Shall We Dance?

The word “shall” has always baffled me. Much like steam locomotives or the theory of relativity, the word shall seems fated to confound. But I admire complexity for complexity’s sake, much as I admire the gleaming brass of the steam engine or the wonder of traveling at the speed of light.

Consider Burchfield writing in New Fowler’s Modern English Usage, describing shall and will. ” The history of these auxiliary verbs and of their contracted forms is immensely complicated and cannot be satisfactorily summarized here.” An entire two column page follows, making fine distinctions, one after another, none of which seems to please the writer.

Shall we dance? Shall I get my coat? These seem fine examples of fine writing. But judging by statistics, should and will are winning over shall. Using Google’s Ngram Viewer (external link), we see the steady decline of the word shall, which peaked in 1820. Shall seems doomed like the fairies, condemned to getting smaller the less people think of them.

KIRK: What will it be? Past or future? Tyranny or freedom? It’s up to you.
SPOCK: It is time.
KIRK: In every revolution, there’s one man with a vision.
SPOCK: Captain Kirk, I shall consider it.

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About thomasfarley01

Freelance writer who specializes in history, technology, and human interest stories.
This entry was posted in fiction, Thoughts on writing, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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