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VERBS > Active Voice > Passive Voice > Conjugation > Defective Strong Verbs > Mood > Imperative Mood > Indicative Mood > Subjunctive Mood > BE (usage) > CHOOSE (usage) > Person/Number (usage) > SHALL/WILL (usage) > Strong Verbs > Tense > Transitive > Troublesome Verbs > Weak Verbs


247. There are several verbs which are lacking in one or more principal parts. They are as follows:—

may might [ought] ought
can could shall should
[must] must will would

248. May is used as either indicative or subjunctive, as it has two meanings. It is indicative when it expresses permission, or, as it sometimes does, ability, like the word can: it is subjunctive when it expresses doubt as to the reality of an action, or when it expresses wish, purpose, etc.

Indicative Use: Permission. Ability.

If I may lightly employ the Miltonic figure, "far off his coming shines."—Winier.

A stripling arm might sway
A mass no host could raise.

His superiority none might question.—Channing.

Subjunctive use.

In whatever manner the separate parts of a constitution may be arranged, there is one general principle, etc.—Paine.

(See also Sec. 223.)
And from her fair and unpolluted flesh
May violets spring!

249. Can is used in the indicative only. The l in could did not belong there originally, but came through analogy with should and would. Could may be subjunctive, as in Sec. 220.

250. Must is historically a past-tense form, from the obsolete verb motan, which survives in the sentence, "So mote it be." Must is present or past tense, according to the infinitive used.

All must concede to him a sublime power of action.—Channing

This, of course, must have been an ocular deception.—Hawthorne.

251. The same remarks apply to ought, which is historically the past tense of the verb owe. Like must, it is used only in the indicative mood; as,

The just imputations on our own faith ought first to be removed.... Have we valuable territories and important posts...which ought long since to have been surrendered?—A. Hamilton.

It will be noticed that all the other defective verbs take the pure infinitive without to, while ought always has to.

Shall and Will.

252. The principal trouble in the use of shall and will is the disposition, especially in the United States, to use will and would, to the neglect of shall and should, with pronouns of the first person; as, "I think I will go."

Uses of shall and should.

The following distinctions must be observed:—

(1) With the FIRST PERSON, shall and should are used,—

Futurity and questions—first person.

(a) In making simple statements or predictions about future time; as,—

The time will come full soon, I shall be gone.—L. C. Moulton.

(b) In questions asking for orders, or implying obligation or authority resting upon the subject; as,—

With respect to novels, what shall I say?—N. Webster.

How shall I describe the luster which at that moment burst upon my vision?—C. Brockden Brown.

Second and third persons.

(2) With the SECOND AND THIRD PERSONS, shall and should are used,—

(a) To express authority, in the form of command, promise, or confident prediction. The following are examples:—

Never mind, my lad, whilst I live thou shalt never want a friend to stand by thee.—Irving.

They shall have venison to eat, and corn to hoe.—Cooper.

The sea shall crush thee; yea, the ponderous wave up the loose beach shall grind and scoop thy grave.—Thaxter.

She should not walk, he said, through the dust and heat of
the noonday;
Nay, she should ride like a queen, not plod along like a

(b) In indirect quotations, to express the same idea that the original speaker put forth (i.e., future action); for example,—

He declares that he shall win the purse from you.—Bulwer.

She rejects his suit with scorn, but assures him that she shall make great use of her power over him.—Macaulay.

Fielding came up more and more bland and smiling, with the conviction that he should win in the end.—A. Larned.

Those who had too presumptuously concluded that they should pass without combat were something disconcerted.—Scott.

(c) With direct questions of the second person, when the answer expected would express simple futurity; thus,—

"Should you like to go to school at Canterbury?"—Dickens.

First, second and third persons.


(a) Should is used with the meaning of obligation, and is equivalent to ought.

I never was what I should be.—H. James, Jr.

Milton! thou should'st be living at this hour.—Wordsworth.

He should not flatter himself with the delusion that he can make or unmake the reputation of other men.—Winter.

(b) Shall and should are both used in dependent clauses of condition, time, purpose, etc.; for example,—

When thy mind
Shall be a mansion for all stately forms.

Suppose this back-door gossip should be utterly blundering and untrue, would any one wonder?—Thackeray.

Jealous lest the sky should have a listener.—Byron.

If thou should'st ever come by chance or choice to Modena.—Rogers.

If I should be where I no more can hear thy voice.—Wordsworth.

That accents and looks so winning should disarm me of my resolution, was to be expected.—C. B. Brown.

253. Will and would are used as follows:—

Authority as to future action—first person.

(1) With the FIRST PERSON, will and would are used to express determination as to the future, or a promise; as, for example,—

I will go myself now, and will not return until all is finished.—Cable.

And promised...that I would do him justice, as the sole inventor.—Swift.

Disguising a command.

(2) With the SECOND PERSON, will is used to express command. This puts the order more mildly, as if it were merely expected action; as,—

Thou wilt take the skiff, Roland, and two of my people,... and fetch off certain plate and belongings.—Scott.

You will proceed to Manassas at as early a moment as practicable, and mark on the grounds the works, etc.—War Records.

Mere futurity.

(3) With both SECOND AND THIRD PERSONS, will and would are used to express simple futurity, action merely expected to occur; for example,—

All this will sound wild and chimerical.—Burke.

She would tell you that punishment is the reward of the wicked.—Landor.

When I am in town, you'll always have somebody to sit with you. To be sure, so you will.—Dickens.

(4) With FIRST, SECOND, AND THIRD PERSONS, would is used to express a wish,—the original meaning of the word will; for example,—

Subject I omitted: often so.

Would that a momentary emanation from thy glory would visit me!—C. B. Brown.

Thine was a dangerous gift, when thou wast born, The gift of Beauty. Would thou hadst it not.—Rogers

It shall be gold if thou wilt, but thou shalt answer to me for the use of it.—Scott.

What wouldst thou have a good great man obtain?—Coleridge.

(5) With the THIRD PERSON, will and would often denote an action as customary, without regard to future time; as,

They will go to Sunday schools, through storms their brothers are afraid of.... They will stand behind a table at a fair all day.—Holmes

On a slight suspicion, they would cut off the hands of numbers of the natives, for punishment or intimidation.—Bancroft.

In this stately chair would he sit, and this magnificent pipe would he smoke, shaking his right knee with a constant motion.—Irving.

VERBS > Active Voice > Passive Voice > Conjugation > Defective Strong Verbs > Mood > Imperative Mood > Indicative Mood > Subjunctive Mood > BE (usage) > CHOOSE (usage) > Person/Number (usage) > SHALL/WILL (usage) > Strong Verbs > Tense > Transitive > Troublesome Verbs > Weak Verbs