whether they are/whether they be

Discussion in 'English Only' started by mbeep, Jul 11, 2007.

  1. mbeep Member

    Hello everyone!
    I need help with this sentence, I'm not sure if it's supposed to be "whether they are famous..." or "whether they be famous.."

    " These heroes are people they admire, whether they are famous singers, athletes, etc. "

    Is there a better way to word this sentence? Does are or be sound better?

    Thanks so much!
  2. markborges Member

    Brasil, Português (br)
    Hi mbeep,

    To be is the verb. You should use the conjugation "are" in this case.

    "It doesn't matter whether they are heroes or not"
    "I don't know whether they arrived or not"

    What are you trying to say? I'm quite sure that "whether" doesn't fit in this context.

    Best Regards,
  3. JamesM

    JamesM modo no mas :)

    "Whether they be" is perfectly fine as well. It's one of those increasingly rare subjunctive phrases, but I've heard it used by talk show radio hosts, college professors, and information technology trainers. In other words, "whether they/it be" is actually used quite frequently, even though the subjunctive itself seems to be falling out of use in general.

    Here are a few examples:

    from Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronté

    All men of talent, whether they be men of feeling or not; whether they be zealots, or aspirants, or despots -- provided only they be be sincere -- have their sublime moments, when they subdue and rule.

    From How To Be Your Dog's Best Friend, by the Monks of New Skete

    If a door cannot be installed, try to screen the dog from disturbing stimuli, whether they be other dogs, traffic, or passersby.

    From an article in U.S. Medicine, published June 26, 2007

    "To date, much of our focus has been on leaders, getting them to write plans and to exercise plans for their organization, whether they be private sector or government," Dr. Agwunobi said.

    Another variation on this phrase is "be it/be they", which has enjoyed a sort of faddish use recently in the U.S., at least on television and radio.
  4. mbeep Member

    Thank you, James, for your help.

    Yes, I see how "be" can fit, as a more informal or casual way to address it.
  5. JamesM

    JamesM modo no mas :)

    Actually, it strikes many people as more formal, I think, because it is an older construction.
  6. Matching Mole

    Matching Mole Senior Member

    England, English
    I agree, the use of the subjunctive is considered more formal; in fact, it's not informal at all. Personally, although I am not a great user of it myself, I find the subjunctive preferable in the example mbeep has given.
  7. konungursvia Banned

    Canada (English)
    Whether they be is a subjunctive and short for "whether they might be"... It is not only formal, as Mole tells us, but archaic and no longer used, except in playfully anachronistic speech, and some bad poetry.
  8. JamesM

    JamesM modo no mas :)

    I disagree. Google "whether they be" and you'll get 1.75 million hits, with examples from current news stories, radio transcripts, casual blogs, speeches, and the like.

    It has a certain formal tone to it, but I've regularly heard people use it in casual speech. It always tweaks my ear, because it does sound formal to me but is being used in a casual setting.

    For example, a quote from this blog:

    My favourite music artists are all ballsy, passionate people who want to create though provoking tunes, whether they be big beats or acoustic, sensitive ballads.

    Or this casual comment on a youtube page (which is not even a complete sentence):

    Actually, characterizing *any* group of people in a negative way is dehumanizing them. Whether they be "Bushies" or what have you.

    Or this comment on a rap website, arguing the virtues of different ethnic groups attempting rap:

    But that's kind of an ignorant statement, anyone who wants to be involved in hip hop can do so whether they be black, white, cuban, asian, whatever, i'm not disputing that black people are better at rapping and blacks created hip hop, but white people are entitled to have their own shot at hip hop.

    It is still in current use and often found in casual conversation and casual settings. The tone always strikes me as a little odd and out of place, but there is no sign that the speaker is using it sarcastically or humorously. These are not erudite, obscure, poetic or archaic writings.
  9. olcountrylawyer Senior Member

    La España profunda
    The American Slanguage

    The subjunctive is less common in Britain, where they rely more on constructions with modal verbs, than in the United States, where the subjunctive is often preferred.
  10. DonnyB

    DonnyB Sixties Mod

    Coventry, UK
    English UK Southern Standard English
    I wouldn't disagree with you on that as a generalized observation.

    However, the phrase under discussion here - "Whether they be..." - is still used in BE: I wouldn't bat an eyelid at seeing or hearing any of the examples in James's post (#8) from a BE speaker, in fact the author of the blog from which the first one comes is in fact British. :)

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