whether it be or whether it is ?????

Discussion in 'English Only' started by jj88, Dec 23, 2005.

  1. jj88 Senior Member

    English, US
    Hi, I think I've seen it used before, but just to make sure, is "whether it be" a grammatical phrase?

    here's an example:

    The man loves to do his work, whether it be cleaning the yard, testing toys, or singing.

    Also, what's the difference between "whether it is"
    Which would sound better?

    The man loves to do his work, whether it is cleaning the yard, testing toys, or singing.

    Moderator note: two similar threads have been merged to create this one.
     
  2. M56 Senior Member

    Madrid
    Britain. English.
    Yes, it's good English. The "be" form sounds a little dated, formal, and literary.
     
  3. elroy

    elroy Motley mod

    Chicago, IL
    American English, Palestinian Arabic
    There's no difference in meaning. "Be" is the subjunctive, and it's what I'd prefer to say in this case.
     
  4. MrPedantic Senior Member

    UK, English
    "...whether it be..." often (always?) precedes a series of items that have been chosen to illustrate a larger set.

    Here, for instance, three seemingly disparate items from the set {things he does} illustrate the bewildering range of his activities. (It does seem a very peculiar job description.)

    You couldn't use this structure in an ordinary set of choices:

    1. Look out of the window and tell me whether it's raining, snowing, or just a little misty.

    (Not "...whether it be...")

    As to:

    since we're offered the luxury of a personal unsupported opinion for once, I think I prefer:

    "The man loves to do his work, whether it's cleaning the yard, testing toys, or singing."

    MrP
     
  5. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU
    EEUU-inglés
    There is no difference in the way the two sentences would be understood. It's a matter of personal taste and style.

    I would use the subjunctive form. It sounds better to me. It also conveys the meaning, as I understand it, just a little more precisely. 'whether it be' allows for the possibility of any of the types of work, without specifying anything.

    I wouldn't want to meet a mythical creature on a dark and stormy night, whether it be an ogre or a gremlin or a troll.
     
  6. foxfirebrand

    foxfirebrand Senior Member

    The Northern Rockies
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    To me the desirability of maintaining the subjunctive in English is so strong, "whether it is" sounds nonsensical. The word "whether" carries nuanced meanings that call for the subjunctive mood-- in the indicative mood, the word is also nonsensical and may even be omitted.

    Patrick Henry said "if this be treason, make the most of it."

    "If this is treason" is nonsense-- the correct indicative version of the famous quote is "this is treason-- make the most of it."

    "If it is" can only be used as half a concept, in tandem with it's better half, "if it isn't." Just remember FFB's law-- if "if it is" existed independently, in any sense other than widespread erroneous usage, it would mean the same as "if it isn't." Is this possible? No. Learn the subjunctive, take it to heart, restore it to use. A language without it is no better than a bucket with a hole in it.
    .
     
  7. timpeac

    timpeac Senior Member

    England
    English (England)
    Not to my ear - for me the choice between the two is purely stylistic and either is acceptable (although I do prefer "be").

    I think the main reason "if this is treason" clunks is the high-brow nature of the sentence.

    Yes - "if music be the food of love, play on" but "if all the drinks be on the boss's tab, mine's a G+T"?
     
  8. MrPedantic Senior Member

    UK, English
    Hello Foxfire

    The present subjunctive seems to be quite well established in modern American English; but in modern British English, it tends to sound either quaint or rustic, except in a few special usages. (This is possibly because "be" is a common 3rd person indicative in British rural dialects.)

    Moreover, with "if/whether", we sometimes have only two choices¹:

    1. I don't care if he's your father – he's not coming over for Christmas lunch. And that's final.

    In such cases, I'm not sure how we could justify a subjunctive.

    Out of interest, would you change "is" to "be" in either of these two quotations?

    2. I do not exactly know the distance, but when you get back to Portsmouth, if it is not very far off, you ought to go over and pay your respects to them. (Austen)

    3. To be, or not to be: that is the question:
    Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
    The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
    Or to take arms against a sea of troubles...

    MrP

    ¹ Edit: by which I mean, only two possibilities: here, for instance, he either is or isn't your father.
     
  9. rich7 Senior Member

    caracas
    Venezuela español
    I saw this written somewhere: "whether it be you or jhon........"


    what's the correct form, any comments?
     
  10. shamblesuk

    shamblesuk Senior Member

    London
    England, English
    Strictly speaking 'whether it be' is correct (subjunctive) but nowadays sounds outdated. 'Whether it is' would probably be used more.
     
  11. prince184 Senior Member

    India
    India, Lang: Hindi,Punjabi, English
    Rightly said SBK. "Wheter it be" is a subjunctive mood which is used widely in Spanish while on the other hand if somebody uses it in English these days it sounds strange. Anyway "whether it is" a common one.
     
  12. john_riemann_soong

    john_riemann_soong Senior Member

    Singapore / United States
    English, Singlish, Chinese; Singapore
    Sorry, I think the indicative is incorrect.

    "Whether it is" just sounds plain wrong. You have to use the subjunctive.
     
  13. maxiogee Senior Member

    imithe
    I'd go with "whether it be you or John". :D
     
  14. dwipper Senior Member

    Iowa, U.S.
    U.S. English
    I'd say you can take your pick between the two. I prefer “whether it be,” but “whether it is” is probably more commonly used. There is an argument for each, but if I were you, I'd use ‘be’ for formal writing just to be safe.
     
  15. thomasba New Member

    norwegian, norway
    I would use the "be" form if i could use would right in front of it and not change the meaning of the phrase and "is" if not
     
  16. john_riemann_soong

    john_riemann_soong Senior Member

    Singapore / United States
    English, Singlish, Chinese; Singapore
    It's also used in rhetoric and debate without the would: ie.

    "any educational institution still needs funds to operate, whether it be a kindergarten or a university..."


    ("whether it's a kindergarten or a university" ironically sounds way less forceful by using the indicative because it doesn't maintain the conditional air that emphasises the universal.)


    "whether it be six hours old or six months old, it's still a life...."

    (perhaps invoked in an abortion debate? In this case the subjunctive or jussive "be" evokes appropriate force)

    I suspect what makes the indicative more in the vogue these days is the use of contractions. After all

    "if your boyfriend be already so violent over a matter such as this, what will he do next time?"

    sounds less intimate (especially in a conversation such as this) than

    "if your boyfriend's already so violent over a matter such as this..."


    for reasons I suspect are (perhaps be) more for the contraction than a true indicative mood.
     
  17. sghbath New Member

    English, UK
    What’s missing from this discussion is the question of register, i.e., the degree of formality and communicative purpose of a given utterance or text.
    ‘whether it be’ is more appropriate in some formal, mostly written contexts, but is not natural in normal, colloquial everyday speech.
     
  18. john_riemann_soong

    john_riemann_soong Senior Member

    Singapore / United States
    English, Singlish, Chinese; Singapore
    Subjunctive "be" keeps the idea of choice, e.g. whoever the audience chooses out of whim, qui qu'il soit, etc.

    I can envision this in normal conversation, but it's more likely to be at the end of a sentence than at the start. Think party conversation for example. "For me, a perfect day is still at the beach, whether it be cloudy or sunny..." (not quite as much be it rain or shine, since I can't imagine anyone except extremists like myself enjoying walking along the beach in the rain, but ;)).

    "[Be it] rain or shine" is in fact, in everyday register.

    You might be prone to have it in debate, and often "whether it be" tends to be along the lines of "n'importe quoi", e.g. "today's medical coverage systems are nevertheless inefficient and bureaucratic, whether they be Medicare or the private sector..."
     
  19. Bix

    Bix Senior Member

    Brussels, Belgium
    French - Belgium
    Greetings, I bump this almost 2 month old topic because I stumbled upon that problem today ... I didn't know which form to use...

    My M$ Word dictionary (I tried both English (U.K.) and English (U.S.)) underline "whether it be" in green, i.e. grammatical mistake, and offers "is" as correction.

    But I love the sound of "whether it be"; sounds so classy that I will probably use it anyway ;)
     
  20. john_riemann_soong

    john_riemann_soong Senior Member

    Singapore / United States
    English, Singlish, Chinese; Singapore
    Heh, Word doesn't know how to deal with the subjunctive really. You can make up a "if there was .... there would" construction and it won't mark it wrong (or at least informal).

    Also, there are plenty of languages without a subjunctive, to respond to another poster's point ... uninflected languages like Chinese for example - it's just the idea that it's replaced with another device. In English it is disappearing because it is being replaced with other devices like "should", but it is still needed in certain areas, and sometimes it might be better to use it because it's more poetic to use the subjunctive rather than "whether [or not]".

    "If I were you, I would..." is hard to replace.
    "Should he go to Arkansas" can replace "if he went to Arkansas", or "in case he goes to Arkansas".

    "I do not know whether I be courtier or a fool" may be more poetic than "whether I am .... or not".
     
  21. MrMoto Senior Member

    Ottawa, Ontario
    Canada, English
    The reason the first example sounds so strange is that the mood is not subjunctive. The "if" is rhetorical, and could be replaced by "since" or "considering that": "Since your boyfriend is already so violent (and there is no question that he is) ... "

    To use "be" here simply turns the speaker into a pirate: "Since your boyfriend be violent (hyarr!) ..."

    A true subjunctive would have an uncertainty to it: "If your boyfriend be violent (although he may not be), consider leaving him."
     
  22. john_riemann_soong

    john_riemann_soong Senior Member

    Singapore / United States
    English, Singlish, Chinese; Singapore
    There's also the case of dialects of English that still use "be" indicatively, e.g. dialects that didn't merge the s-root with the b-root, since one could usually say "ic eom" (I am) or "ic beo" (I be) in the present indicative, with a distinction between the two copulas being rather reminiscent of Spanish estar and ser.
    "I
     
  23. Forero Senior Member

    Houston, Texas, USA
    USA English
    This looks like an excellent rule to me. I would expand on it a little by saying "if I could use would, should, might, or may in front of it and not change the meaning".

    I understand that whether it be sounds quaint to some, but I think among those of us who use it, it adds a nuance and does not really mean the same as whether it is.

    I think the use of is or be after whether depends on the meaning. "Whether it is" means "whether or not it is" or "if it is", but "whether it be" means "whichever it might be".

    The meaning makes be the best choice in the sentence about the man loving his work, which is equivalent to "The man loves to do his work, be it cleaning the yard, testing toys, or singing." I wouldn't put is in this sentence.

    The meaning also makes is the correct choice in some sentences in which whether means whether or not -

    ... Whether 'tis (or 'tisn't) nobler in the mind to suffer
    The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune...

    - or if -

    Look out of the window and tell me whether (if) it's raining, snowing, or just a little misty.

    I don't care whether (if) he's your father.
     
  24. jennball Senior Member

    USA English
    Although there aren't many subjunctive verbs left in English, this one ('whether it be') still sounds good and I would use it. However, if somebody wrote or said 'whether it is', I think people would understand just as well and I doubt that anyone would correct it.
     
  25. cincotigre New Member

    US -- English
    Remember that most people who post here are interested in language, and therefore more likely to preserve the subjunctive in English.

    "Whether it be" is correct, but the great majority of people say "whether it is".

    In my opinion, the English subjunctive is usually not necessary to convey the message, which is what really matters.
     
  26. timpeac

    timpeac Senior Member

    England
    English (England)
    Not necessarily -

    "Whether you be happy about it or not, come to the party" is wrong.
    "Whether you are happy about it or not, come to the party" is correct.
     
  27. Forero Senior Member

    Houston, Texas, USA
    USA English
    I prefer be in the original sentence, but would not use subjunctive in a "whether or not" clause like this one.
     
  28. jennball Senior Member

    USA English
    The special subjunctive forms of verbs are becoming less frequent in American English, but 'whether it be' still sounds fine in this sentence and I would use it. It gives an impression of unlimited possibilities (for tasks) that the man can choose from. This impression might be weakened by the indicative 'is'. However, if 'is' were used instead, I don't think most people would see it as a mistake or bother to correct it.
     

Share This Page