Should I use "be" in a conditional?


I have read in some documents that they, for example, say:

  1. If you be here, it would be great.

I touch the meaning, well; but I would like to become sure if these two sentences have two different meanings:

  1. If you be here, it would be great.
  2. If you are here, it would be great.

I suppose that in the first one being here is the suggestion of speaker; but in the second, it is the suggestion of listener or it is the default case.

Am I true?


Posted 2014-12-05T15:13:50.343

Reputation: 185

3"It would be great if you were here" would seem quite natural in this sense. – None – 2014-12-05T15:46:55.157



If you be here is no longer used in English, although it was fairly common in Early Modern English, around 1700, and was still in poetic and rhetorical use into the 19th century:

If music be the food of love, play on. —Shakespeare, Twelfth Night, ca. 1601

If this be treason, make the most of it! —attributed (probably falsely) to Patrick Henry, 1765

Today we use ordinary indicatives for a likely event, or irrealis past forms (with no inflection for first or third person singular) for an event regarded as merely possible, or unlikely:

If you are here it will be great. ... If he is here it will be great.
These speak of future events held to be quite possible, even probable.

If you were here it would be great. ... If he were here it would be great.
These may speak of either a present non-fact or a future doubtful possibility.

It is common in colloquial English to use Simple Past forms in the if clause alongside would in the consequence clause—If he was here it would be great—because would is no longer restricted to low probabilities. This use is now deprecated in formal English, but is likely to become acceptable over the next generation or so.

StoneyB on hiatus

Posted 2014-12-05T15:13:50.343

Reputation: 176 469

So with something like *"It would be great if he was here tomorrow"*, is there anything wrong with it? That is, is that acceptable now in today's standard English? – F.E. – 2014-12-05T20:14:40.430

@F.E. It's fine in conversation, and it's not the sort of utterance that shows up in academic or bureaucratic English. But the more formal registers like you to make up your mind how tentatively you're advancing a proposition and mark it on both ends of the conditional. – StoneyB on hiatus – 2014-12-05T20:36:19.560

Isn't the preterite "was" in that example being used for modal remoteness? That is, isn't this similar to *"It would be great if he arrived here tomorrow"*, with "arrived" being used as a modal preterite? – F.E. – 2014-12-05T21:26:43.100

@F.E. But "modal remoteness" (not a term I particularly care for) is so to speak 'graded' with BE in 1sg/3sg: was/were; and as I said, formal English is still uncomfortable with the fully-inflected preterite. – StoneyB on hiatus – 2014-12-05T22:20:21.627

What do you mean by "graded"? For modal remoteness, can't the preterites forms in BE be used for all the persons and numbers, just as they are for other verbs? – F.E. – 2014-12-05T23:19:45.947

@F.E. They can; feel free to use them that way; but if you write if he was in a hypothetical or counterfactual conditional it won't go over well with highschool English teachers, Comp 101 TAs, LitCrit dissertation advisors or PMLA editors. ... NOte by the way that none of the other verbs has distinct inflections for 1sg and 3sg in the preterite, so it doesn't arise there. – StoneyB on hiatus – 2014-12-05T23:38:19.707

Maybe there's something wrong with the competence of those "high school English teachers, Comp 101 TAs, LitCrit dissertation advisors"? – F.E. – 2014-12-05T23:39:54.340

The other verbs only have the preterite forms to show this modal remoteness, but the verb BE has two ways: the modal preterite use, and (for 1st and 3rd person singular) the irrealis "were". – F.E. – 2014-12-05T23:43:30.023

@F.E. Prescriptivist sneers? You will have to turn in your linguistics union card! It's a dialect, and like all dialects it has its own grammar. – StoneyB on hiatus – 2014-12-05T23:43:58.393

What dialect? I'm talking about standard English. Oh, you mean those people who think only the irrealis "were" is acceptable are using a dialect/register! (That I could probably agree with.) – F.E. – 2014-12-05T23:45:27.740

@F.E. No, I'm talking about linguistic facts on the ground: what academic/legal/formal prose prefers. It's changing - it always has been - but it has not adopted the If I was you style yet. ... And what is "standard" English? – StoneyB on hiatus – 2014-12-05T23:47:41.647

Perhaps some registers have a style that prefers the use of irrealis "were" when possible, but the modal remoteness use of preterite forms of BE have been commonly in use for a long, long, long time. – F.E. – 2014-12-05T23:49:42.447

@F.E. I never said they hadn't. – StoneyB on hiatus – 2014-12-05T23:51:01.777

What is "standard English"? Oh that's relatively easy, more or less, for me to kinda answer. I'm basically basing what is "standard English" on stuff like the 2002 reference grammar by Huddleston and Pullum et al., The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (I'm also using the older 1985 reference grammar by Quirk et al.). – F.E. – 2014-12-05T23:51:59.290