I'm writing a poem and I want to use this specific wording, but I'm not sure if it's grammatically correct. Here is the line: "Will you ever ask for the truth or be it ignorant you stay?"

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    I do not understand what you mean by anything that follows the word or. – tchrist Aug 29 '14 at 23:38
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    In a poem one can say anything one wants, any way one wants. However, it's possible that someone else might read the poem, and they might puzzle over the grammar, which is not normal English grammar. This is not, in other words, grammatically correct. Luckily, you may have said something else instead of something wrong -- since this is a poem, this happens -- so go ahead anyway. – John Lawler Aug 29 '14 at 23:39
  • It would probably be useful to explain what you want those words to mean (if you were expressing the sentiment outside of the poem and weren't constrained by metre or rhyme). – Andrew Leach Aug 30 '14 at 8:00

If you insist on this inverted formulation -- for scansion reasons, perhaps -- I would suggest changing "be" to "is" unless you're deliberately trying to suggest a nonstandard dialect. I'd also suggest that the second clause should be in future tense to parallel "will you ever".

Will you ever ask for the truth, or is it ignorant you will stay?

But frankly, I'd suggest rewriting to avoid the problem entirely. Not knowing the context I can't propose alternatives.


If your wording means Do you want to know the truth or stay ignorant? then I have no problem understanding it. Be that as it may, there might be some people who will struggle with it.

It sounds a little like a slightly forced 17th century construction, similar to That it be for Yes it is

Do you use similar formations in other parts of the poem? If you do then the reader should have no problem, if not then it might be a little out of place.

As noted in a comment, it's a poem, grammar really only matters if you think it does.

Here's one that eschews a number of grammar rules

Written in the 1930's it is [anyone lived in a pretty how town] by E.E. Cummings


  • Frank, did you use the expression 'be that as it may' on purpose? Because it has a very similiar feel, I can see why OP might think their construction acceptable (even though it isn't) . – Mynamite Aug 30 '14 at 17:48
  • @Mynamite That I did. Be that as it may is perfectly acceptable and echoes a similar construction. In poetry, everything is acceptable. – Frank Aug 30 '14 at 17:58

Note that "be" in this case would be the present subjunctive of to be. Consider the following chart of the verb "to be".

One uses the present subjunctive typically after a clause indicating an order, or stating that something is necessary or possible.

"I command that he be released." "I command that you release me."

The present subjunctive is usually identical to the third person singular present active indicative, but "to be" is an exception. The only case where I recall seeing the construction outside of these kinds of clauses is in the story of Jack and the Beanstalk. The Giant says, of Jack: "Be he live, or be he dead// I'll grind his bones to make my bread." The subjunctive there indicates uncertainty--the giant isn't aware of whether Jack's alive or not, but he's going to eat him, either way.

The more common subjunctive in English is the past subjunctive:

"If I were a rich man, . . . "

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