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Make of that what you will or Do what you will

What is the meaning of 'will' in these expressions?

Here's some examples:

I have had my share of desires and goals, but my life has come to me or I have gone to it mainly by way of mistakes and surprises. Often I have received better than I deserved. Often my fairest hopes have rested on bad mistakes. I am an ignorant pilgrim, crossing a dark valley. And yet for a long time, looking back, I have been unable to shake off the feeling that I have been led - make of that what you will.
(Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow)


Do What You Will (Collected works of Aldous Huxley)



Wiccan morality is largely expressed in the Wiccan Rede: An [if] it harm none, do what you will. ... is usually interpreted as a declaration of the freedom to act, along with the necessity of taking responsibility for what follows from one's actions.


Here are two definitions of 'will':

v.tr.
1. To decide on; choose.
2. To yearn for; desire: "She makes you will your own destruction" (George Bernard Shaw).
3. To decree, dictate, or order.
4. To resolve with a forceful will; determine.
5. To induce or try to induce by sheer force of will: We willed the sun to come out.
6. To grant in a legal will; bequeath.
v.intr.
1. To exercise the will.
2. To make a choice; choose.


and:

aux.v.
1. Used to indicate simple futurity: They will appear later.
2. Used to indicate likelihood or certainty: You will regret this.
3. Used to indicate willingness: Will you help me with this package?
4. Used to indicate requirement or command: You will report to me afterward.
5. Used to indicate intention: I will too if I feel like it.
6. Used to indicate customary or habitual action: People will talk.
7. Used to indicate capacity or ability: This metal will not crack under heavy pressure.
8. Used to indicate probability or expectation: That will be the messenger ringing.
tr. & intr.v.
To wish; desire: Do what you will. Sit here if you will.

Which of these 'will's is meant? Is it short for Make or that what you will [make of it]? Or is it Make of that what you determine/resolve/induce my the force of your will?

Can it be used in other tenses? eg

They made of that what they would
They made of that what they willed

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This is the ordinary deontic sense of will, paraphrased as 'be willing to'. It often shows up in hypothetical subordinate clauses to indicate free choice, and the indefinite what(ever) certainly introduces a hypothetical clause. –  John Lawler Apr 2 at 14:39
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Modal auxiliary verbs (like will) are part of grammar and very irregular and idiomatic. The dictionary is the wrong place to look for their uses, because their meanings are statistical, pragmatic, and logical, not semantic. –  John Lawler Apr 2 at 14:41
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Will is never a main verb; like all modals, it's strictly a defective auxiliary and must have an infinitive complement. If there is no such complement present, an active pro-verb -- typically Action do -- is understood. –  John Lawler Apr 2 at 15:25
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@John except that will isn't a modal verb here. "to will" is very much a first-class verb in English, and it's exactly that meaning (the transitive/intransitive, not the auxiliary) which must be used to understand the phrase "what you will". –  Wlerin Apr 2 at 20:37
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There's no need to consult additional (irrelevant) articles. Just see the definitions above, or my analysis of them in my answer below. Debating modal verbs is pointless when the verb in question is a regular lexical verb. –  Wlerin Apr 4 at 23:15

7 Answers 7

up vote 2 down vote accepted

I want to make a distinction not well covered by the other answers. In your example definitions, we find two different (very different) sorts of verbs: v.tr and v.intr vs. aux.v. It's the same word shape, but the meanings are almost entirely separate (you can sort of see how the one led to the other, but this is not relevant aside from historical interest).

aux.v is the auxiliary, or modal will, when it is used to as part of a larger verb form, such as will be, or will have been built. This is not the word in question. Exclude all of these from your choices.

We are thus left with:

v.tr.
1. To decide on; choose.
2. To yearn for; desire: "She makes you will your own destruction" (George Bernard Shaw).
3. To decree, dictate, or order.
4. To resolve with a forceful will; determine.
5. To induce or try to induce by sheer force of will: We willed the sun to come out.
6. To grant in a legal will; bequeath.

v.intr.
1. To exercise the will.
2. To make a choice; choose.

or more simply:

tr. & intr.v.
To wish; desire: Do what you will. Sit here if you will.

Any of these may be applicable, depending on context, though some are more common than others (generally, the higher ranked are more common).

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I choose this one:

To wish; desire: Do what you will. Sit here if you will.

Make of that what you wish.

And for past tense:

They made of that what they would

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"Make of that what you wish." I see what you did there. –  Digital Chris Apr 2 at 13:35
    
They made of that what they would This feels really weird to me. If they already made of it, there's no "would". –  Cruncher Apr 2 at 16:02
    
@Cruncher: I agree. The verb will is definitely not compatible with would. –  Magus Apr 2 at 19:48
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will is certainly compatible with would. They made of that what they would makes perfect sense, as in, they made of it what that wanted at that time in the past. –  chadbag Apr 2 at 20:13
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would: 1. modal verb, past of will ... –  GEdgar Apr 3 at 1:45

What is interesting, is that in German, wollen means to want to. First person and third person singular is will. I suspect our similar English usage goes back to a common past with the German, but it shows more clearly in the German and has been somewhat lost in English use.

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I think this is the answer that should be accepted. –  Panzercrisis Apr 2 at 20:52
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This answer should also mention that this expression exists in German as well as Tu/mach [doch] was du willst since this is probably where you are coming from. –  Adrian Frühwirth Apr 3 at 11:05

One of Shakespeare's plays has the full title, Twelfth Night or What you Will, which is a way of saying,"the kind of comedy you like". Hardly different from the title of another of his comedies, As You Like It.

Will, as used there, can be translated as want, as it can in the example you posted. You could say make of that what you want or interpret that however it pleases you.

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Think of these sentences as having had a word or phrase deleted from them.

If I said:

Do what you will (want to) do …
Make if that what you will want to make of it …

The meanings would be quite clear.

Will in this case means both desire and the implicit future. It's all wrapped up in a neat little package; hence, it is easy to delete the extra verbiage from the sentence.

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"Will" means "wish/want/desire" in this case.

Make of that what you will is similar to do with this as you please, so I'd suppose in that sense will is the same as desire. For example if someone says:

"Yeah, Jessie was gone for a few weeks and now she's got all those weird bruises. When she came back to work two days ago, she told me she was abducted by aliens-- make of that what you will.

The speaker leaves the choice up to you. You can choose to believe what you want.

I don't think it's short for make of this what you will make of it although I guess that's another way of saying it. I don't think people would say that over the shorter make of that what you will, but you can use the long form to confirm that will means want: make of that as you want to make of that is the same as make of that as you want which is the same as make of that as you will.

As far as past tense... willed is probably correct at least formally, but I think it's archaic. "Would" is probably used more than "willed". Neither is wrong, but you'd probably see/hear "would" used more in that case.

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Willed seems more accurate in this case, as will is a verb here. To will something is somewhat more active than a simple wish. It carries the sense that it is expected to succeed, where wish implies that you'd be very glad if it did. It is also close to choose. –  Magus Apr 2 at 19:45

My understanding of "will" in the sentences you have shown is close to "want".

As for the past tense "would" like in the famous lyrics:

"Why she had to go, I don't know, she wouldn't say"

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