Be VS are, which one in first conditional is correct?


If you are tactful, your friends will admire you.

If you be tactful, your friends will admire you

I know, that would be better to use if you use tact, my concern has to do choosing between be and are in all conditionals.


Posted 2014-09-04T13:49:25.287

Reputation: 5 103

4The second (be) version here is technically a valid "subjunctive" form, but in practice it's archaic and/or dialectal. You should ignore it and stick with the "tensed" form (are). Note that you'd have to use the subjunctive in, for example, "Should* you be tactful..."*, but that use of "should" is dated/stilted/formal anyway. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2014-09-04T14:01:44.347

1@FumbleFingers Good advice :) but why do you say that Should you be tactful ... is a form of the subjunctive? – Araucaria - Not here any more. – 2014-09-05T00:39:30.900

1@FumbleFingers Please phrase your answer in the form of an answer. – Alex Trebek – 2014-09-05T04:13:18.580

1@Alex: I put "subjunctive" in quotes because although I'm a competent speaker, I'm not well-versed in the terminology - as shown by Araucaria questioning whether "Should you be tactful..." is in fact a "subjunctive" at all. I personally have no idea, and it certainly seems inconceivable to me that changing *if* to *should* would affect the matter of whether or not *be* was a subjunctive usage. So I posted the comment to inform OP about what native speakers actually say, but someone else who knows the terminology better should post an answer. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2014-09-07T21:38:36.957

@FumbleFingers but in practice it's archaic and/or dialectal Agreed. Whilst I can recognise that it's technically grammatically correct, it also sounds like someone doing a "pirate" voice :P – starsplusplus – 2014-09-12T01:18:58.153

@starsplusplus: *Avast there, ya curs! It be Talk Like a Pirate Day today!*

– FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2014-09-12T01:24:53.370

if you be tactful, reward you may get... from Master Yoda. – gone fishin' again. – 2014-11-08T21:47:10.020

1If you be - be is present subjunctive. Should you be - be is bare infinitive following the modal should. – tunny – 2014-11-17T11:07:30.333



Lets discuss the possible dependent clauses and leave out the independent clause that is unchanged.

 If you are tactful...
 If you be tactful...

Here is the dissection of the sentence.

 If : subordinating conjunction
 you : noun; direct object
 to be : verb
 tactful: adjective modifying you

The only part currently in question is the conjugation of the verb "to be"

"are" is the present tense form of "to be." "be" is the imperative form of "to be."

Edit: Using present subjunctive tense in conditional clauses is generally a stylistic choice of experienced writers and shouldn't be used without good reason.

The correct choice is

 If you are tactful...

because the clause presents a possible present scenario in which you are tactful.


 You be tactful!

in the imperative makes the sentence into a command and changes the meaning. You may no longer use the subordinating conjunction "if" and this is now two independent clauses.

 You be tactful and your friends will admire you.


 If you use tact...

changes the sentence structure

 If : subordinating conjunction
 you : noun
 to use: verb
 tact : noun

Notice that "you" is now performing the action "use" on the noun "tact".

John Kraemer

Posted 2014-09-04T13:49:25.287

Reputation: 592

2*you : noun; direct object* <== That doesn't seem right to me. – F.E. – 2014-09-12T23:27:30.663

1*"be" is the imperative form of "to be."* <== Is that true for the OP's 2nd example? – F.E. – 2014-09-12T23:29:33.637

your friends: subject -> action : to admire -> receival of action : you. Remember that we are working within a clause that can't stand alone. – John Kraemer – 2014-09-12T23:30:03.817

@F.E. see edit. The intended tense of OP's question's second sentence is probably present subjunctive. I included imperative to give clarity. Note that imperative and present subjunctive are indistinguishable without context here. – John Kraemer – 2014-09-12T23:31:59.830

@ John Kraemer - There are quite a few errors in your analysis, I fear. "If you are tactful": you is a pronoun, not a noun, and the subject, not the direct object. "If you be tactful": The verb is subjunctive be, not infinitive to be. – tunny – 2014-11-03T14:53:02.770


The first sentence — If you are tactful, your friends will admire you — is the correct form to use in English today. For an English Language Learners answer, that could be the end of the answer.

However, the second sentence, using be, is not entirely wrong: it is merely archaic or extremely formal. As Wikipedia notes, the Conditional I construction, as with Conditional 0, can use the subjunctive form of the verb instead of the conditional:

Occasionally, mainly in a formal and somewhat archaic style, a subjunctive is used in the condition clause (as in "If the prisoner be held for more than five days, ...). For more details see English subjunctive.

But in all practical circumstances, you should choose the first sentence. Your friends will not be admiring you if you choose the second sentence — they'll just think that you talk funny.


Posted 2014-09-04T13:49:25.287

Reputation: 7 829