Shall Law & Legal Definition


The word ‘Shall’ has the following meanings:

  • An imperative command; has a duty to or is required to. For example, the notice shall be sent within 30 days. Usually ‘shall’ used here is in the mandatory sense.
  • Should . Courts often interpret shall as should. For example, all claimants shall request mediation.
  • May. When a negative word such as not or no precedes shall the word shall often means may. For example, no person shall enter the building without first signing the roster.
  • Will . For example, the defendant shall then have a period of 30 days to object.

The following are some case law interpreting the word shall:

When used in statutes, contracts, or the like, the word "shall" is generally imperative or mandatory.[Independent School Dist. v. Independent School Dist., 170 N.W.2d 433, 440 (Minn. 1969)]

"In common, or ordinary parlance, and in its ordinary signification, the term 'shall' is a word of command, and one which has always, or which must be given a compulsory meaning; as denoting obligation. It has a peremptory meaning, and it is generally imperative or mandatory. It has the invariable significance of excluding the idea of discretion, and has the significance of operating to impose a duty which may be enforced, particularly if public policy is in favor of this meaning, or when addressed to public officials, or where a public interest is involved, or where the public or persons have rights which ought to be exercised or enforced, unless a contrary intent appears; but the context ought to be very strongly persuasive before it is softened into a mere permission," etc.[People v. O'Rourke, 124 Cal. App. 752, 759 (Cal. App. 1932)]