(Originally published on Wednesday, May 12, 2010)

Of MacArthur, Contracts, and Twins Shall and Will

Were you around yet when Douglas MacArthur landed in Leyte? Did you sign a contract with him…or signed one lately?

Yup, these are relevant questions if you’ve got trouble with will and shall. I don’t mean William (Will, for short) and his brother Shallom (not the Jewish greeting). Helping verbs will and shall give many people trouble even if I tell them that there’s nothing much to worry about, I always say, just remember Gen. Douglas MacArthur and contracts.

What’s with MacArthur? He arrived in Leyte, and he was supposed to have said: I shall return. Everyone knows that he really wanted to return. He wanted to come back.  Grammatically, he should have said, I WILL return. Apparently, there was no contract which tied him up to that promise. (If there was, do let me know.)

This leads us to contracts. Review everything you have signed. Notice these typical lines in a contract: The third party shall… both parties shall…

Now, when do you use will, when do you use shall? I shall explain, but with this caveat: language change, especially in American English, allows for flexibility.  Language changes. Only dead languages, like Latin, don’t. MacArthur’s dead. And English is not.

You can interchange will and shall and it makes no difference. If you wish to stick to British English or stay formal and safe, however, then be guided by this simple strategy. Simply visualize a hip matrix.

First column: Your reference point is your personal pronouns. Remember first, second, third. Review the pronouns you can use as subjects of your sentence. It doesn’t matter if your pronoun is singular or plural. Our two verbs in focus, just like other helping verbs (except for is and are) can be used for singular and plural cases.

Re-introducing…first person pronouns I and We, the only second person pronoun You and third person pronouns He, She, It, and They.

Now, to your matrix’s second and third columns. Note two categories of future references—ordinary future (for your second column) and determined future (for your third column). That intersecting space for the first person and ordinary future: fill it in with shall (e.g. I shall appreciate your reply). The intersecting space for the first person and determined future, fill it in with will (e.g. I will obey all contract stipulation).

Now, go for some tire rotation. For both second and third person pronouns, simply reverse the situation. The pronouns you, he, she, it, and they must be followed by will for the ordinary future (you will leave at 5 p.m., he will appreciate your coming here), and followed by shall for the determined future (e.g. you shall not steal…the third party shall…).

More examples:

Ordinary future (for usual realities in the future): I shall go home early. You will see me. He will be there. Shall we dance? Will you pay? Will they come?

Determined future (for contracts or commands): I will do the best I can (so you see how incorrect MacArthur was with his I shall return, unless of course he didn’t really plan to return). The poet says: East is east and west is west, and never the twain shall meet (a determined prediction!—people are different, though they’re the same). Thou (i.e., you) shalt honor thy father and thy mother (a commandment—and a contract is a commandment). Thou shalt not eat salt (Why?  It’s a sin. LOL). The third party shall pay the entire amount upon the demand of the first party (a contract is a commandment).  The first party (take note, this is a third person application—all nouns are third person in reference…you’re not using any first person pronoun in this subject example) shall submit for interrogation provided that…

That’s the usual contract statement. You don’t have pronouns like I or he or they in contracts. It’s proper nouns, names of the parties involved which, by the way, function grammatically like third person pronouns.

That’s why you can always use that contract statement as a guide to start you to recall the shall and will rule. If it’s a determined future (as all contract statements are determined, and if you violate them, you can go to jail or pay tremendous fines), you use shall in the third person (which in our matrix also includes the second person).

Well, just remember, I refer to the formal standard rule. Or, if you want to be safe, go informal and use the contractions—either way, you’ll be ok (that’s either you will or you shall). You can always be flexible.  We don’t have to sign a contract with regard to this. Otherwise, you shall be liable for damages. And I will be scot free. Or shall, as the case may be.

If you make a mistake, don’t consider being dead (and join MacArthur). Stipulate in a contract that you shall be determined to be kind to yourself, for everyone makes mistakes, and to recall the matrix I suggested. Then you shall definitely be standard, with more practice, as you use English. I will stand by you.

Remember the matrix, or forget about it. The choice is yours. Stay really formal, or liberate yourself in English freedom. Using either shall or will requires no rules.  Otherwise, go back to the matrix, or simply remember MacArthur and contracts.  Promise me you will?

I will give you a copy of one of my books if you will email me four sentences illustrating the formal distinction I’ve just discussed with you—two sentences indicating ordinary future, and two determined future (each with a first person and a second or third person pronoun as subject). Shall I hear from you? I can almost hear you say, Yes I will.

(All rights reserved. Copyright Manila Bulletin and Dr. Rodolfo “Dups” delos Reyes. May not be reproduced or copied without express written permission of copyright holders.)

Posted on May 12, 2010, in Business Agenda Classifieds Columns, Yuppy and Hip and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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