English native speakers, I've seen that the use of shall in first person is usually for future. But consider this John Maynard Keynes' example from 1930 which makes some predictions throughout the text:

"There are changes in other spheres too which we must expect to come. When the accumulation of wealth is no longer of high social importance, there will be great changes in the code of morals. We shall be able to rid ourselves of many of the pseudo moral principles which have hag-ridden us for two hundred years, by which we have exalted some of the most distasteful of human qualities into the position of the highest virtues. We shall be able to afford to dare to assess the money-motive as its true value. The love of money as a possession -as distinguished from the love of money as a means to the enjoyments and realities of life- will be recognized for what it is, a somewhat disgusting morbidity..."

My guess: a) Although "shall" is used with third person plural, I interpret it as a moral obligation (a cordial way to say "we must").

What do you think? Are these uses of shall future or an obligation?

  • 1
    Both uses of shall are first person.
    – deadrat
    Commented Sep 2, 2016 at 4:40
  • OK, sorry I think I elaborated wrong my question. My question is if they are interpreted as an obligation or as future.
    – Mike
    Commented Sep 2, 2016 at 4:54
  • Simple future, I think. Generally, we don't place an obligation on ourselves (or anyone) to be able to do something.
    – deadrat
    Commented Sep 2, 2016 at 6:09

1 Answer 1


When I was at school, my English teacher taught the use of shall and will. He would have been at school and university around the time Keynes was writing.

  • For simple future, the first person singular and plural use shall and others use will.

  • To indicate obligation or intent, the use is reversed and first-person uses will with others using shall.

All of Keynes's uses follow this rule and they are all simple future.

Even in the 1980s when this was taught to me, the use of shall and will was already much much more fluid. I think Mr Miles was attempting, Canute-like, to hold back the tide of liguistic laziness! These days he would say the situation is even worse and can often lead to confusion, but for writing up to the 1930s at least using this rule does generally work for correct interpretation.

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