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English, it is said, has no future tense. To indicate future we do not inflect our verbs but instead use the modal verb will.

In his answer to Why do we say “was supposed to” for “should have”? Cerberus guides us through how words often shift from communicating desirability to communicating probability. In the case of will he writes,

Will once expressed only that someone desired something ... but it has gradually acquired a sense of probability, in that it now means "it is very likely that I go" for most speakers of English, especially Americans.

I am curious whether there was ever any resistance to the use of will with inanimate subjects. I can imagine people objecting to giving intent or desire to non-thinking things.

Of course, as this shift/addition in meaning is quite old and dates as far back as the late 9th century, finding any documentation of grammarian pushback may be impossible. (See OED will, v. 16.) However, scanning through the OED's examples it appears the first use of will as a future auxiliary with an inanimate subject is from 1563:

If a darke cloude be at the sunne rysing, in whiche the sunne soone after is hidde..rayn wyll followe.

Also, English grammar is not immune to retroactive prescriptivism (see singular they) so I can imagine the possibility of people rejecting will for inanimate subjects well after it became standard usage, and when evidence is more likely.

Was there ever any resistance to the use of will or other desire-expressing verbs with inanimate subjects?

  • Is there historical evidence for a preference for 'shall' with inanimates, rather than 'will' ? – Nigel J Feb 28 '18 at 21:43
  • I need to stop ignoring my job so I won't delve back into the records right now, but yes, it appears there is a preference for shall. I've hidden the relevant definitions inside my question as an HTML comment — they seemed excessive in the end — and they refer to the preference for shall – Unrelated Feb 28 '18 at 22:03
  • We use the modal will along with employing a dozen other methods to talk about future time. – AmE speaker Feb 28 '18 at 22:16
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    @user1284969632635 I find your comment about as helpful as your name – Unrelated Feb 28 '18 at 22:17
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    1563?! That sounds really late to be the earliest example. What about Chaucer: "Mordre wol out, certeyn, it wol nat faille" (will here is a "modal auxiliary expressing certainty, sureness, or fatefulness"). I'm sure there are earlier examples here. – Laurel Feb 28 '18 at 22:55

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