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Shall vs. Would: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Harlon Moss || Published on December 16, 2023
"Shall" often implies obligation or future action, while "would" suggests conditional actions or past habits.

Key Differences

"Shall" is primarily used to express future actions or obligations, especially in formal contexts or legal documents. "Would," on the other hand, is often used to describe hypothetical situations or actions that might occur under certain conditions. Both words have nuanced uses that depend on context.
In questions, "shall" is used to seek advice or a decision, conveying a sense of formality. For instance, "Shall we go?" Meanwhile, "would" is used to make polite requests or offers, such as in, "Would you like some tea?" Both are modal verbs but serve different conversational purposes.
"Shall" is less common in everyday American English, often replaced by "will" for expressing future actions. In contrast, "would" is frequently used in everyday speech, particularly in its role as the past tense form of "will," reflecting on past actions or habits.
In legal or formal writing, "shall" implies a strong sense of duty or requirement, such as "Applicants shall provide...". "Would" in these contexts often reflects a conditional mood, indicating actions that are contingent upon certain conditions being met.
Both "shall" and "would" have their historical roots in Old English, evolving over time. "Shall" once had a broader usage, while "would" has maintained its role as a marker of conditional or hypothetical scenarios across its historical development.

Comparison Chart

Primary Use

Future actions or obligations
Conditional actions or past habits

In Questions

Seeking advice or decision
Making polite requests or offers

Frequency in American English

Less common, often replaced by "will"
Frequently used, especially as past tense of "will"

In Legal/Formal Context

Implies strong duty or requirement
Indicates conditional mood

Historical Development

Broader past usage, now more formal
Consistent use for conditional scenarios

Shall and Would Definitions


In legal terms, indicating an obligation.
The tenant shall pay rent monthly.


Indicating conditional actions.
I would go if I had time.


Seeking a decision in a question.
Shall we order pizza tonight?


Expressing past habits.
He would walk to work every day.


Indicating future action.
I shall go to the store tomorrow.


Making a polite request.
Would you help me with this?


Expressing a strong assertion or intention.
You shall not pass!


Reporting speech.
She said she would call later.


Offering a polite suggestion.
Shall we dance?


Showing preference in hypothetical situations.
I would prefer tea over coffee.


Used before a verb to indicate the simple future tense in the first person singular or plural.
I shall sing in the choir tomorrow.
I hope that we shall win the game.


Past tense of will; usually followed by a bare infinitive.


Used similarly to indicate determination or obligation in the second and third persons singular or plural.
(determination): You shall go to the ball!
(obligation): Citizens shall provide proof of identity.


Used to form the "anterior future", or "future in the past", indicating a futurity relative to a past time.
On my first day at University, I met the woman who would become my wife.


Used in questions with the first person singular or plural to suggest a possible future action.
Shall I help you with that?
Shall we go out later?
Let us examine that, shall we?


(obsolete) To owe.


To owe; to be under obligation for.


To be obliged; must.


Is "shall" still commonly used?

"Shall" is less common in modern American English, often replaced by "will."

Can "would" express a repeated action in the past?

Yes, "would" is used to describe habitual actions in the past.

Is "shall" common in British English?

Yes, it's more common in British English compared to American English.

Can "shall" and "will" be used interchangeably?

Yes, in many cases, but "shall" is more formal and less common.

Is "would" the past tense of "will"?

Yes, "would" is often used as the past tense of "will," particularly in indirect speech.

Is "would" used for polite requests?

Yes, "would" is commonly used for making polite requests or offers.

Can "shall" be used in legal documents?

Yes, "shall" is often used in legal contexts to indicate obligations.

Does "would" always indicate a conditional situation?

Mostly, but it can also express wishes, preferences, or hypothetical situations.

Can "would" be used to express a future in the past?

Yes, "would" can indicate a future action from a past perspective.

Are "shall" and "would" modal verbs?

Yes, both are modal verbs expressing mood or attitude.

Is "shall" formal in tone?

Yes, it's considered more formal than "will."

Does "would" have different uses in different contexts?

Yes, its use varies depending on context, such as hypotheticals, requests, or past habits.

Can "shall" imply a command?

Yes, especially in formal or legal contexts.

Can "would" express willingness?

Yes, it can indicate willingness or consent in certain contexts.

Is "shall" used in questions?

Yes, particularly to seek advice or a decision.

Can "would" indicate refusal?

Yes, in the negative form, it can indicate a refusal, as in "would not."

Is "would" used in conditional sentences?

Yes, it's commonly used in the main clause of conditional sentences.

Can "shall" be used to make suggestions?

Yes, especially in the form of a question.

Does "would" imply a past action when used in indirect speech?

Yes, it often indicates a past statement about the future.

Is "shall" more common in spoken or written English?

It's more common in formal written English.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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