When I was in grade school, I learned that the proper use of "will" and "shall" was precisely the use described here in Wikipaedia:
The most influential proponent of the distinction was John Wallis, whose 1653 Grammatica Linguae Anglicanae stated "The rule is... to express a future event without emotional overtones, one should say I shall, we shall, but you/he/she/they will; conversely, for emphasis, willfulness, or insistence, one should say I/we will, but you/he/she/they shall".
I doubt whether many people today are aware of or care about this distinction today, much less incorporate it in their everyday speech or writing (I certainly find it awkward to say "I shall" meaning intention; in fact I don't know that I ever use the word "shall").
Why my interest in this distinction these days? I'll be playing two relatively minor roles in a production of Christopher Marlowe's Edward II at The Arts Project in London, February 13 - 16. When I initially read the play, I noticed that Marlowe used "will" sometimes and "shall" sometimes.
For some reason my long-term memory clicked in, and I remembered what I had been taught about the distinction. So I re-read the play, keeping those uses of "will" and "shall" in mind. Understanding the difference has helped me understand a bit better what Marlowe was trying to say when he used the words.
Wikipaedia offers an interesting pair of sentences to illustrate the distinction:
- A desperate cry for help: “I shall drown; no one will save me!”
- The intention to commit suicide: “I will drown; no one shall save me!”
And yet I really doubt if many people notice or care nowadays (nor do I). As the Wikipaedia entry concludes,
Steven Pinker wrote he "was skeptical that any Englishman made that distinction in the past century. Winston Churchill seemed determined enough when he said 'We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.'"
Update: MA sent me this link to the distinction:
The traditional rule in standard British English is that shall is used with first person pronouns (i.e. I and we) to form the future tense, while will is used with second and third person forms (i.e. you, he, she, it, they). For example:I shall be lateThey will not have enough food.However, when it comes to expressing a strong determination to do something, the roles are reversed: will is used with the first person, and shall with the second and third. For example:I will not tolerate such behaviour.You shall go to the ball!In practice, though, the two words are used more or less interchangeably, and this is now an acceptable part of standard British and US English. [emphasis aded in this sentence].
Update #2: MA added in a separate message
Pinker is quite wrong.
Churchill may have been determined, but he spoke as to the future and not as to determination:
Had it been otherwise, there would have been an emphasis on "shall" which there plainly was not.