Written by people more or less knowledgeable about the subject and about the history of technology, these accounts tend to focus on the unusual and the spectacular, be it people or lines of research, and they often cede to the self-evaluation of their subjects.

This is a sentence excerpted from a history article by Michael S. Mahoney, "The History of Computing in the History of Technology."

What I cannot understand is the part of "be it people or lines of research". I know that 'be' and 'it' are inverted and that there is an ellipsis, but I don't know why and what is omitted.

  • 2
    I think that your question has already been answered here english.stackexchange.com/questions/214687/…
    – RubioRic
    Jan 9 '19 at 7:44
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    This is sometimes called an 'exhaustive conditional' construction, more specifically one where the subordinate clause has the subjunctive form. It's a formal alternant of the whether construction, with be and inversion instead of a subordinator. Compare "whether it be people or lines of research", or the non-subjunctive "whether it is people or lines of research".
    – BillJ
    Jan 9 '19 at 13:50

"Be it" is an example of the subjunctive mood. The subjunctive is very uncommon in modern English, and its rarity often leads to confusion about it, even among native English speakers.


"Be it" is not commonly used in spoken English, though I've seen it often in writing. The meaning is essentially the same as "Whether" or "Whether it be" in this context.

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