I'm struggling with "will I" in this sentence. Is it grammatically correct?

I know that "shall I" would be fine, but does "will I" work too?

  • Would "Should I open this box?" work better in your context, which incidentally we do not have? – Cascabel Jul 11 '17 at 2:22

In first person questions, use shall I for things you have control over, and will I for things you don't.

Shall I go to church?
Will I go to jail?

Unless there are some very unusual circumstances connected with opening the box, you should use shall I.

I perceive shall I? as less tentative than should I?.

If I say:

Shall I open the box?

I'm essentially suggesting that I open the box, and asking whether you agree.

If I say:

Should I open the box?

it's less of a suggestion, and more asking your opinion one way or the other.

  • 2
    Note that, while "will" and "shall" are moderately interchangeable in a declarative sentence (ie, there are general "guidelines" about which to use where, but they are not strongly "enforced"), the two words cannot be so freely interchanged in a sentence that is a question. – Hot Licks Jul 11 '17 at 3:11

I think the reason you are struggling is twofold.

The first problem is with the words shall and will. While in the past did have an annoyingly confusing conjugation, they are now mostly used interchangeably in English. See: Oxford Dictionaries' comment on this which says:

In practice, though, the two words are used more or less interchangeably, and this is now an acceptable part of standard British and American English; however, the word shall is now seldom used in any normal context in American English.

FWIW, the traditional rule is that the conjugation:

I/we shall, you/he/she/they will

Is used to form the future tense,


I will, you/he/she/they shall

Is used to indicate determination.

Again, this is annoyingly odd because will and shall flip meanings depending on whether they are first, second or third person.

To offer my personal experience FWIW, I think the word "shall" in its various guises often has an archaic, or perhaps pretentious ring to it, especially in the United States, and given how odd it behaves, I do not lament its demise. However, I think many will disagree with me of that point, though, certainly for American English, the quote from Oxford Dictionaries does support this contention.

Secondly, I think the sentences itself is rather confusing. What are you trying to say?

"Am I going to open the box? No you mustn't." might be one meaning you are seeking, and honestly, using the wording you do, if this is the intent, is rather clumsy.

You might also be going for "Should I open the box? No you mustn't." Which has a somewhat different meaning, and is not really what your original sentence means.

So, based on these two points, I suggest you reword your sentence for a little more clarity.


You can use shall, should, would, or will in your example sentence

_____ I open this box?

The choosing of the word depends on what you want to portray to your audience.

Using ecenglish and talkenglish as a guide:

Shall is used to make/ask for a suggestion also could be used to ask questions politely

Shall I open this box?

Should is often used to give/ask for an opinion, to make a suggestion, express a preference or an idea.

Should I open this box?

Will is used to show/ask for desire, preference, choice or consent

Will I open this box?

Would is used to show/ask preference

Would I open this box?

  • This is wrong. These web pages do not discuss first person questions using will or would. For example, "Would I open this box?" does not ask for preference. For questions, that only applies in the second person: "Would you like tea or coffee?" – Peter Shor Jul 11 '17 at 3:33
  • @PeterShor How can I explain will in the aforementioned context? – 3kstc Jul 11 '17 at 3:36
  • "Will I" simply asks whether something is going to happen, and does not involve desire, preference, choice, or consent. "Will I go to jail?" You're asking whether the legal system will put you into jail for some offense you've committed. "Will I be able to open this box?" You're asking whether you will have the opportunity or ability to open the box at some time in the future. "Will I open the box?" This is rather strange, because whether to open a box is usually your decision, but "will I" doesn't allow for that. – Peter Shor Jul 11 '17 at 16:37

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.