Future Time References: An Analysis of WILL and SHALL based on the Chemnitz Translation Corpus

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2004

23 Pages, Grade: 1,3





1. Introduction

2. An Analysis of will
2.1 Overview
2.1 Will in the Chemnitz Translation Corpus (CTC)
2.2.1 Will - Werden/Wird
2.2.2 Will - Wollen / Will

3. An Analysis of shall
3.1 Overview
3.2 Shall in the Chemnitz Translation Corpus
3.2.1 ShallWerden
3.2.2 ShallSollen

4. Conclusion

5. Bibliography


Figure 1: Past, Present, Future

Figure 2: Distribution of Will in general

Figure 3: The use of shall with personal pronouns

Figure 4: will and shall in questions

Figure 5: Meanings of will and shall


Table 1: Distribution of will – Wollen

Table 2: Distribution of Shall

1. Introduction

“English has two tenses: Present Tense and Past Tense.”

(Quirk et al. 1972, quoted in Sharwood Smith 1978:57)

Linguists have discussed the area of future reference for decades. In his above-mentioned quotation Quirk points at a controversial problem of the English language: The discussion if there is a future tense in English. Illustration 1 (Cf. Quirk et al. 1985:175ff) shows past, present and future on a referential level:

Figure 1:

illustration not visible in this excerpt

It appears obvious that everything happening before the present moment belongs to the past and all events following now refer to the future. Additionally, Quirk points out that there is no morphological future form in English. While, for example, -ed is added to regular verbs in order to form the Simple Past and -s is added in order to form the 3rd person singular in the Simple Present Tense, there is no such rule for the future time in English. Consequently, future time is not formed by verb inflection. Therefore, according to Quirk there is no future tense in English. However, linguists and teachers argue about this problem and thus two main views can be distinguished (Quirk 1985:176):

a) As already mentioned tense can only be achieved by verb inflection. Hence, English has no future tense.
b) A future reference can be achieved by using an auxiliary verb construction, such as

will + infinitive, for example. It appears evident that despite the fact that English has no future tense, it must be capable of expressing future time, namely by the use of auxiliaries.

According to Quirk (1985:120) auxiliaries can be divided into primary verbs (be, have, do) or modal verbs (can, may, will, shall, could, might, would, should, must). The latter category is also called modal auxiliaries. As it was already indicated above, modal auxiliaries, especially will and shall, play an important role in terms of future time in English. For that reason, this term paper deals with an analysis of the modal auxiliaries will and shall and their future time reference.

This analysis is based on the Chemnitz Translation Corpus of the Chemnitz Internet Grammar.[1] Barnbrook (1996:168) defines a corpus as “a collection of texts, selected to represent a particular type of language and held in computer-readable form”. The Chemnitz Translation Corpus consists of four main types of texts: policy documents, academic writing, tourist brochures and of political and public speeches. All example sentences for the analysis of will and shall which appear in this paper were taken from this corpus and by that, from the above-mentioned types of text.[2] By analysing a lot of example sentences with different contexts, i. e. for example biblical, political or tourist backgrounds, the aim of this paper is to find hypotheses for future or non-future uses of will and shall and by that, to develop grammar rules.

Moreover, the distribution of will and shall across the four different text types will be analysed and will therefore be a basis for further hypotheses. Although all text types given appear to be rather formal, restricted features of will and shall concerning an oral or written and informal or formal context, respectively, will be indicated. Is the use of will and shall limited to a certain environment or to the use of particular personal pronouns? Can will only be used when expressing the future? In which contexts is shall instead of will used? Can shall be used as a synonym of will ? These are just some of the questions for which this paper will try to find answers. When analysing the example sentences much attention to the German translation of each sentence will be paid. By that, interesting ideas about grammar rules can occur.

As already discussed at the beginning, the issue of future time reference is very much examined in the literature. Although future time in English not only consists of will and shall[3], both modal auxiliaries play by far the most important role in linguistic literature. Therefore, this term paper deals exclusively with these two modal auxiliaries and will neglect the analysis of other future forms. In connection to that, will in particular gives the impression as if it is the most common future form. Together with shall there is much potential for problems and controversies and a basis for theories so that grammar rules can be developed.

Chapter 2 will start with the analysis of will. Ideas concerning a future or even non-future use of will based on the Chemnitz Translation Corpus will be presented. Shall is examined in chapter 3. In this chapter, shall is also compared to will in order to emphasize differences and similarities concerning their meanings or uses. This is necessary in order to give an overall impression of the topic of future time. Will and shall should therefore not be treated separately. In addition to that, a reference to standard grammars will also be made in order to falsify or confirm all hypotheses. Finally, chapter 4 will summarize the whole topic.

2. An analysis of will

2.1 Overview

As already pointed out in the introduction chapter this paper deals with future time references in English. Reference or time reference are synonymous with time (Cf. Sharwood Smith 1978:56). According to Quirk (1985:213) there is a direct interrelation between futurity, modality and aspect[4] in English. Furthermore, present progressive forms, the simple present, semi-auxiliaries and modal auxiliaries can express future time. As already mentioned, will belongs to the latter category.

In general, Quirk (1985:219) defines modality as “the manner in which the meaning of a clause is qualified so as to reflect the speaker’s judgement of the likelihood of the proposition it expresses being true.” The meaning in modal verbs according to Quirk can be differentiated as follows:

a) The first category involves human control over events (intrinsic). These are meanings such as permission, obligation or volition.
b) The second category of meaning does not first and primarily involve human control but human judgement of what is likely to happen (extrinsic). This includes possibility, necessity or prediction.

Although the main distinction of the meaning in modal verbs is between intrinsic and extrinsic uses, each modal bears on both (intrinsic and extrinsic) uses. The application of will and its meanings will therefore be analysed with the help of examples from the Chemnitz Translation Corpus in the following chapter.

2.2 will in the Chemnitz Translation Corpus (CTC)

2.2.1 Will - Werden/Wird

When working with a corpus, and in this case with the Chemnitz Translation Corpus, the first step within a discovery procedure is to formulate search queries and by that, to pay attention to the German translations of will. Concerning its future time reference, the most obvious meaning of will is its future meaning in the sense of werden in German. Before turning to the results of the discovery procedure it appears necessary to state the distribution of will across all text types in the CTC and to find first hypotheses for its use. Illustration 2 shows the general allocation of will in the CTC:

Figure 2:

illustration not visible in this excerpt

(source: The Chemnitz Internet Grammar. own representation)


[1] Cf. <www.tu-chemnitz.de/phil/InternetGrammar/#grammar>

[2] The source of all example sentences in this paper is the Chemnitz Translation Corpus: The Chemnitz Internet Grammar. TU Chemnitz <www.tu-chemnitz.de/phil/InternetGrammar/#grammar > Therefore, due to stylistic reasons, this term paper will not explicitly indicate the source of each example sentence. Examples taken from other sources than the Chemnitz Internet Grammar are indicated.

[3] The future in English can also be expressed by a) going to, b) be to and c) forms related to the present tenses (simple and progressive) (Cf. Sharwood Smith 1978:58f) Cf. also Chapter 2.1

[4] Aspect is a grammatical category that “reflects the way in which the verb action is regarded or experienced with respect to time.” (Quirk 1985:188) In this sense, in English there are two aspect constructions: the perfective and the progressive. Aspect is also closely connected in meaning with tense. Two different kinds of realization can be distinguished: the morphological realization of tense and the syntactic realization of aspect.

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Future Time References: An Analysis of WILL and SHALL based on the Chemnitz Translation Corpus
Technical University of Chemnitz
Hauptseminar Contrastive Grammar
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Future, Time, References, Analysis, WILL, SHALL, Chemnitz, Translation, Corpus, Hauptseminar, Contrastive, Grammar
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Susan Jähn (Author), 2004, Future Time References: An Analysis of WILL and SHALL based on the Chemnitz Translation Corpus, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/44055


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