English Language and Linguistics

Research Article

Beyond aspect: will be -ing and shall be -ing1


a1 Université Paris Diderot – Paris 7, U.F.R. Etudes Anglophones Charles V – Centre de Linguistique Interlangues, Lexicologie, Linguistique Anglaise et de Corpus (CLILLAC), Centre Charles V – Bâtiment C, 8/10, rue Charles V, 75004 Paris, France agnes.celle@univ-paris-diderot.fr

a2 School of English, Sociology, Politics & Contemporary History, University of Salford, Manchester M5 4WT, UK n.smith@salford.ac.uk


This article discusses the synchronic status and diachronic development of will be -ing and shall be -ing (as in I'll be leaving at noon).2 Although available since at least Middle English, the constructions did not establish a significant foothold in standard English until the twentieth century. Both types are also more prevalent in British English (BrE) than American English (AmE).

We argue that in present-day usage will/shall be -ing are aspectually underspecified: instances that clearly construe a situation as future-in-progress are in the minority. Similarly, although volition-neutrality has been identified as a key feature of will/shall be -ing, it is important to take account of other, generally richer meanings and associations, notably ‘future-as-matter-of-course’ (Leech 2004), ‘already-decided future’ (Huddleston & Pullum et al. 2002) and non-agentivity. Like volition-neutrality, these characteristics appear to be relevant not only in contemporary use, but also in their historical expansion. We show that the construction has evolved from progressive aspect towards more subjectivised evidential meaning.

(Received April 25 2008)

(Revised February 11 2010)


1 For comments on earlier versions of this article, we would like to thank the two anonymous reviewers, as well as Cristiano Broccias, Mark Davies, Sebastian Hoffmann, Geoffrey Leech, Patricia Ronan and audiences at the ESSE8 seminar on ‘What future for the future tense in English?’ (30 August 2006) and a research seminar at the University of Manchester (22 April 2008).