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The Ropes
Shall or Will/Must?

By Barbara McClintock, Certified Translator

Bryan Garner, editor, Black’s Law Dictionary, 10th edition, 2014, p. 1585, defines the word shall as follows: “shall, vb. 1. Has a duty to; more broadly, is required to. Ÿ This is the mandatory sense that drafters typically intend and that courts typically uphold. 2. Should (as often interpreted by courts). 3. May. ˂No person shall enter the building without first signing the roster˃. Ÿ When a negative word such as not or no precedes shall (as in the example in angle brackets), the word shall often means may. What is being negated is permission, not a requirement. 4. Will (as a future-tense verb). 5. Is entitled to. Ÿ Only sense 1 is acceptable under strict standards of drafting.”

Despite the editor’s observations about the meaning appropriate for legal drafting, many people believe that “shall” is too pompous and old fashioned for modern-day use, not to mention the fact that it has too many different meanings.

If the French text saysdoit” [present] or “devra” [future] tense, you can simply use must. If you find that must sounds too pushy, there is also will. “Devrait” on the other hand is a conditional which requires should. It takes some getting used to, but the clarity of your document will benefit.

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.


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