I ran into a phrase recently (the context, use the cc button for subtitles):

Far be it from me to make moral judgements.

The way it sounded was:

It's far from me to make moral judgements. I'm in no position to make them. I'm far from being a moral authority. You can easily counter what I'm about to say with, "Look who's talking."

Which made me think about why it's phrased so. It can come off as imperative because of "be." But then it's more natural to say, "Be far from me..." And then, "...me, making moral judgement." But we're literally addressing and commanding "making moral judgement" here, which can't be right.

If we keep "far" before "be," one might say that "it" is the anticipatory it. Well, it's likely so. But not the object kind of anticipatory it. Because then we could say, "Far be you from me." Which doesn't sound right. And can a copula be transitive? I guess not.

Another possible explanation is the subjunctive mood. It's that mood where it's almost like indicative but with a twist. Where indicative simply states facts:

Far it is from me to make moral judgements.

subjunctive suggests some hypothetical situation. I don't know about you but I don't see how this can suggest anything hypothetical, given the context. My best guess would be:

I'm not going to make moral judgements.

Is this hypothetical? Subjunctive can also express desires, so maybe:

I don't want to make moral judgements.

But it didn't sound like he didn't want to make moral judgements. It sounded like he's a bad choice for that.

"I consider that it be far from me to..."? The problem with subjunctive is that I couldn't find an exhaustive list of what it can suggest.

Last but not least, why inversion? I might be wrong, but "it be far" sounds more natural to me (as in, I wish that it be far) than "far be it." And what's even more natural is "it's far."

It probably makes sense to mention here "so be it," which is subjunctive according to Wikipedia. Which might be a hint... Anyways, it pretty much reminds the original phrase, especially the order. If I had to phrase it in an imperative-like fashion, one possible way would be "be it so." But that sounds like "far be you from me." "It, be so" sounds a bit better, but I'd like to see someone addressing "it." The best phrasing is arguably "let it be so." By "best" I mean a phrasing that has the same meaning and more natural word order. A subjunctive version might be, "I accept that it be so." But I'm not sure if accepting something is okay for subjunctive.

These are my thoughts on the matter. As you can see I fail to come to a conclusion. Can you possibly explain the sentence? Why is it phrased so?

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    It might help you to know that this phrase is a common idiom that sounds old-fashioned to a native English speaker. It might even be a quote from the King James bible? bible.com/bible/114/1SA.12.23.NKJV. I think the strange grammar (intentionally) gives it a pompous, moralistic feeling. Commented Mar 27 at 6:27
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    Yes, it's the subjunctive - "May it be far from me to do that" (it's something I don't want to appear to be doing). Commented Mar 27 at 8:43
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    Yes, the plain form of the verb "be" marks it a subjunctive clause.
    – BillJ
    Commented Mar 27 at 9:53
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    I'm sure most English speakers would consider "far be it from me" a unit that stands on its own and isn't susceptible to parsing. You just put an infinitive on the end and express your meaning.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Mar 27 at 10:25
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    I rephrased it to make the meaning clearer to a non-native speaker. "Far be it from me to..." is a very old and well-established phrase. I didn't say that someone using the phrase doesn't want to do the thing - I said that they don't want to seem to be doing it. I don't subscribe to Vimeo, but the reason could well be that the speaker doesn't feel qualified to make moral judgments. Commented Apr 6 at 8:23

1 Answer 1


Judging from the discussion in the comments that is a subjunctive clause, which can be rephrased this:

May it be far from me to...

or this way (my idea):

I wish it be far from me to...

As for the word order, it seems unusual, but I'm not sure if such reasoning can be applied to an old phrase and an idiom like that.

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