Learn English: how to use the modal verb "shall"
A question that I am often asked in class, is what is the modal verb shall and when do we use it?
It is still very common in everyday speaking nowadays, it is similar to should.
It is a little bit more formal and polite and is usually used in questions.
Interestingly we use it with I, we, and also sometimes with you but it is not usually used with
he, she, it, they
Shall I…? or Shall we…? are used to ask someone’s opinion or for their suggestion.
Shall we watch a movie? Means we are asking somebody for their opinion about watching a movie, it is polite.
Shall I get you another drink? Means do you want me to get you another drink, what is your opinion about this? Again it is polite.
It can be used in affirmative sentences too and again it can be very polite.
Unfortunately I think I shall be late for dinner tonight
I think we shall be going to the theatre tonight
A famous example of using it with you is from an important scene in the movie the Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.
Gandalf: You shall not pass!
This means you will not pass.
In general we don’t use it with
he, she, it, they so the example below sounds very strange to native speakers and is not used. I think he shall be going to the theatre tonight
The negative of shall, like all modal verbs is, shall not, this is often shortened to shan’t in speaking.
Unfortunately I shan’t be attending the wedding
Learn English: how to use Ought
Another verb I am often asked about in class is ought.
Ought is similar to should, we use it when we believe something is a good idea or it is morally or ethically the right thing to do.
However what makes it different to modal verbs is that we use the full infinitive, that is the ‘to….’ part. With modal verbs we don’t use the ‘to….'
You ought to do your homework [I think it would be a good idea for you to do your homework]
You ought do your homework
Which is the same as:
You should do your homework
I ought to help my neighbour this weekend [I think it would be a good idea to help my neighbour, or that it is morally the right thing to do]
I ought help my neighbour this weekend
And again it is similar to should.
For negative we use ought not,
I ought not have another beer, I have to wake up early tomorrow
Notice that we do not use the full infinitive, the ‘to….’ Here, so the negative behaves like a regular modal verb but not the affirmative.
I ought not to have another beer, I have to wake up early tomorrow
Here is another example:
I ought not go to my sister’s house as she is sick
I oughtn’t go to my sister’s house as she is sick
I ought not to go to my sister’s house as she is sick
I oughtn’t to go to my sister’s house as she is sick
As we can see ought is confusing as it is an exception and is the opposite to many common grammar rules we use.