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Understanding and Using Modal Verbs (#19), by Dennis Oliver


Modal Verbs #19:
Individual Modal Verbs


The English modal verbs are often challenging for learners
of English. This happens for many reasons, including both
grammar and meaning.

In this Hint, we'll take our first look at shall.


Shall #1


Many grammar books will tell you that shall is the indicator
of future time used for
I and we, while will is the indicator
of future time used for
you, he, she, it, and they.

In American English, shall is seldom used in this way except
in extremely formal language.

Shall is used in American English, however. Two main uses
shall are in asking what someone wants you (or another
person) to do and in asking someone whether something is
a good idea (that is, whether it is advisable).


I open the window?

(Do you think it would be advisable for me to open
the window? / I think I should open the window.
Do you agree that that's a good idea?)


we dance?

(Do you want us to dance? / I'd like to dance
with you. What do you think of my idea?)


Shall John be our new club president?

(Should we make John our new club president?
What's your opinion? / Someone has proposed that
we make John our next club president. Do you

think that's a good idea?)


Judy knows the answer to that difficult problem.
Shall she explain it to us?

(Judy knows the answer to that difficult problem.
Do you want her to explain it to us? / I think Judy
should explain that difficult problem to us. What do
you think?)


Special Note:

Do not use shall with you. (It's illogical to ask someone
what she / he wants himself / herself to do. It's also
illogical to ask whether someone thinks _____ is advisable
for that person to do.)


* Shall you open the window?

* Shall you dance with me?

* Shall you be our next club president, John?

* Shall you explain that difficult problem to us, Judy?


Next: more on modal verbs

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