The surprisingly easy world of ‘shall’. Here’s the only time you really need to use it!

‘Shall’ is another word in English which is a mystery to English learners.  Usually when you try to look up shall in a dictionary you will find many meanings, which can be very confusing.  Most of the meanings you find in the dictionary are so uncommon that you would never use them, and never really even need to recognise them.  In reality, there is only one time you need to use it, and it’s really quite simple.

The ONLY time you really need to use ‘shall’:

In general English, shall is only really used when making suggestions in the form of a question:

‘What do you want to do tonight?’

Shall we go to the cinema?’

It is not a strong suggestion, it is a suggestion, you are asking for whether people agree with your suggestion.

‘Shall I open the window?’ (asking for someone to say ‘yes, open it’, or ‘no don’t open it’)

Shall I book a table at the restaurant?’  (asking for someone to say ‘yes, book a table’, or ‘no don’t book a table’)

Here are some really common examples of suggestions made with shall, these are classic phrases:

‘What shall we do today?’

Shall we go?’

Shall we pay the bill?’ (click here to check out some great phrases to use at a business lunch!)

This use for suggestions is very common, I use it all the time, and is great for making not strong suggestions.  If you want to make stronger suggestions you can use let’s:

‘Let’s go’

‘Let’s pay the bill’

This that really the only time you need to use shall, and in my experience the only time you will really hear it used!  

If you’re really interested, there are 2 other meanings below, which you will never use, and probably won’t need to recognise. 

1 is not common now at all, and the other is only used very formally, mainly legal English, so only read on if you are really interested!   

1. Not used very much any more – shall meaning will 

Shall can be used to express a strong intention:

‘We shall succeed’

or it can simply just mean the same as will, but this is very old-fashioned now:

‘I shall take John to the doctors’

2. Used only in legal  and very formal English – shall as a very formal word for must or ‘have a duty to’:

‘Employees shall return all goods not sold’

If you would like to have any of these words explained further, or if you would like to see some more examples, feel free to email me at [email protected], or message me on Skype at live:fluencyspace! Check out more professional uses for English grammar right here!


 David Cox

 Fluency Space

 Make the world your fluency space. Business English for career and life success

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