Am I right that https://english.stackexchange.com/a/96966/50720 is claiming thus (as regards the title of this question)? If so, how do you derive or explain this equality of clauses?

I'm also reminded of Edmund Blackadder being irritated by an old witch's turn of phrase, and reprimanding her:

"It's Yes it is not That it be!" http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006xxw3

For anyone who doesn't know, this is a BBC comedy programme and the line is obviously done for comic effect, but it stems from the fact that 'it be' was commonly used at one time, and might still be used in certain English dialects.

It's clear that that many kinds of 'incorrect' or non-standard usage have been around for a long time and I don't think it's up to us (we) in the 21st century to tell them they were wrong. The point of language is communication. As long as there's no chance of confusion when using Not I/Not me, it's a matter for personal choice. Let it be!

Original context:

Blackadder: Tell me old crone, is this Putney?
Old woman: That it be. That it be.
Blackadder: "Yes it is", not "That it be". You don't have to talk in that stupid voice to me, I'm not a tourist.

  • I think "That it be" is a subjunctive. Hence it woul mean something like "I suppose". But since i do not know the context I cannot assure anything. Jan 27, 2015 at 7:17
  • 1
    @AverageGatsby It’s not subjunctive here. The that is not the subordinator ‘that’ but the deictic pronoun ‘that’; it could also have been “this it be”, though that would be an odd thing to say. Jan 27, 2015 at 11:58
  • @JanusBahsJacquet +1. Thank you for introducing me to the term 'deictic'.
    – user50720
    Feb 25, 2015 at 23:50

3 Answers 3


It is an old and dialectal form. Is it raining? That (i.e raining), it be. This means, in modern Received English Yes, it is.

In the Norfolk dialect today that nearly always replaces it, where it would otherwise be the subject of the sentence or clause.

How far is it to London? That's over 100 miles.

Extract from Wikipedia entry re Norfolk dialect.

The word that usually denotes it when it is the subject of the clause, so that "it is" becomes "that is" and "it smells funny" becomes "that smell funny".[16] This does not imply emphatic usage as it would in Standard English and indeed sentences such as "When that rain, we get wet", are entirely feasible in the dialect. (Incidentally, 'it' is almost never heard as the first word of a sentence in the speech of a true Norfolk dialect speaker, e.g. "It's a nice day today" is virtually always rendered by "Thass a nice day today".) It however, is used for the direct and indirect object, exactly as in Standard English, cf. "When that (subject) rain, I don't like it (object)"/"I don't like it (object), when that (subject) rain" Wikipedia - Norfolk Dialect http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norfolk_dialect

  • 1
    Apart from the statement about that nearly always replacing it (it doesn’t—there’s an it in both “How far is it to London?” and in “That it be”), this and Tim’s seem to be the only answers that actually answers the question. Jan 27, 2015 at 11:52
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    @JanusBahsJacquet Apologies - point taken. I meant to say 'where it is the subject of the sentence or clause'. I have now edited my post, and have also included the Wikipedia entry on the matter - of which I was the author.
    – WS2
    Jan 27, 2015 at 14:53
  • A most valuable addition! Don’t forget to include a link to the Wikipedia page, though. :-) Jan 27, 2015 at 14:55

Be is often used in dialect where standard English uses is. It is not correct, as Blackadder acidly points out.

But "That it is" would be perfectly grammatical, though a little unusual. "So it is" is amother way of expressing agreement and is very common, though it implies surprise as well.

  • +1, though “it is not correct” doesn’t really make sense. It is very rare and will mostly be considered ungrammatical in ‘Standard English’ (except in certain set phrases, mostly plural), but it’s only “not correct” from a quite prescriptivist point of view. Jan 27, 2015 at 11:55

Be that as it may is a use of be that echoes that it be but is still used frequently today.

From the Free Dictionary

something that you say which means although you accept a piece of information as a fact, it does not make you think differently about the subject that you are discussing.
He certainly was under pressure at the time. Be that as it may, he was still wrong to react in the way that he did.

Staying with the Blackadder theme, in Blackadder's Christmas Carol, Mr. B. himself used the phrase when chastising Baldrick's home made Christmas card.

Yes... I fear, Mr Baldrick, that the only way you're likely to get a big wet kiss at Christmas -- or, indeed, any other time -- is to make a pass at a water closet. However, be that as it may... "A Merry Messy Christmas." 'Christmas' has an H in it, Mr Baldrick ...and an R. Also an I, and an S. Also T and M and A... ...and another S. Oh, and you've missed out the C at the beginning. Congratulations, Mr Baldrick! Something of a triumph, I think -- you must be the first person ever to spell `Christmas' without getting any of the letters right at all.

be that as it may. (n.d.) Cambridge Idioms Dictionary, 2nd ed.. (2006). Retrieved January 27 2015 from http://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/be+that+as+it+may

Blackadder's Christmas Carol by Curtis/Elton/Boden at http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0094754/

  • "That it be" and "Be that as it may" are unrelated usages. The former is in the indicative and the latter is in the subjunctive. Observe how you can replace the former with "That it is", but you cannot replace the latter with "Is that as it may". Dec 28, 2022 at 3:02

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