Problem 1

The same can be applied with larger units in the article, be it sentences or paragraphs.

Should the nouns after "be it" must be singular? Because the phrase is "it", then I guess they should be singular. But because "units" should be plural, then they should be plural as well. One solution is to change to "be they", but is it awkward? Or is using plural nouns after "be it" not noticed and acceptable?

Problem 2

She is damned if she does and damned if she don't.

We should use "doesn't" instead, but it will make the saying lost its rhythm. Would the rhythm overshadow the grammatical error?

In general, should grammar be tweaked to fit in a fixed phrasing?

FYI: Be it............. or grammar


Problem one: using "be they" instead is a perfectly good solution, and scans naturally. You could also have "The same can be applied with any larger unit in the article, be it a sentence or a paragraph", though this carries a different connotation.

Problem two: It should indeed be "doesn't". In poetic use, you might set aside normal grammar in favour of scansion or rhythm, but in general the grammatical inconsistency would be more jarring to your audience than the slight change to the saying.

  • Side note: when you have more than one question, it's better to post them separately. – Darael Dec 14 '18 at 11:47
  • 1
    The two examples have little in common. This subjunctive "be" is a somewhat archaic conditional form. "Damned if one does and damned if one doesn't" is a fairly tired cliche. I wouldn't regard either as a fixed phrasing. You're looking for a general case that might not exist. – Gary Botnovcan Dec 14 '18 at 16:46
  • Poetry in general does not typically license the setting aside of such basic grammatical rules as number agreement between subject and verb; you find that sort of thing only in the kind of poetry that deliberately sets out to break those rules. In fact, it's usually the opposite: poetry that is intricate in its syntax relies very much on those rules. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Dec 16 '18 at 13:08

it could be understood as 'existential' It there, and be they could be regarded as a form of "hyper-correctness", an insistence on number-agreement in a context where that rule doesn't apply.

There was a loud knocking and the sound of excited voices at the door. Mr Jones went downstairs to see who it was.

Your second point about the rhythm being "lost" is simply your idiosyncratic opinion. Use doesn't.

  • I'd be inclined to argue that in this instance, "it" still needs a referent. We could take that referent as being the same as the referent of "the same", but in that case we'd need to use "be it to sentences or [to] paragraphs" (the second "to" being a matter of style, but the first one being necessary either way). – Darael Dec 14 '18 at 15:41
  • @Darael what do you mean be reference? If the sentence is "be it to sentences or to paragraphs", then what would be the equivalent phrasing in modern English? – Ooker Dec 16 '18 at 3:52
  • @Ooker: What Darael is saying there is that the pronoun after be must refer anaphorically to the nouns in the prior clause and must therefore agree with them in number: if there is more than one of them, the pronoun must be they. I'm arguing on the other hand that we do not have to understand the pronoun as anaphor here, but an as instance of 'existential' it. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Dec 16 '18 at 13:03

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