. If you wish to be an English scholar, it would do well to learn the differences between each of these types of tenses because they frame a good conversation. Or a good story.

Take future continuous tense for example. It is used to talk about things that could happen at a given point in the future like foresight. These sentences would be immensely useful while making futuristic assumptions or playing a fortune-teller. Imagine twirling your fingers are a fuzzy big ball and prophesying the end of the world…

Will Be vs. Shall Be

To make such prophecies, one has to know the future continuous tense well. And to effectively use the future continuous tense, one must know the words or rather, verbs, ‘will be’ and ‘shall be’. Every basic sentence has the structure of a subject, verb and object. The words ‘will be’ and ‘shall be’ in the sentences of the future continuous tense are a type of verb – the auxiliary verb. An auxiliary verb is a helping verb. These verbs add meaning to the function of the verb. Using the words just mentioned, here are 2 examples in the future continuous tense:

  • I will be going to sleep.
  • I shall be going to sleep.

In both these sentences, ‘I’ is the subject, ‘sleep’ is the object and ‘going’ is the verb. The words ‘will be’ and ‘shall be’ are the auxiliary verbs that help determine the function of the verb ‘going’. While both these auxiliary words can be used interchangeably, they have their specific uses too. Let us see the differences.

Differences Between ‘Will Be’ and ‘Shall Be’ in a Tabular Form

Table: Will Be vs. Shall Be
PARAMETER
WILL BE
SHALL BE
Purpose of use
‘Will be’ is used in the future continuous tense to convey a strong willingness to accomplish a task.
‘Shall be’ is used in the future continuous tense as well. It is used more to express an obligation than a will.
Subject of the sentence
The subjects in a sentence that uses ‘will be’ are most likely ‘I’, ‘we’, ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘it’, ‘they’.
The subjects in a sentence that uses ‘shall be’ are most commonly ‘I’ and ‘we’.
Language
‘Will be’ is more commonly used in the Modern English.
‘Shall be’ is not commonly used in the Modern English.
Contraction in a sentence
‘Will be’ when used as a contraction in a sentence will be “‘ll be” and “won’t be” (negative form)
‘Shall be’ when used as a contraction in a sentence will be “’ll be” and “shan’t be” (negative form)
General usage
It can be used both in formal and informal situations.
It is mostly used in formal situations.
Example
“I will be coming home for dinner”
“I shall be dining out for supper”

When to use ‘Will Be’?

‘Will’ as a word by itself is classified as a modal verb. Such verbs are verbs that express a possibility or a need. ‘Will’, thus, is used to express a strong state of mind and motivation. It is used in the future tense to express a desire to make something happen. For example – ‘I will wake up at 6 AM’.

‘Will’ is also an auxiliary or helping verb as mentioned before and is used to help the verb convey the tense of the sentence. ‘Will be’ is used to predict the future continuous tense. It expresses action at a particular moment in the future. Such an action is said to have been started but not finished. For example – ‘He will be walking his dog this evening’.

Examples of usage of ‘will be’ according to the type of sentence are as follows:

In an affirmative sentence:

‘She will be flying home tomorrow’

As a contraction in the same sentence, ‘will be’ can be used as:

‘She’ll be flying home tomorrow’

In a negative sentence:

‘He will not be driving uptown’

(note that ‘will be’ when used negatively cannot be used as ‘will be not’. It is incorrect.)

As a contraction in the same sentence, ‘will not be’ can be used as:

‘He won’t be driving uptown’

In an interrogative sentence: When ‘will’ is being used as a question, the order of the subject and the verb gets reversed.

For example: In an affirmative sentence such as ‘You will be shopping at the mall’, the subject is ‘you’ and the auxiliary verb ‘will’. In an interrogative sentence, they get reversed – ‘Will you be shopping at the mall?’, the auxiliary verb ‘will’ comes before the subject ‘you’.

In a negative interrogative sentence:

‘Will it not be ready by tomorrow?’

Again, in this sentence, the ‘not’ has to be used between ‘will’ and ‘be’ and the auxiliary verb ‘will’ has to come before the subject ‘it’.

With a past participle:

Even though ‘will be’ is used in the future continuous tense, it can be used with a past participle. Past participle refers to a verb that ends in ‘ed’ and denotes an action that began and was completed in the past.

Example:

The cat will be bathed tomorrow.

(In this sentence, the past participle is ‘bathed’.)  

When to use ‘Shall Be’?

Like ‘will’, ‘shall’ is also a modal verb and an auxiliary verb in that it expresses a need or probability and helps the function of other verbs respectively. ‘Shall’ by itself is quite rare in Modern English, it is easier to come across it while reading the classics. For example, one of the ten commandments is ‘thou shalt not kill’. Here, ‘shalt’ is the archaic version of ‘shall’. The meaning is the same – you shall not kill. 

When attached with ‘be’, ‘shall be’ is used in sentences that have the future continuous tense. As already mentioned, these sentences refer to an action that is to take place at a point in the future where the action has begun but not ended. ‘Shall be’ is mostly used to showcase obligations and promises rather than a strong will. It is also more commonly used with ‘I’ and ‘we’. Although, while talking of stronger intentions, ‘shall be’ can also be used with the second person (you) or third person (he, she, they, it) for example –

You shall be executed at dawn on the morrow. (Second person – you)

He shall be served to the dogs as punishment. (Third person – he)

Examples of usage of ‘shall be’ in various types of sentences:

In an affirmative sentence:

‘I shall be going away.’

As a contraction in the same sentence, ‘shall be’ can be used as:

‘I’ll be going away.’

In a negative sentence:

‘I shall not be receiving that gentleman.’

(Again, it is important to note that ‘shall be’ when used negatively cannot be used as ‘shall be not’. It is incorrect.)

As a contraction in the same sentence, ‘shall not be’ can be used as:

‘I shan’t be receiving that gentleman.’

Interrogative sentences mostly use ‘will be’ instead of ‘shall be’ since ‘shall be’ is used mostly for polite conversation and requests. It is also usually used by decision-making bodies like the government when they declare their plans so there is a display of commitment to the future. For example – ‘There shall be a new highway constructed by the next year’. In contrast, ‘will be’ is more definitive.

Main differences between ‘will be’ and ‘shall be’ in points

Following are the main differences between ‘will be’ and ‘shall be’:

  1. Both ‘will be’ and ‘shall be’ are auxiliary verbs that are used in the future continuous tense. However, ‘will be’ shows a strong will and ‘shall be’ portrays an obligation.
  2. ‘Will be’ can be used both in formal and informal scenarios whereas ‘shall be’ is most often used in formal situations.
  3. ‘Will be’ is more commonly used in Modern English while ‘shall be’ is not commonly heard in Modern English.
  4. ‘Will be’ when used as a contraction in a sentence is “‘ll be” and “won’t be” (negative form). ‘Shall be’ when used as a contraction in a sentence is also “’ll be” but its negative form is “shan’t be”.
  5. The subjects most likely to be found in association with ‘will be’ are ‘I’, ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘they’ and ‘it’. The subjects that are most likely to be found in a sentence with ‘shall be’ are – ‘I’ and ‘we’.
  6. An example of a sentence with ‘will be’ is ‘I will be taking the bus to work’ and an example of a sentence with ‘shall be’ is ‘I shall be driving my car to school’.
  7. An example of a negative sentence with ‘will be’ is ‘I won’t be going to the party’ and an example of a negative sentence with ‘shall be’ is ‘We shan’t set foot at the party’.
  8. An example of an interrogative sentence with ‘will be’ is ‘Will they be coming home?’ ‘Shall be’ on the other hand is not particularly used in interrogative sentences.

Conclusion

‘Will be’ and ‘Shall be’, are thus quite similar and are often used interchangeably. They are employed in sentences that are in the future continuous tense. ‘Will be’ is used when one wishes to express a strong will. It is more definitive and stronger than ‘shall be’. ‘Will be’ is also used more often in the Modern English language. ‘will be’ can be used with subjects like ‘I’, ‘you’, ‘we’, ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘they’ and ‘it’ unlike ‘shall be’ which is mostly used with ‘I’ and ‘we’. It demonstrates motivation to accomplish a task at a particular point in the future.

‘Shall be’ on the other hand, is rather demure in contrast to ‘will be’. It is also used in sentences that are in the future continuous tense. Mostly, it expresses requests and obligations. It is not usually used in an interrogative sense. It is more common to come across ‘shall be’ in ancient classics and stories. It is also seldom used with the second and third person (you, he, she, they, it) unless to express stronger intentions. Lastly, ‘shall be’ is also used to declare an intention that will occur at a particular time in the future.

Thus, using either, one can appropriately make any kind of predictions or prophecies. They need only don the garb and fish out a cane (for dramatic effect) while embracing one’s inner Sherlock. The future continuous tense is the perfect tense to speak in and with the clues discernable to the eye, one can make guesses and use ‘will be’ for the good guesses and ‘shall be’ for the vague guesses. Unless it is full of lies, there can be no real harm from the stint. Misinformation is worse than no information at all. The future is full of mystery, yes. But to keep the people smart and hopeful, a calculated hypothesis is better than a falsity.

References

  1. https://www.englishclub.com/grammar/verb-tenses_future-continuous.htm 
  2. https://grammar.collinsdictionary.com/easy-learning/when-do-you-use-shall-and-will-in-english
  3. https://www.grammar.cl/Notes/Future_Will.htm

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