will/shall

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Thu Jan 25 06:25:15 UTC 2001


At 1:19 PM -0500 1/25/01, Herb Stahlke wrote:
>As recently as 1933, Jespersen wrote (Essentials of English
>Grammar 274-5):
>
>"In the first person _will_ does not lend itself so well as in
>the others to the expression of mere futurity, as _I will_ and _we
>will_ are so extensively and so naturally put in requisition to
>express volition, and as the other auxiliary, _shall_, has ome to
>be much used with _i_ and )we_ to express mere futurity.  Still _I
>(we) will_ is gaining ground in this function where strict
>grammarians prefer _shall_, and this cannot be thought unnatural
>...The style manuals PAT refers to may simply be restating the
>prescriptive rule most of us learned at some time and never
>applied to our speech or writing.
>
Talk about the stars being aligned.  an hour ago I received a message
from Georgia Green, who is not an ads-l subscriber and has no idea
we've been talking about will/shall, that contains the following
information about Bishop Lowth, the famed 18th century British
prescriptivist:
================
Robert Lowth was a grumpy old man, worse than Kilpatrick or Safire on
their worst days, and he as much as admits making up the shall/will
rule:
     "_Will_ in the first Person singular and plural promises or
threatens; in the second and third
      Persons only foretells: _shall_ on the contrary, in the first
Person simply fortells; in the
      second and third Persons commands or threatens."
Then there is a footnote:
     This distinction was not observed formerly as to the word
_shall_, which was used in the
     Second and Third Persons to express simply the event.
So, he's making it up!
=================
Sof if Georgia is right, and I have no reason to doubt her, it is
Bishop Lowth who...er, whom we have to thank for that immortal
contrast between

"I shall drown; no one will save me!"    [despairing accidental drownee]
"I will drown; no one shall save me!"    [determined suicide]

larry
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