4

I have read in some documents that they, for example, say:

  1. If you be here, it would be great.

I touch the meaning, well; but I would like to become sure if these two sentences have two different meanings:

  1. If you be here, it would be great.
  2. If you are here, it would be great.

I suppose that in the first one being here is the suggestion of speaker; but in the second, it is the suggestion of listener or it is the default case.

Am I true?

  • 3
    "It would be great if you were here" would seem quite natural in this sense. – user6200 Dec 5 '14 at 15:46
3

If you be here is no longer used in English, although it was fairly common in Early Modern English, around 1700, and was still in poetic and rhetorical use into the 19th century:

If music be the food of love, play on. —Shakespeare, Twelfth Night, ca. 1601

If this be treason, make the most of it! —attributed (probably falsely) to Patrick Henry, 1765

Today we use ordinary indicatives for a likely event, or irrealis past forms (with no inflection for first or third person singular) for an event regarded as merely possible, or unlikely:

If you are here it will be great. ... If he is here it will be great.
These speak of future events held to be quite possible, even probable.

If you were here it would be great. ... If he were here it would be great.
These may speak of either a present non-fact or a future doubtful possibility.

It is common in colloquial English to use Simple Past forms in the if clause alongside would in the consequence clause—If he was here it would be great—because would is no longer restricted to low probabilities. This use is now deprecated in formal English, but is likely to become acceptable over the next generation or so.

| improve this answer | |
  • So with something like "It would be great if he was here tomorrow", is there anything wrong with it? That is, is that acceptable now in today's standard English? – F.E. Dec 5 '14 at 20:14
  • @F.E. It's fine in conversation, and it's not the sort of utterance that shows up in academic or bureaucratic English. But the more formal registers like you to make up your mind how tentatively you're advancing a proposition and mark it on both ends of the conditional. – StoneyB on hiatus Dec 5 '14 at 20:36
  • Isn't the preterite "was" in that example being used for modal remoteness? That is, isn't this similar to "It would be great if he arrived here tomorrow", with "arrived" being used as a modal preterite? – F.E. Dec 5 '14 at 21:26
  • @F.E. But "modal remoteness" (not a term I particularly care for) is so to speak 'graded' with BE in 1sg/3sg: was/were; and as I said, formal English is still uncomfortable with the fully-inflected preterite. – StoneyB on hiatus Dec 5 '14 at 22:20
  • What do you mean by "graded"? For modal remoteness, can't the preterites forms in BE be used for all the persons and numbers, just as they are for other verbs? – F.E. Dec 5 '14 at 23:19

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.