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If she be found guilty… (YBM #8)

I got a curiosity what difference there is when I put ‘is’ instead of ‘be.’ The dictionary says ‘is’ is used in spoken language. Is that all? Is there no semantic difference at all?

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up vote 7 down vote accepted

This is a remnant of the old subjunctive, which is no longer used in Standard English conditionals outside of historicizing contexts. You may freely substitute either a simple present or should be—except, of course, in quotations:

If this be treason, make the most of it! —Patrick Henry

Fee, fi, fo, fum
I smell the blood of an Englishman
Be he alive or be he dead
I’ll grind his bones to make my bread —Old tale

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

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Thank you very much. I wrote what you say on a page in my frequently consulting grammar text, which page, its tile is ‘Mood’, has two scraps that you answered and the next page with a scrap that you also answered. It’s not easy to find blanks either, because upper and lower margins are scribbled by me with other Korean’s answer. Yours today is written on the page’s side beside this sentence: “If the report be true, I will employ him.” – Listenever Aug 16 '14 at 12:41
@Listenever Note, by the way, that there is no distinct backshifted 'subjunctive' form: you have to write "He said that if the report was true he would employ him." – StoneyB Aug 16 '14 at 13:27

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