Which of the following is grammatical?
- He had lollies be they red or blue?
- He had lollies be them red or blue?
It seems as if it could be them as an object of be.
closed as not a real question by MετάEd, JSBձոգչ, Zairja, cornbread ninja 麵包忍者, Mahnax Nov 7 '12 at 6:46
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Neither of your two questions makes sense as written, and I do not know what the intent is. For one thing, I don’t understand why they are questions; they do not look like such to me.
For another, the formulaic “be they X or Y ”, using present subjunctive and inversion as it does, is of a somewhat elevated register which may not be appropriate for all circumstances. It has a slightly musty aroma of littérature to it, as of a sweetness possibly gone slightly off. The use of the somewhat colloquial lollies seems to fight against that register. It is an odd mix.
Here are some alternate wording you may wish to consider, depending on your actual intent.
Disjunctive Concession, Inversion, and the Subjunctive
As for the use of the present subjunctive in be they red or blue, that is called disjunctive concession, and it is in Contemporary English considered a literary style seldom heard elsewhere. In his monumental work, An Historical Syntax of the English Language, Visser has this to say about it:
I strongly advise you not to attempt to affect a literary register, let alone one that risks being perceived as archaic or poetic when that is not the intent, because I do not believe you yet have sufficient command of English to credibly pull it off.
Here, however, are some examples of authors who did do so. You might compare your writing with theirs and decide whether you write like them. Or should.
1605 Shakespeare, King Lear
c1795 Robert Burns, Extemporary to Mr Syme
1954 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
a1974 ibid, The Silmarillion:
1981 Gene Wolfe, The Claw of the Conciliator
1998 George Martin, A Clash of Kings
So yes, the form undeniably exists, although used differently than you attempted. But no, I don’t think it works in what you are trying to write, especially where you attempted to use it.
Finally, you will notice how even in my own examples, I held off from using that form until the final, somewhat florid example. Are you writing like that?
The verb be does not take an object. It has a subject and a complement, not an object.
Consequently *be them cannot be correct.