verb \ shəl , ˈshal \

Definition of shall

past should play \shəd, ˈshu̇d\; present singular and plural shall
1 archaic
a : will have to : must
b : will be able to : can
2 a used to express a command or exhortation
  • you shall go
b used in laws, regulations, or directives to express what is mandatory
  • it shall be unlawful to carry firearms
3 a used to express what is inevitable or seems likely to happen in the future
  • we shall have to be ready
  • we shall see
b used to express simple futurity
  • when shall we expect you
4 used to express determination
  • they shall not pass
archaic : will go
  • he to England shall along with you
  • —William Shakespeare

shall vs. will

From the reams of pronouncements written about the distinction between shall and will—dating back as far as the 17th century—it is clear that the rules laid down have never very accurately reflected actual usage. The nationalistic statements of 18th and 19th century British grammarians, who commonly cited the misuses of the Irish, the Scots, and occasionally the Americans, suggest that the traditional rules may have come closest to the usage of southern England. Some modern commentators believe that English usage is still the closest to the traditionally prescribed norms. Most modern commentators allow that will is more common in nearly all uses. The entries for shall and will in this dictionary show current usage.

Examples of shall in a Sentence

  1. you shall do as I say

Recent Examples of shall from the Web

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'shall.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Origin and Etymology of shall

Middle English shal (1st & 3rd singular present indicative), from Old English sceal; akin to Old High German scal (1st & 3rd singular present indicative) ought to, must, Lithuanian skola debt

shall Synonyms

Related Words


SHALL Defined for English Language Learners


Definition of shall for English Language Learners

  • —used to say that something is expected to happen in the future

  • —used to ask for someone's opinion

  • —used to give a command or to say that you will or will not allow something to happen

SHALL Defined for Kids


helping verb \ shəl , ˈshal \

Definition of shall for Students

past should \shəd, ˈshu̇d\; present singular & plural shall
1 : am or are going to or expecting to : will
  • Violators shall be dealt with most harshly.
  • —Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth
2 : is or are forced to : must
  • They shall not pass.

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excessive admiration or flattery

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