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Must vs. Shall: Know the Difference

Shumaila Saeed
By Shumaila Saeed || Updated on December 25, 2023
"Must" implies a requirement or necessity, often driven by an external rule or internal obligation, while "Shall" is used to express a future action, often in formal or legal contexts.
Must vs. Shall

Key Differences

"Must" is used to express obligation, necessity, or strong recommendation, indicating that something is imperative. "Shall," on the other hand, is traditionally used to form the future tense, particularly in formal or legal contexts, to denote what is intended or expected to happen.
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Shumaila Saeed
Dec 07, 2023
In legal or official documents, "must" is often preferred to state requirements or obligations with clarity and firmness. "Shall," in legal texts, can denote a mandatory action, but its interpretation can vary, sometimes implying a promise rather than a command.
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Shumaila Saeed
Dec 07, 2023
"Must" can convey the idea of something being essential or unavoidable, often based on rules, laws, or personal convictions. "Shall" is used in offers or suggestions, especially in the form of questions like "Shall we...?" to propose an action.
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Shumaila Saeed
Dec 07, 2023
In everyday language, "must" is a strong directive or a necessity, often reflecting the speaker's viewpoint. "Shall," while less common in casual speech, can be used to politely suggest or offer future actions, or in formal predictions.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Dec 07, 2023

Comparison Chart

Primary Use

Express obligation or necessity
Form future tense in formal contexts
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Dec 07, 2023
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Connotation

Requirement, necessity
Formal future action, suggestion
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Dec 07, 2023

Common Contexts

Legal documents, rules, personal convictions
Legal documents, formal proposals
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Dec 07, 2023

Strength of Directive

Stronger, imperative
Softer, often a suggestion or expectation
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Dec 07, 2023

Examples

"You must stop at the red light."
"You shall receive the report tomorrow."
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Dec 07, 2023

Must and Shall Definitions

Must

Often used for strong recommendations.
You must try this new restaurant.
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Nov 27, 2023
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Shall

Used in formal suggestions or offers.
Shall we go to the theater tonight?
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Nov 27, 2023

Must

Must indicates a necessity or obligation.
You must wear a helmet while riding a bike.
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Nov 27, 2023

Shall

Shall is used in formal or legal contexts for future actions.
The tenant shall pay rent by the first of each month.
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Nov 27, 2023

Must

Implies something is essential.
You must understand the basics to advance.
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Nov 27, 2023

Shall

In legal terms, can denote a mandatory action.
The company shall provide safety equipment.
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Nov 27, 2023
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Must

Used to express a rule or law.
Employees must adhere to company policies.
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Nov 27, 2023

Shall

Implies intention or promise.
I shall complete the assignment by Monday.
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Nov 27, 2023

Must

Reflects personal conviction.
I must finish this project by tomorrow.
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Nov 27, 2023

Shall

Less common in casual speech but used for polite proposals.
Shall I open the window?
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Nov 27, 2023

Must

To be obliged or required by morality, law, or custom
Citizens must register in order to vote.
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Oct 19, 2023

Shall

Used before a verb to indicate the simple future tense in the first person singular or plural.
I shall sing in the choir tomorrow.
I hope that we shall win the game.
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Oct 19, 2023

Must

To be compelled, as by a physical necessity or requirement
Plants must have oxygen in order to live.
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Oct 19, 2023

Shall

Used similarly to indicate determination or obligation in the second and third persons singular or plural.
(determination): You shall go to the ball!
(obligation): Citizens shall provide proof of identity.
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Shumaila Saeed
Oct 19, 2023

Must

Used to express a command or admonition
You must not go there alone. You simply must be careful.
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Oct 19, 2023

Shall

Used in questions with the first person singular or plural to suggest a possible future action.
Shall I help you with that?
Shall we go out later?
Let us examine that, shall we?
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Shumaila Saeed
Oct 19, 2023

Must

To be determined to; have as a fixed resolve
If you must leave, do it quietly.
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Oct 19, 2023

Shall

(obsolete) To owe.
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Oct 19, 2023

Must

Used to indicate inevitability or certainty
We all must die.
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Oct 19, 2023

Shall

To owe; to be under obligation for.
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Oct 19, 2023

Must

Used to indicate logical probability or presumptive certainty
If the lights were on, they must have been at home.
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Oct 19, 2023

Shall

To be obliged; must.
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Oct 19, 2023

Must

To be required or obliged to go
"I must from hence" (Shakespeare).
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Oct 19, 2023

Must

Something that is absolutely required or indispensable
Promptness on the job is a must. Comfortable boots are a must when going on a hike.
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Oct 19, 2023

Must

The quality or condition of being stale or musty.
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Shumaila Saeed
Oct 19, 2023

Must

The unfermented or fermenting juice expressed from fruit, especially grapes.
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Oct 19, 2023

Must

Variant of musth.
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Oct 19, 2023

Must

Musk.
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Oct 19, 2023

Must

To do with certainty; indicates that the speaker is certain that the subject will have executed the predicate.
If it has rained all day, it must be very wet outside.
You picked one of two, and it wasn't the first: it must have been the second.
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Oct 19, 2023

Must

To do as a requirement; indicates that the sentence subject is required as an imperative or directive to execute the sentence predicate, with failure to do so resulting in a failure or negative consequence.
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Oct 19, 2023

Must

Used to indicate that something that is very likely, probable, or certain to be true.
The children must be asleep by now.
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Shumaila Saeed
Oct 19, 2023

Must

(transitive) To make musty.
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Oct 19, 2023

Must

(intransitive) To become musty.
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Oct 19, 2023

Must

Something that is mandatory or required.
If you're trekking all day, a map is a must.
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Oct 19, 2023

Must

The property of being stale or musty.
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Oct 19, 2023

Must

Something that exhibits the property of being stale or musty.
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Shumaila Saeed
Oct 19, 2023

Must

Fruit juice that will ferment or has fermented, usually from grapes.
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Shumaila Saeed
Oct 19, 2023

Must

To be obliged; to be necessitated; - expressing either physical or moral necessity; as, a man must eat for nourishment; we must submit to the laws.
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Oct 19, 2023

Must

To be morally required; to be necessary or essential to a certain quality, character, end, or result; as, he must reconsider the matter; he must have been insane.
Likewise must the deacons be grave.
Morover, he [a bishop] must have a good report of them which are without.
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Shumaila Saeed
Oct 19, 2023

Must

The expressed juice of the grape, or other fruit, before fermentation.
No fermenting must fills . . . the deep vats.
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Shumaila Saeed
Oct 19, 2023

Must

Mustiness.
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Oct 19, 2023

Must

To make musty; to become musty.
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Shumaila Saeed
Oct 19, 2023

Must

Being in a condition of dangerous frenzy, usually connected with sexual excitement; - said of adult male elephants which become so at irregular intervals, typicaly due to increased testosterone levels.
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Oct 19, 2023

Must

A necessary or essential thing;
Seat belts are an absolute must
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Oct 19, 2023

Must

Grape juice before or during fermentation
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Oct 19, 2023

Must

The quality of smelling or tasting old or stale or mouldy
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Oct 19, 2023

Must

Highly recommended;
A book that is must reading
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Oct 19, 2023

Repeatedly Asked Queries

What does must mean?

Indicates necessity or obligation.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Dec 07, 2023

Can shall be used casually?

Yes, but it's more common in formal settings.
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Shumaila Saeed
Dec 07, 2023

Is shall a command?

In legal contexts, yes; otherwise, it's more suggestive.
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Dec 07, 2023

Is shall used in questions?

Often, especially in offers or suggestions.
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Shumaila Saeed
Dec 07, 2023

Is shall becoming less common?

Yes, especially in everyday speech.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Dec 07, 2023

What does shall mean?

Used for formal future actions or suggestions.
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Shumaila Saeed
Dec 07, 2023

Is must used in legal documents?

Yes, for clarity in stating requirements.
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Dec 07, 2023

Is must only used for rules?

Primarily, but also for strong recommendations.
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Dec 07, 2023

Can must imply personal conviction?

Yes, it can reflect a personal decision.
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Dec 07, 2023

Does must express urgency?

Often, it conveys a sense of immediacy.
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Dec 07, 2023

Is must a strong directive?

Yes, it implies something is imperative.
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Dec 07, 2023

Can shall be ambiguous?

Sometimes, especially in legal language.
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Dec 07, 2023

Is must subjective or objective?

It can be both, depending on context.
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Dec 07, 2023

Is shall polite?

Yes, especially in formal or polite suggestions.
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Shumaila Saeed
Dec 07, 2023

Can shall be used in contracts?

Yes, frequently for obligations or conditions.
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Shumaila Saeed
Dec 07, 2023

Can shall express future plans?

Yes, it's used for formal future intentions.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Dec 07, 2023

Is must used for advice?

Yes, for strong or urgent advice.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Dec 07, 2023

Does must have a modal form?

Yes, as in "You mustn’t" for prohibition.
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Shumaila Saeed
Dec 07, 2023

Can must be replaced with have to?

Often, but with a slight difference in tone.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Dec 07, 2023

Is shall only for future tense?

Primarily, but also for formal instructions.
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Shumaila Saeed
Dec 07, 2023

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Shumaila Saeed
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Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed, an expert content creator with 6 years of experience, specializes in distilling complex topics into easily digestible comparisons, shining a light on the nuances that both inform and educate readers with clarity and accuracy.

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