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Friday, December 28, 2012

Shall We Abandon Shall? | Bryan Garner, ABA Journal

As a writer and editor, I have great respect for the author of this column, Bryan Garner. One of his books, Garner's Modern American Usage, is a contemporary equivalent to the Fowler and Follett books. It sits on my desk with my dictionary and style manuals.

As a legal writer, Garner also advocates clear, concise writing in legal documents ... and other types of documents. This article focuses on use of shall in legal documents, but its advice is worth heeding for other writing.

Garner concludes:
My own practice is to delete shall in all legal instruments and to replace it with a clearer word more characteristic of American English: must, will, is, may or the phrase is entitled to. ...
Here's advice from my online guide, Garbl's Editorial Style Manual; I think it's similar to Garner's recommendations:
shall Avoid this formal, ambiguous, pretentious word:
  • Try dropping use of any pronoun.
  • Use is when something is fact: The senior editor is [not shall beresponsible for reviewing all documents for clarity and consistency.
  • Use may instead to give permission: Members may borrow up to three CDs a month.
  • Use must instead to express legal obligation: Tenants must pay rent by the 15th of each month.
  • Use have to, must, need to or required instead to express other requirements: Each student is required to take the exam.
  • Use should when recommending a course of action: We should move ahead with the project by Friday.
  • Use will instead to express what someone plans to do or expects: I will be there. We will meet. You will like it. She will not be pleased.
My manual also provides advice on other related verbs: can, maymay, mightshould, wouldwill, would.

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Garner's column is featured today, Dec. 28, in my online daily paper, Garbl's Plain English Paragraphs, available at the Plain Language tab above and by free email subscription.

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