Look upon this sentence please:

"But again, truth be told, if you're looking for the guilty, you only need to look into a mirror."

Why "be"?
The sentence isn't in the subjunctive mood, because there's no appropriate verb/adjective needed to make a subjunctive mood in advance in the sentence. (like verbs, say, suggest, recommend, insist and adjectives like important, essential, imperative, crucial)
It's not an imperative one either.

2 Answers 2


It is the subjunctive.

The subjunctive isn't used much now. English tends to use words like "if" or "I hope that" to express subjunctive concepts. In the past, however, the subjunctive was used more often, and no extra words were needed to indicate it.

In expressions and idioms we can find examples of old grammar, like the subjunctive, that have been "fixed". For example we say "God save the Queen!" using the subjunctive.

"Truth be told" is another old expression that uses the subjunctive. It means "If the truth is told" or "If I tell you the truth".

The verb is "be told". It is in the passive voice.

Further examples

  • I've always thought of it as an ellipsis of 'if the truth were to be told', which would definitely put it into the subjunctive, as you say. Jun 13, 2018 at 19:22
  • +1. Heaven forfend the truth be told.
    – TimR
    Jun 13, 2018 at 19:56
  • I'm certain it is an ellipsis. "The truth be told" is possible in archaic English as a jussive subjunctive, which makes no sense in this context. "Truth be told" is incoherent here, except as that elliptic idiom. (Compare "long story short" which seems to have arisen as an idiom during my lifetime, replacing "to cut a long story short".)
    – Colin Fine
    Jun 13, 2018 at 23:51

"Truth be told" is an idiom coming from the long version "If the truth should be told".

Well, truth be told, I committed that crime, not someone else.

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