H.W. Fowler (1858–1933). The
King’s English, 2nd ed. 1908.
Chapter II. Syntax
SHALL AND WILL
is unfortunate that the idiomatic use, while
it comes by nature to southern Englishmen (who will find most of this
section superfluous), is so complicated that those who are not to the
manner born can hardly acquire it; and for them the section is in danger
of being useless. In apology for the length of these remarks it must be
said that the short and simple directions often given are worse than
useless. The observant reader soon loses faith in them from their
constant failure to take him right; and the unobservant is the victim of
Roughly speaking, should
follows the same rules as shall,
in what follows, Sh. may be taken as an
abbreviation for shall, should,
and should have,
for will, would,
and would have.
In our usage of the Sh. and W. forms, as seen in principal sentences,
there are elements belonging to three systems. The first of these, in
which each form retains its full original meaning, and the two are not
used to give different persons of the same tense, we shall call the pure
system: the other two, both hybrids, will be called, one the coloured-future,
the other the plain-future system. In Old English there was no separate
future; present and future were one. Shall
the presents of two verbs, to which belong also the pasts should
the conditionals should
the past conditionals should have
and would have. Shall
had the meaning of command or obligation, and will
of wish. But
as commands and wishes are concerned mainly with the future, it was
natural that a future tense auxiliary should be developed out of these
two verbs. The coloured future results from the application to future
time of those forms that were practically useful in the pure system;
they consequently retain in the coloured future, with some
modifications, the ideas of command and wish proper to the original
verbs. The plain future results from the taking of those forms that were
practically out of work in the pure system to make what had not before
existed, a simple future tense; these have accordingly not retained the
ideas of command and wish. Which were the practically useful and which
the superfluous forms in the pure system must now be explained.
Thou shalt not steal
is the type of shall
in the pure
system. We do not ordinarily issue commands to ourselves; consequently I
is hardly required; but we often ask for orders, and therefore
is required. The form of the shall
present in the
pure system is accordingly:
Shall I? You shall. He shall. Shall we? They shall.
As to the past tense, orders cannot be given, but may be asked about, so
that, for instance, What should I do?
(i.e., What was I to do?)
can be done all through interrogatively.
In the conditionals, both statement and question can be done all
through. I can give orders to my imaginary, though not to my actual
self. I cannot say (as a command) I shall do it;
but I can say,
as a conditional command, I should do it.
and we shall
are accordingly the superfluous forms
of the present shall
in the pure system.
Again, with will, I will
meaning it is my will,
obvious that we can generally state this only of ourselves; we do not
know the inside of other people's minds, but we can ask about it. The
present runs, then,
I will. Will you? Will he? We will. Will they?
The past tense can here be done all through, both positively and
interrogatively. For though we cannot tell other people's present will,
we can often infer their past will from their actions. So (I was asked,
but) I would not,
and Why would I do it?
all through. And
similarly in the conditionals, I would not
(if I could), &c.
The spare forms supplied by the present will,
then, are you
will, he will, they will;
and these, with I shall, we shall,
are ready, when the simple future is required, to construct it out of.
We can now give
Rule 1. The Pure System
When Sh. and W. retain the full original meanings of command and wish,
each of them is used in all three persons, so far as it is required.
The following examples show most of what we inherit directly from the
Thou shalt not steal. Not required in first person.
Shall I open the door? Not required in second.
You should not say such things. In all persons.
And shall Trelawny die? Hardly required in second.
Whom should he meet but Jones? (...was it his fate...) In all.
Why should you suspect me? In all.
It should seem so. (It would apparently be incumbent on us to believe)
Isolated idiom with third.
I will have my way. Not required in second and third; but see below.
I (he) asked him (me) to do it, but he (I) would not. In all.
I would not have done it for the world. In all.
I would be told to wait a while (Habitual). In all.
Will you come with me? Not required in first.
I would I were dead. Not required in second and third.
He will bite his nails, whatever I say. In all.
He will often stand on his head. In all.
You will still be talking (i.e., you always are). Not required in
A coat will last two years with care.
It will be noticed that the last four forms are among those that were
omitted as not required by the pure system. Will
would rarely be
required in second and third person statements, but would of course be
possible in favourable circumstances, as in describing habitual action,
where the will of another may be inferred from past experience. The last
of all is a natural extension of the idiom even to things that have no
will. All these 'habitual' uses are quite different from I will have
and though you will have your way
is possible, it
always has the 'habitual' meaning, which I will have my way
All the forms in the above list, and others like them, have three
peculiarities—that they are not practically futures as distinguished
from presents; that they use Sh. for all persons, or W. for all persons,
if the idea is appropriate to all persons; and that the ideas are
simply, or with very little extension, those of command or obligation
The coloured-future system is so called because, while the future sense
is more distinct, it is still coloured with the speaker's mood; command
and wish receive extensions and include promise, permission, menace,
consent, assurance, intention, refusal, offer, &c.; and the forms
used are invariably those—from both Sh. and W.—that we called the
practically useful ones in the pure system. That is, we have always
I will, shall I? You shall, will you? He shall, will he? We will,
shall we? They shall, will they?
And the conditionals, should
and would, should have
are used with exactly the same variations. It will be borne in
mind, however, that no clear line of division can be drawn between the
pure system and the coloured-future system, since the latter is
developed naturally (whereas the plain-future system is rather developed
artificially) out of the former. And especially the questions of the
coloured future are simply those of the pure system without any sort of
Rule 2. The Coloured-Future System
In future and conditional statements that include (without the use of
special words for the purpose) an expression of the speaker's (not
necessarily of the subject's) wish, intention, menace, assurance,
consent, refusal, promise, offer, permission, command, &c.—in such
sentences the first person has W., the second and third persons Sh.
I will tell you presently. My promise.
You shall repent it before long. My menace.
He shall not have any. My refusal.
We would go if we could. Our conditional intention.
You should do it if we could make you. Our conditional command.
They should have had it if they had asked. My conditional consent.
The only questions possible here are the asking for orders and the
requests already disposed of under Rule 1.
Observe that I would like
(which is not English) is not justified
by this rule, because the speaker's mood is expressed by like,
and does not need double expression; it ought to be I should like,
under Rule 3.
Observe also that I sha'n't, You will go to your room and stay there,
are only apparent exceptions, which will be explained under Rule 3.
The archaic literary forms You shall find, A rogue shall often pass
for an honest man,
though now affected and pretentious, are
grammatically defensible. The speaker asks us to take the fact on his
The forms little required in the pure system, and therefore ready to
hand for making the new plain future, were I,
and we, shall;
and they, will.
These accordingly constitute the
plain future, and the corresponding forms of the plain conditional are
used analogously. Questions follow the same rule, with one very
important exception, which will be given a separate rule (4). We now
Rule 3. The Plain-Future System
In plain statements about the future, and in the principal clause,
result, or apodosis, of plain conditional sentences (whether the
subordinate clause, condition, or if
-clause, is expressed or
not), the first person has Sh., the second and third persons W.
Questions conform, except those of the second person, for which see Rule
I shall, you will, die some day.
Shall I, will they, be here to-morrow?
We should, he would, have consented if you had asked.
Should we, would he, have missed you if you had been there?
I should, you would, like a bathe.
Should I, would he, like it myself, himself?
Some apparent exceptions, already anticipated, must here be explained.
It may be said that I shall execute your orders
speaker's promise, You will go to your room
being the speaker's
command, and Sha'n't
(the nursery abbreviation for I shall not
being the speaker's refusal, these are all coloured futures,
so that Sh. and W. should be reversed in each. They are such in effect,
but they are not in form. In each, the other form would be possible and
correct. The first is a promise only so far as the hearer chooses to
take as a promise the plain future or impersonal prophecy; but the
speaker emphasizes his obedience by implying that of course, since the
order has been given, it will be executed; the matter is settled without
his unimportant consent. The other two gain force by the opposite
assumption that the speaker's will and the future are absolutely
identical, so that what he intends may be confidently stated as a future
fact. In the first example the desired submissiveness, in the other two
the desired imperiousness, supercilious or passionate, are attained by
the same impersonality.
Before giving the rule for second-person questions, we observe that
questions generally follow the rule of the class of statement they
correspond to. This was shown in the pure system (Rule 1). There are no
questions (apart from those already accounted for by the pure system)
belonging to the coloured future (Rule 2). In the plain future (Rule 3),
first and third person questions are like the plain-future statements.
But second-person questions under the plain future invariably use Sh. or
W. according as the answer for which the speaker is prepared has Sh. or
W. Care is necessary, however, in deciding what that answer is. In Should
(would) you like a bathe? should
is almost always right, because the
answer expected is almost always either Yes, I should,
I should not,
the question being asked for real information. It is
true that Would you like?
is very commonly used, like the equally
wrong I would like;
but it is only correct when the answer is
intended to be given by the asker:—No, of course you would not.
A clearer illustration of this is the following sentence, which requires
Sh. or W. according to circumstances: Will (shall) you, now so fresh
and fair, be in a hundred years nothing but mouldering dust?
might possibly be asked in expectation of an answer from the person
apostrophized—Yes, I shall.
Much more probably it would be
asked in expectation of the answer from the speaker himself to his own
question—Alas! yes, you will.
ought to be used
for the question only in the first case, will
in the second case.
Similarly, Ah, yes, that is all very well; but will (shall) you be
able to do it?
if the answer is meant to be No,
of course you will not; shall,
if the answer expected is Yes, I
or No, I shall not.
In practice, Sh. is more commonly required, because questions asked for
information are commoner than rhetorical ones. But observe the common Would
you believe it?
, Answer, No, of course you would not. Should you
, also possible, would indicate real curiosity about the
other person's state of mind, which is hardly ever felt. Would you
, however, might also be accounted for on the ground that
the answer would be No, I would not,
which would be a coloured-future
form, meaning I should never consent to believe.
Rule 4. Second-person Questions
Second-person questions invariably have Sh. or W. by assimilation to the
It may be added, since it makes the application of the rule easier, that
the second-person questions belonging not to the plain future but to the
pure system are also, though not because of assimilation, the same in
regard to Sh. and W. as their answers. Thus Will you come? Yes, I
(each on its merits), as well as Shall you be there? Yes, I
(assimilation). Should you not have known? Yes, I should
(each on its merits; should
as well as What
should you think? I should think you were right
true form for all second-person questions, then, can be ascertained by
deciding what the expected answer is.
This completes what need be said about principal sentences, with the
exception of one important usage that might cause perplexity. If some
one says to me 'You would think so yourself if you were in my position',
I may either answer 'No, I should not' regularly, or may catch up his
word, and retain the W., though the alteration of person requires Sh.
Thus—'Would I, though? No, I wouldn't'. Accordingly,
Rule 5. Echoes
A speaker repeating and adapting another's words may neglect to make the
alteration from Sh. to W., or from W. to Sh., that an alteration of the
person strictly requires.
We have now all the necessary rules for principal sentences, and can put
down a few examples of the right usage, noteworthy for various reasons,
and some blunders, the latter being illustrated in proportion to their
commonness. The number of the rule observed or broken will be added in
brackets for reference. The passage from Johnson with which the correct
examples begin is instructive.
I would (2) injure no man, and should (3) provoke no resentment; I
would (2) relieve every distress, and should (3) enjoy the
benedictions of gratitude. I would (2) choose my friends among the
wise, and my wife among the virtuous; and therefore should (3) be in
no danger from treachery or unkindness. My children should (2) by my
care be learned and pious, and would (3) repay to my age what their
childhood had received.—Johnson.
Chatham, it should (1) seem, ought to have taken the same side.—Macaulay.
For instance, when we allege, that it is against reason to tax a
people under so many restraints in trade as the Americans, the noble
lord in the blue riband shall (2) tell you...—Burke.
The 'critic fly', if it do but alight on any plinth or single cornice
of a brave stately building, shall (2) be able to declare, with its
half-inch vision, that here is a speck, and there an
John, why should you waste yourself (1) upon those ugly giggling
girls?—R. G. White.
It wouldn't be quite proper to take her alone, would it? What should
(4) you say?—R. G. White.
Whether I have attained this, the future shall decide (2. I consent to
accept the verdict of the future).—Times.
We give first many examples of the mistake that is out of all proportion
the commonest—using the coloured future when the speaker's mood is
sufficiently given by a separate word. In the second example, for
instance, I would ask the favour
would be quite right, and would
mean I should like to ask.
As it stands, it means I should
like to like to ask.
The same applies to the other instances, which
are only multiplied to show how dangerous this particular form is.
Among these ... I would be inclined to place (3) those who acquiesce
in the phenomenalism of Mr. Herbert Spencer.—Daily Telegraph.
As one of the founders of the Navy League, I would like (3) to ask the
favour of your well-known courtesy...—Times.
I would be glad (3) to have some account of his behaviour.—Richardson.
I would like (3) also to talk with you about the thing which has come
But give your definition of romance. I would like to hear it (3).—F.
These are typical of thousands of paragraphs in the newspaper.... We would
(3) wish for brighter news.—Westminster Gazette.
I have already had some offers of assistance, and I would be glad (3)
to receive any amount towards the object.—Times.
Some examples follow that have not this excuse; and the first two
deserve comment—the first because it results in serious ambiguity, the
second because it is possibly not wrong.
The two fleets present seven Russian battleships against four
Japanese—less than two to one; two Russian armoured cruisers against
eight, and seven Russian torpedo-boat destroyers against an indefinite
number of the enemy. Here we will (3) not exaggerate in attributing to
the Japanese three or four to one.—Mahan.
the meaning must be: We won't call them three or four
to one, because that would be exaggeration. But the meaning is intended
to be: We will call them that, and it will be no exaggeration. Shall
is absolutely necessary, however, to make it bear that interpretation.
This character who delights us may commit murder like Macbeth, or fly
the battle for his sweetheart as did Antony, or betray his country
like Coriolanus, and yet we will rejoice (3) in every happiness that
comes to him.—W. B. Yeats.
It is possible that this is the use of will
described as the
'habitual' use—he will often stand on his head—under Rule 1. But
this is very rare, though admissible, in the first person of the
present. We shall rejoice,
or simply we rejoice,
the plain way of saying it.
If this passion was simply painful, we would (3) shun with the
greatest care all persons and places that could excite such a
What would (3) we be without our appetites?—S. Ferrier.
If I was ever to be detected, I would (3) have nothing for it but to
drown myself.—S. Ferrier.
I will (3) never forget, in the year 1858, one notorious
As long as I am free from all resentment, hardness, and scorn, I would
(3) be able to face the life with much more calm and confidence than I
In the next two, if 'I think', and the if
-clause, were removed,
would stand, expressing resolve
according to Rule 2. But with those additions it is clear that prophecy
or pure future is meant; and shall
should be will
Nothing, I think, shall ever make me (3) forgive him.—Richardson.
We now proceed to Subordinate Clauses, and first to the Substantival.
We were victorious in 1812, and we will (3) be victorious now at any
cost, if we are strong in an alliance between the governing class and
The word 'reported' will mean 'made indirect' or 'subordinated
substantivally', not always actually reported.
is quite simple when it is of the pure system
or the coloured future; the Sh. or W. of the original statement is
retained in the reported form, unaffected by any change of person that
the reporting involves. Thus: (Pure system) He forgave me (you,
or her), though he said I (you,
or she) should not have left
him in the lurch like that.
(Coloured future) You said I
should repent it;
either of these is a report of either You shall
or He shall repent it.
(Coloured future) You
(or I said I) would apologize;
both are reports of I
But with the plain-future system there is difficulty and some
inconsistency. The change of person sometimes required by reported
speech has almost always the effect here of introducing Sh. if I
appears in the words as reported, and usually the effect of
introducing W. if you, he,
appears. The following
are all the types in which doubt can arise, except that each of these
may occur in either number, and in past or present. The form that would
be required by analogy (keeping the original Sh. or W.) is given first,
and the one generally used instead is added in brackets. Reporting I
shall never succeed,
You said you should (would) never succeed.
He says he shall (will) never succeed.
Reporting you will
(or he will) never succeed,
You say I will (shall) never succeed.
He said I would (should) never succeed.
Even those persons who have generally a just confidence in their own
correctness about Sh. and W. will allow that they have some doubt about
the first pair; and nearly every one will find W. in the second pair,
however reasonable and consistent, intolerable.
If the reader will now go through the four sentences again, and
substitute for succeed
the phrase do it
(which may or may
not mean succeed),
he will see that the orthodox should
of the first pair become actually more natural than the
and that even in the second pair will
are now tolerable. The reason is that with do it
there is risk of confusion with the reported forms of I will never do
and you shall never do it,
which are not plain futures,
but coloured futures meaning something quite different.
present the same difficulties. Again those
only are doubtful that belong to the plain future. There, for instance,
reporting Shall you do it?
we can say by the correct analogy I
asked him whether he should;
and we generally do so if the verb, as
here, lends itself to ambiguity: I asked him whether he would do it
is liable to be mistaken for the report of Will you do it?—
request. If on the other hand (as in reporting Shall you be there?)
there is little risk of misunderstanding, I asked him whether he
is commoner. And again it is only in extreme cases, if even
then, that the original W. can be kept when the report introduces I
in place of the original question's you
instance, the original question being How will he be treated?
may be just possible to say You had made up your mind how I would be
because You had made up your mind how I should be
almost inevitably suggests (assisted by the ambiguity of making
up your mind,
which may imply either resolve or inference) that the
original question was How shall he be treated?
It would be well, perhaps, if writers who take their responsibilities
seriously would stretch a point sometimes to keep the more consistent
and less ambiguous usage alive; but for practical purposes the rule must
Rule 6. Substantival Clauses.
In these (whether 'reported' strictly or otherwise subordinated)
pure-system or coloured-future forms invariably keep the Sh. or W. of
the original statement or question, unaffected by any change of person.
Reports of plain-future forms do this also, if there would be serious
danger of ambiguity, but almost always have Sh. in the first person, and
usually W. in the second and third persons.
As the division of substantival clauses into indirect (or reported or
subordinate or oblique) statements, questions, and commands,
familiar, it may be well to explain that in English the reported command
strictly so called hardly exists. In what has the force of a reported
command it is in fact a statement that is reported. For instance, He
said I was to go,
though used as the indirect form of Go,
really the indirect of the statement You are to go. He ordered that
they should be released
(though the actual words were Be they,
or Let them be, released)
is formed on the coloured-future
statement, They stall be released.
It is therefore unnecessary to
give special rules for reported command. But there are one or two types
of apparent indirect command about which, though there is no danger of
error, the reader may feel curious.
- I stipulate that I shall, you shall, he shall, do it. Why shall
in all persons? because the original form is: I (you, he) shall
do it, I stipulate that, where shall means am to, are
to, is to; that is, it is a pure-system form.
- I beg that you (or he) will do it. He begs that I will
do it. Again the original is pure-system: You (or he)
will (i.e., you consent to) do it: that is what I beg. I will
(i.e., I consent to) do it: that is what he begs.
- I beg that I (or he) shall not suffer for it. You begged
that I should not suffer for it. Observe that b. has will
and a. and c. shall, because it is only in b. that the
volition of the subject of shall or will is concerned.
- I wish you would not sneeze. Before subordination this is: You
will not sneeze: that is what I wish. W. remains, but will
becomes would to give the remoteness always connected with
wish, which is seen also, for instance, in I wish I were
instead of I wish I be.
Before going on to examples of substantival clauses, we also register,
again rather for the curious than for the practical reader, the peculiar
but common use of should
contained in the following:
It is not strange that his admiration for those writers should have
In this use should
goes through all persons and is equivalent to
a gerund with possessive: that a man should be
is the same as a
We can only guess at its origin; our guess is that (1) should
is the remote form for shall,
d. above, substituted in order to give an effect of generality; and (2)
the use of shall
is the archaic one seen in You shall find,
&c. So: a man shall be afraid of his shadow; that a man should be
afraid (as a generally observed fact) is strange.
After each of the substantival clauses, of which examples now follow, we
shall say whether it is a reported (subordinated) statement, or
question, and give what we take to be the original form of the essential
words, even when further comment is unnecessary.
Examples of Sh. and W. in Substantival clauses.
You, my dear, believe you shall be unhappy, if you have Mr. Solmes:
your parents think the contrary; and that you will be undoubtedly so,
were you to have Mr. Lovelace.—Richardson.
Statement. The original of the first is I shall be;
second, she will be.
In this and the next three the strictly
analogical form that we recommended is kept.
I have heard the Princess declare that she should not willingly die in
Statement. I should not.
People imagine they should be happy in circumstances which they would
find insupportably burthensome in less than a week.—Cowper.
Statement. We should. They would
is not 'reported'.
Do you really fancy you should be more beholden to your correspondent,
if he had been damning you all the time for your
Statement. I should be.
The nation had settled the question that it would not have
Statement. We will not. The blundering insertion of the question—
due to some hazy notion of 'putting the question'—may be disregarded.
When the war will end still depends on Japan.—Times.
Question. When will it end?
Shaftesbury's anger vented itself in threats that the advisers of this
dissolution should pay for it with their heads.—J. R. Green.
Statement. You shall pay.
He [i. e., James II] regarded his ecclesiastical supremacy as a
weapon.... Under Henry and Elizabeth it had been used to turn the
Church of England from Catholic to Protestant. Under James it should
be used to turn it back again.—J. R. Green.
Statement. Under me it shall be. The reporting word not expressed.
She could not bear the sight of all these things that reminded her of
Anthony and of her sin. Perhaps she should die soon; she felt very
Statement. I shall. Again the reporting word absent.
There will never perhaps be a time when every question between London
and Washington shall be laid at rest.—Times.
This is not properly speaking reported speech. But the shall
accounted for by a sort of allusion to a supposed prophecy—every
question shall one day be laid at rest.
In that prophecy, shall
would convey that the prophet gave his personal guarantee for it, and
would come under Rule 2. This is not to be confused with the use of shall
in indefinite clauses that will be noticed later.
The four began their descent, not knowing at what step they should
meet death nor which of them should reach the shore alive.—F. M.
Questions. At what step shall we meet? Which of us will reach? The first
is accordingly right, the second wrong. The modern writer—who has been
at the pains to use the strictly correct should
in the first
place rather than the now common would—
has not seen, as
Richardson did in the first of the right examples, that his two clauses
I hope that our sympathy shall survive these little revolutions
Statement. Will survive. It is possible, however, that the original was
thought of, or rather felt, as Our sympathy shall survive. But as the
effect of that is to give the speaker's personal guarantee for the truth
of the thing, it is clearly not a proper statement to make dependent on
the doubtful word hope.
After mentioning the advance made in reforms of the military force of
the country he [Lord Lansdowne] announced that the Government should
not oppose the motion, readily availing themselves of Lord Wemyss's
Statement. We shall not, or the Government will not. Probably Lord
Lansdowne said we,
and that accounts for should.
But if The
chooses to represent we
by the Government,
must also represent shall
It came with a strange stunning effect upon us all—the consciousness
that never again would we hear the grind of those positive boot-heels
on the gravel.—Crockett.
Statement. We shall never.
I think that if the matter were handed over to the parish councils ...
we would within a twelvemonth have exactly such a network of rifle
clubs as is needed.—Conan Doyle.
Statement. We should. Of these two instances it may be thought that the
writers would have made the mistake in the original unsubordinated
sentence, instead of its arising in the process of subordination; our
experience is, however, that many people do in fact go wrong in
subordinate clauses who are alive to the danger in simple sentences.
The Prime Minister ... would at once have asked the Opposition if they
could suggest any further means for making the inquiry more drastic
and complete, with the assurance that if they could suggest any such
means, they would at once be incorporated in the Government scheme.—Spectator.
Statement. They shall be incorporated. We have classed this as wrong on
the assumption, supported by the word assurance,
that the Prime
Minister gave a promise, and therefore used the coloured future, and did
not state a fact and use the plain future.
Another type of subordinate clause important for Sh. and W. is the
conditional protasis or if-clause.
It is not necessary, nor with
modern writers usual, to mark the future or conditional force of this
separately, since it is sufficiently indicated by the apodosis. For
instance, If you come I shall be glad; if you came I should be glad;
if you had come I should have been glad.
But in formal style or with
a slight difference of meaning, it is often superfluously done in the
protasis too. Sh. is then used for all persons, as, If he should
come, you would learn how the matter stands.
Japan will adhere to her pledge of neutrality unless Russia shall
first violate hers.—Times.
But to the rule that the protasis takes shall
there are three
exceptions, real or apparent; W. is found under the following
Indefinite clauses, relative or other,
- An original pure-system or coloured-future W. is not changed to Sh.
by being used in subordination to if (or unless). It
is retained with its full original force instead of some verb like wish
or choose. In If we would believe we might move mountains,
the meaning is If we chose to believe, different from that of
If we believed or should believe. So
It would be much better if you would not be so hypocritical,
If you consented not to be, or did not insist on being.
It would be valuable if he would somewhat expand his ideas
regarding local defence by Volunteers.—Times.
If he consented to.
- When the if-clause (though a genuine condition) is
incorrectly expressed for the sake of brevity and compresses two
verbs into one, the W. proper to the retained verb is sometimes
necessarily used instead of the Sh. proper to the verb that, though
it contains in strict logic the essential protasis, has been crushed
out. Thus: If it will be useless I shall prefer not to do it.
It is not the uselessness that is the condition of the preference;
for the use or uselessness is subsequent to the decision; it is my
conviction of the uselessness; so that the full form would be If
I shall be (or am in ordinary speech) convinced that
it will be useless, I shall prefer, &c. The following
example can be defended on this ground, if never again will he
standing for if he shall realize that he will never; the
feebleness that decides his not wishing is subsequent to it, and can
only condition it if taken in the sense of his anticipation of
And if there is to be no recovery, if never again will he
be young and strong and passionate, if the actual present shall be
to him always like a thing read in a book or remembered out of the
far-away past; he will not greatly wish for the continuance of a
The next is more difficult only because, besides the compression,
the if-clause is protasis not to the expressed main sentence,
but to another that is suppressed.
I shall wait for fine weather, if that will ever come.—R. G.
Given fully, this would run: I shall wait for fine weather; (at
least I should say so) if (I were sure that) that will ever come.
- When an if-clause is not a condition at all, as for
instance where it expresses contrast, and is almost equivalent to although,
the ordinary plain-future use prevails. Thus: If annihilation
will end our joys it will also end our griefs. Contrast with
this the real condition, in: If annihilation shall end (or ends)
our joys, we shall never regret the loss of them.
bearing the same relation
to a conditional or future principal sentence that a conditional
protasis bears to its apodosis follow the same rules. Thus Whoever
compares the two will find
is equivalent to If any one compares;
When we have won the battle we can decide that question
equivalent to If ever we have won.
Accordingly we can if we
choose write Whoever shall compare,
and When we shall have
but we cannot write When we will have won,
and must only
write Whoever will compare
if we distinctly mean Whoever
chooses to compare.
As there is sometimes difficulty in analysing
indefinite clauses of this sort, one or two instances had better be
The candidate who should have distinguished himself most was to be
This is clear enough; it is equivalent to if any one should have ...
We must ask ourselves what victory will cost the Russian people when
at length it will become possible to conclude the peace so ardently
Equivalent to If ever it at length becomes. Will
wrong; either becomes,
or shall become.
Nothing can now prevent it from continuing to distil upwards until
there shall be no member of the legislature who shall not
This is a complicated example. The shalls
will be right if it
appears that each shall
-clause is equivalent to a conditional
protasis. We may show it by starting at the end as with the house that
Jack built and constructing the sentence backwards, subordinating by
stages, and changing will
as the protases come
in; it will be allowed that until
means to the time when,
and that when
may be resolved into if ever.
Thus we get: a.
One will know. b.
None will be a member of the legislature unless
one shall know. c.
It will distil to the time if ever none shall
be a member unless one shall know.
Think what I will about them, I must take them for politeness'
sake.—R. G. White.
Although think what I will
is an indefinite relative clause,
meaning practically whatever I think, will
here is right, the
strict sense being whatever I choose to think.
Indeed the time of
is probably not, at any rate need not be, future at all;
compare Think what I will, I do not tell my thoughts.
We now give
Rule 7. Conditional protasis and Indefinite Clauses
In the protasis or if
-clause of conditional sentences Sh. may be
used with all persons. Generally neither Sh. nor W. is used. W. is only
used (1) when the full meaning of wish
is intended; it may then
be used with all persons; (2) when the protasis is elliptically
expressed; W. may then be necessary with the second and third persons;
(3) when the if
-clause is not a real conditional protasis; there
is then no reason for Sh. with second and third persons. Indefinite
clauses of similar character follow the same rules.
A few right but exceptional, and some wrong subordinate clauses may now
Examples of Sh. and W. in Subordinate Clauses.
As an opiate, or spirituous liquors, shall suspend the operation of
We may conceive Mr. Worldly Wiseman accosting such an one, and the
conversation that should thereupon ensue.—Stevenson.
She is such a spare, straight, dry old lady—such a pew of a
woman—that you should find as many individual sympathies in a
In these three we have the archaic shall
of personal assurance
that comes under Rule 2, and its corresponding conditional, appearing in
subordinate clauses. There is no objection to it except that, in modern
writers, its context must be such as to exonerate it from the charge of
The longing of the army for a fresh struggle which should restore its
glory.—J. R. Green.
This use of Sh. after final relatives is seen, if the compound sentence
is resolved, to point to an original coloured future: We long for a
fresh struggle; a fresh struggle shall restore (that is, we intend it to
restore) our glory.
He was tormented by that restless jealousy which should seem to belong
only to minds burning with the desire of fame.—Macaulay.
This is the should seem
explained under Rule 1 appearing also as
It should never be, but often is, forgotten that when the apodosis of a
conditional sentence (with or without expressed protasis) is subordinate
it is nevertheless still an apodosis, and has still Sh. in the first, W.
in the second and third persons.
In 'he struck him a blow', we do not feel the first object to be
datival, as we would in 'he gave him a blow'.—H. Sweet.
I cannot let the moment pass at which I would have been enjoying a
visit to you after your severe illness without one word of
It would mean that I would always be haunted by an intolerable sense
But though I would not willingly part with such scraps of science, I
do not set the same store by them.—Stevenson.
We must reconcile what we would like to do with what we can do.—Times.
All these are wrong; in the last two the mistake is perhaps accounted
for by the presence of willingly
and like. I would not
can indeed be defended at the cost of admitting that willingly
is mere tautology, and saying that I would not
means I should
not consent to,
according to Rule 2.
It may be worth while to add that the subordinate apodosis still follows
the rule even if it is subordinated to if,
so that it is part of
the protasis of another conditional sentence. The following, which is of
course quite correct, seems, but only seems, to break the rules both for
protasis and apodosis: If you would be patient for yourself, you should
be patient for me. But we have W. with second person in the protasis
because would be patient
is also apodosis to the implied protasis
if occasion should arise;
and the should
person in the apodosis is not a conditional should
at all, but a
which would be the same with any person; it
means simply you ought,
or it would be your duty.
The result in part of a genuine anxiety lest the Chinese would
gradually grow until they monopolized the country.—Times.
We have purposely refrained until now from invoking the subjunctive,
because the word is almost meaningless to Englishmen, the thing having
so nearly perished. But on this instance it must be remarked that when
conjunctions like lest,
which could once or still can take a
subjunctive (as lest he die)
, use a compound form instead, they
use the Sh. forms for all persons. It is a matter of little importance,
since hardly any one would go wrong in such a sentence.