Consider these sentences:

  • Be it ever so humble,...
  • Hallowed be your name.

I think these two have similar structure whose elements are merely arranged differently; why I think so is they can also be written as:

  • May it be ever so humble,...
  • May your name be hallowed.

Do they have different ways of arrangement because the forms of subject vary?

  • I don't understand what you mean by "the forms of subject vary". The subject for the "humble" versions is it in both cases, and the other one is always your name. And all four sentences are "subjunctive" (hypothetical, imperative), which is why they use what looks like the bare infinitive be, rather than the tensed form is. They're all effectively dated/archaic anyway. – FumbleFingers May 25 '15 at 13:24
  • @FumbleFingers I mean, can't they be "Ever so humble be it" and "Be hallowed your name"? – hjjg200 May 25 '15 at 13:29
  • There are some usages like that - mainly, "frozen forms", because as I said, all these forms are at best dated/poetic, and usually archaic. For example, you might know the song by Sting called Be Still My Beating Heart. But I suspect your purpose here is to learn normal use of English, not to discuss the finer points of very unusual usages that even native speakers might not be familiar with, so you should probably be posting on English Language Learners. – FumbleFingers May 25 '15 at 13:52
  • "Hallowed be your name" (the first two words of which translate third-person aorist passive imperative ἁγιασθήτω) is well enough rendered by your "May your name be hallowed," though some might prefer "Let your name be hallowed." But "Be it [n]ever so humble" is more like "No matter how humble it may be." – Brian Donovan May 25 '15 at 13:57

The structures of those two examples are quite different.  They do both include inversions, but those inversions differ in both type and meaning. 

Hallowed be Thy name.

This is an example of subject-dependent inversion.  The dependent (meaning the verb's argument) is the complement "hallowed", and the subject is "Thy name".  Without the inversion, the sentence would read "Thy name be hallowed." 

The sentence has a meaning similar to "may your name be hallowed" or "let your name be hallowed" or "your name must be hallowed".  The form "be" marks a subjunctive mode, and the inversion simply supplies a shift in emphasis or serves to provide a more poetic rhythm. 

Be it ever so humble, . . . 

There is no subject-dependent inversion here.  The beginning of the earlier example is a subject complement.  The beginning of this clause is the verb itself.  This is an example of subject-operator inversion.  Without the inversion, the clause would read "it be ever so humble".

The combination of subject-operator inversion and subjunctive mode mark this example as a dependent clause.  The clause has a meaning similar to "Even if it is ever so humble, . . . " or "Although it might be ever so humble, . . . ".  It's use and meaning do not much resemble those of "May it be ever so humble."  It's a necessarily dependent clause, unable to form a sentence on its own. 

Modern dialects don't make much use of this subjunctive subject-operator inversion.  Common examples like "Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home" and "Be he live or be he dead, I'll grind his bones into my bread" are linguistic fossils.  A similar thing can be said for third-person subjunctive imperatives.  They exist in legal jargon and religious expression, but seem to have little currency in everyday speech.

  • This answer is 100% correct and, dare I say it, as good as complete. This bloke gets it. +1, would read again. – Cerberus May 25 '15 at 20:18

They are different because in the first, "be" is a conditional

  • Be X ever so humble, Y.

This means: No matter how humble X might be, Y is still true.

Note: "Ever" as used here probably does not refer to time. It is construed as a modifier further intenifying "so humble", rather than indicating that that humility continues indefinitely. That is, the erstwhile adverb "ever" does not modify the verb be.


  • "Oh, thank you ever so much!"

  • "Were you ever so foolish as to drive drunk?"

Whereas in the second example, "be" is a mild imperative:

  • Hallowed be your name.

This means: May your name be hallowed. Or, in other words: I wish that your name were hallowed. Or... Your name should be hallowed.

Yea, the twain be archaic, and whether they be "subject-dependent inversion", I knoweth not; yet notwithstanding, forsooth, the construction be ever so dependent on the verb.

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