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The likelihood of will

An important feature of modal will is the high frequency of abbreviated forms in positive 'll and negative won't

A large number of different meanings are often associated with will , but three distinct interpretations can capture most uses of the form: intention, willingness and prediction. The core concept which these three uses have in common is “likelihood”. Different interpretations result from the different ways in which the “likelihood” concept is perceived in different circumstances.


Where those circumstances clearly involve a future event that is planned, with the speaker as the one who is the reporting source for the likelihood being expressed, there's an implication of intention. In the most obvious cases it is the speaker who has the intention, but the speaker can also report the intentions of others

I will borrow some money and buy a car.

These competitors will try to win the grand prize.

One noticeable feature of will is the influence of the type of action described ( in the main verb) on the preferred interpretation. With the intention uses a desirable action reported by the speaker tends to function like a promise. An undesirable action tends to be interpreted as a threat.


I'll make dinner for tomorrow night.

I'll call the police if you don't leave.

When the speaker's intention is not clear in this respect, there 's a joking response shown in the example, that makes explicit the two different interpretations

I'll talk to you about it later

Is that a threat or a promise?

When the likelihood of future action is part of some social transaction, the commonly recognized interpretation of willingness is normally present. As with other root functions this “willingness” typically involves animate agents and physical action


Will you marry me? - Of course I will!

We need some people who will work hard

Cathy is crazy. She'll do anything for a laugh.


There are some cases where non-animate agents are treated metaphorically as exhibiting “willingness” or “unwillingness”, as if they had minds of their own. Speakers can complain, usually in the negative, about the “willingness” of such things as doors and cars.


The door won't open. Will you try it?

My car won't start. Will you give me a ride?

Also included in the examples are two question forms with will and second person pronouns you which rely on the willingness interpretation to make a request. In English, questioning someone's willingness in this form is a polite ways of imposing the speaker's needs on anyone else.


The epistemic interpretation of the likelihood of will involves prediction. The act of predicting is, of course, done by the speaker, often about his or her future actions


One of these days I will win the lottery.

But the subject of such predictions are often non-animate, third person forms

The weather will be terrible on Sunday.

There will be lots to eat at the party.

If the red light is on, the unit will be recording.


An important distinction exists between the uses of the negative form won't with epistemic and root functions. The focus of negation in epistemic uses is the following main verb. In root uses the focus of negation is the modal


Paul won't come ( because he's too busy)

Paul won't come ( because he doesn't want to)

The same utterance under different circumstances can have different interpretations


Although shall is often presented as a first person substitute for will , this restriction is no longer common in contemporary English usage. There's often a general element of determination on the speaker's part in first person uses of shall. It is possible to find shall used with each of the three interpretations of intention, willingness and prediction, described earlier for will.


We shall control it

Shall we dance?

I shall have finished this report by lunchtime


There's a further root function of shall that is common in legal (and related ) texts. There's a strong obligation interpretation associated with the use of shall


The license of a person who is arrested for driving while intoxicated shall be suspended.


There's however a general pattern of will becoming more frequently used for expressing all types of likelihood.



The historical past tense form of will is would. The combination of likelihood and remoteness as the conceptual basis of would generally leads to an interpretation of some event as being distant in time or possibility from the moment of speaking. In many cases, remote likelihood is interpreted as not very likely, hypothetical


The three interpretations of will can also be found with would . Quite often, the sense of remoteness comes from reported versions of what was said or thought


They said they would be there by twelve o'clock.

The root meaning of willingness is illustrated in the example


She hoped they would help her if she called them.

The epistemic meaning of prediction:


We wondered what would happen to us


The most common socially -oriented( root) uses of would occur in question forms where the remoteness of likelihood interpretation is about the addressee's willingness to do something


Would you do something for me?

This type of structure, beginning with “would you”, has become almost formulaic in contemporary English for expressing requests and offers


The remoteness element in would with the epistemic interpretation of prediction leads to two quite distinctive uses . When remoteness in time is combined with the predictability of the situation, there's an interpretation of past habitual behaviour


When she was young Ann would bite her nails

When remoteness in possibility is combines with prediction there's an implication that the event has little likelihood of happening soon


You would enjoy a vacation if you took one

A prediction concerning remote possibility often involves some condition, either expressed or assumed in the context.

This naturally leads to the frequent use of would in conditional sentences about hypothetical situations.



Date: 2015-12-11; view: 1072

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