@ZhanlongZheng asked the following question on ELL:

Barbosa: I defended her mightily enough, but she be sunk nonetheless.

Jack Sparrow: If that ship be sunk properly, you should be sunk with it.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

I don't understand why be is used here twice. Is it archaic? Why use this form?

I think that the second instance of be could be present subjunctive in the third person, with the subjunctive being appropriate due to it being in a conditional clause. I'm less sure about the first instance.

No doubt, use of the subjunctive has fallen out of favor, and nobody talks like that today. However, I'd like to know, were these conjugations of be ever considered proper archaic English, or are they strictly pirate talk invented by Disney screenwriters?

  • 2
    I recall reading somewhere that the language of pirates was completely an invention of nineteenth-century writers. With that being said, at least until Early Modern English, be was not always subjunctive: it was an independent verb that existed alongside am, is, art, are. As a result, one could say either I am or I be, he is or he beeth, thou art or thou beest, and so on. There was a subtle distinction between am, is, art, are and be, however, which the inventors of pirate-speak probably ignored.
    – Anonym
    Commented May 20, 2014 at 19:37
  • 1
    There are some dialects that use "be" in a similar way.
    – Oldcat
    Commented May 20, 2014 at 20:57

1 Answer 1


Y'arr, it be as fake as a keg of rum-flavoured water:

Or just ask skeptics.stackexchange.com.

  • 1
    Fake pirate talk has already been covered. I'd like to know, could these uses of be also be considered grammatically correct in any current or archaic form of English? Commented May 20, 2014 at 23:37
  • Some English dialects, such as the West Country dialect on which 'pirate speak' is allegedly based, would have used 'it be' for 'it is'. Commented Apr 17, 2019 at 7:22

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