What is meant by this "will"?

6

Let the gentle, kindly phantoms haunt us as they will; we are not afraid of them.
Source

I an confused about the phrase "as they will" – does this "will" means an intention? Like, "all they want?"

user2492

Posted 2013-12-16T09:17:12.863

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Answers

6

Pretty much yes, it's a rather archaic verb form of 'will' as noun -

will
Pronunciation: /wɪl/
noun
"the thing that one desires or ordains:"
Jane tells St. John that she could marry him if she only knew it was God’s will

verb
[with object]
chiefly formal or literary intend, desire, or wish (something) to happen:
their friendship flourished particularly because Adams willed it

Phrases

at will
at whatever time or in whatever way one pleases:
he seemed to think he could walk in and out of her life at will

In your context "as they will" is a somewhat archaic phrase meaning "whatever way they want".

You'll nowadays find this expression in the fundamental tenet of the Wiccan faith:

Wiccan morality is expressed in a brief statement found within a text called the Wiccan Rede: "An it harm none, do what you will."

It means: Do whatever you want, just don't harm anyone.

Another common phrase where you hear it is military "Fire at will" - order to open fire at the enemy picking targets of opportunity - not salvos, not cover fire, you pick your targets, and moments to shoot.

SF.

Posted 2013-12-16T09:17:12.863

Reputation: 9 810

If I understand correctly, there was no future tense in Old English. Even in modern English, when I hear someone says "I will ...", I still got an impression that he "choose" to do that (by his own will). Am I correct about these? – Damkerng T. – 2013-12-16T09:40:28.983

I can't say anything about Old English, but in modern the "intent" part is long dead - if you want to imply intent, you use "is going to" although the two are usually interchangeable. – SF. – 2013-12-16T09:56:19.613

Yes, you're right -- the modern use of "will" for future evolved from this old use. However, that evolution has long since happened, so there's nothing at all strange sounding in a sentence like "I will go to the store tomorrow, even though I don't want to." – hunter – 2013-12-16T11:26:21.527

In the US, at least, we also talk about a job being "an at-will job", meaning that you have no contract, so you can quit at any time and they can fire you at any time. – Jay – 2013-12-16T15:45:53.333

@snailboat: outside of "to will something into existence" and the few idiomatic phrases it's very rarely used, replaced almost entirely by "wish", "desire", "want", "like" – SF. – 2013-12-17T00:12:25.353