This extract from the film script of Pride and Prejudice (1995) and the meaning of some sentences are a bit vague for me.

  1. Why does Kitty use will in the first sentence and shall in the second?
    Is the extra implication of shall "to make her do"?
  2. Why does Lydia say "... you would tell her?" Why is would used here?

KITTY: Lydia has torn up my bonnet and made it up new and says she will wear it to church. Tell her she shall not!

LYDIA: I shall wear it, I beg you would tell her so, for it's all my own work.

  • 1
    Think of shall/should as conveying obligation, of will/would as conveying volition. – Anonym Apr 19 '15 at 17:21
  • 4
    In older texts, however--the original novel, at least, being an older text--we get into the issue of shall/should being the default choice for first person, will/would for second or third person. See Fowler's Modern English Usage for details. – Brian Donovan Apr 19 '15 at 17:34
  1. 'Will' in the first sentence is a standard usage. 'Shall' in the second sentence is used to convey order, requirement, and determination. Actually we can rephrase it as 'Tell her she must not'.

Shall in The Free Dictionary:

b. An order, promise, requirement, or determination:

  • You shall leave now.
  • He shall answer for his misdeeds.
  • The penalty shall not exceed two years in prison.
  1. 'I beg you would tell her' is a polite request similar to 'I beg you to tell her', 'would you tell her', 'could you tell her', put as a statement.

[EDIT - clarification, in response to Peter Shor's]

Jane Austen's style vs Today's style:

she shall not ->> she should not [obligation]

I shall wear it ->> I will wear it [futurity, and intention/volition]

  • What??? "I shall wear it" is the same as "I will wear it"? Not in Jane Austen's time. – Peter Shor Apr 20 '15 at 13:44
  • So, what's your reading? – Marius Hancu Apr 20 '15 at 13:51
  • The usual distinction in those days was "I shall wear it": normal future. "I will wear it": strong intention/volition on the part of the speaker. So you would say "I shall be thrown in prison" and not "I will be thrown in prison". (Unless you actually wanted to be thrown in prison. – Peter Shor Apr 21 '15 at 13:43
  • Often, you could use either, but in some cases, such as "I will/shall never see her again", there's a big distinction. "I will": I will refuse to see her; "I shall": I shall be unable to see her (even if I want to). – Peter Shor Apr 21 '15 at 13:51
  • @PeterShor I inserted a clarification. My equivalence was between the old "I shall wear it" and today's "I will wear it." Certainly it's in the main futurity, but hides a bit of intent, IMO. – Marius Hancu Apr 21 '15 at 20:07

The first part of the post has already been answered at When should I use "shall" versus "will"? and it's slightly complicated. I shall/you will used to be the standard construction for the future tense of to be, while I will/you shall was used for to express determination or certainty. Both constructions have changed since Austen's time, at least for common usage, particularly in American English, where shall has pretty much dropped out of use. Even 50 years ago "I shall" was the recommended future tense in high school grammar books, and for all I know still is. The usage has been blurred, I think, in part because of the difficulty in distinguishing prediction from intent. If someone says "I'll be there in five minutes" is there a clear distinction between "I really intend to be there in five minutes" (determination) and "My arrival will occur within five minutes" (prediction)? At any rate, "I shall" has been falling into disuse since the 1960s, as shown by https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=I+shall%2CI+will&year_start=1800&year_end=2000&corpus=15&smoothing=3&share=&direct_url=t1%3B%2CI%20shall%3B%2Cc0%3B.t1%3B%2CI%20will%3B%2Cc0 enter image description here although something else has also been going on in terms of both first-person usages, as evidenced by the long slow decline since about 1800.

Dan Bron's comment about Lydia's statement is correct: Lydia is requesting Kitty to bear a message. Austen's usage would probably be altered today from "I beg" to "I would be in your debt if", or alternatively "you would tell her so" to "you to tell her so".

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