[If it is necessary = If need be] How 'it's necessary' could become 'need be' here?

+or does 'be' simply mean 'to exist' in "If need be"? (Can I use it in formal writing&speaking?)

+Is there any example like this, where a sentence could have a somewhat short form that has the same meaning?

1 Answer 1


'If need be' is an example of a grammar fossil. The non count form of 'need' and the subjunctive verb 'be' are both old usage.

At one time, that would have been the usual way to say 'if a state of need exists'. The phrase has remained even as grammar has changed. It is appropriate in formal English.

There are plenty of similar short phrases. You probably learnt some on the first day you studied English. "Thank you" and "goodbye" are both short phrases that preserve old patterns.

  • I like the term 'English fossil'. Your example and the background of the 'If need be' phrase are very helpful to understand its concept. Thank you!
    – longne
    Commented Dec 27, 2019 at 9:49

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .