In Early Modern English, the second person plural (singular) declensions were:

Nominative: - Ye (Thou)

Oblique: - You (Thee)


Genitive: Your (Thy & Thine) & Yours' (Thine)

In Language there are exceptions to rules, or what-have-you, but it is to my understanding that "Be ye" is subjunctive, not imperative, unless it is a different form of subjunctive. Obviously in English Bēon was the original infinitive which evolved into "be," before the north received "Earon" from Latin, however the North readopted "be" for subjunctive. In my thinking, "Be ye" and "Be thou" would mean the same thing: subjunctive, e.g.:

"Be ye good and good should come/be thou good and good should come" would both be the same as saying "If thou beest good, good should come --" it may not, but it is an obligatory return vs. all saying: "Be you good and good should come/Be thee good and good should come --" it may not, but it is not an obligatory return regardless of how you act.

Obviously this is not the best example for subjunctive, but my question is clear -- one is imperative and one is saying if you choose to act a way then "x" will happen...

  • 1
    Is this exolicitly about Early Modern English, or English in general? Be you good, sweet maid, and let who will be clever and Be you never so high, the law is above you are (relatively) modern examples that show it can be either, though neither is common. Commented May 17, 2017 at 14:53
  • I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it belongs to linguistics.stackexchange.com
    – user66974
    Commented May 17, 2017 at 15:02

1 Answer 1


In Early Modern English, it could have been either. The subjunctive and the imperative both used the bare infinitive, and while the imperative wasn't always followed by thou or ye, it could be.

When Shakespeare wrote:

Fetch me this herb, and be thou here again
Ere the leviathan can swim a league.

it was definitely the imperative.

No Fear Shakespeare translates:

Bring me this plant, and get back here before
the sea monster has time to swim three miles.

When Shakespeare wrote:

Be thou a spirit of health or goblin damn'd,
Bring with thee airs from heaven or blasts from hell,
Be thy intents wicked or charitable,
Thou com'st in such a questionable shape
That I will speak to thee.

it was the subjunctive.

No Fear Shakespeare translates:

Whether you’re a good spirit or a cursed demon,
whether you bring heavenly breezes or blasts of hell fire,
whether your intentions are good or evil,
you look so strange I want to talk to you.

  • Thank you, okay. Good to know -- I personally shall use "be ye" for subjunctive and "be you" for imperative. Thanks so much -- you really cleared up a confusion. Commented May 17, 2017 at 15:45
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    Hey, Matthew: in modern English there is no possibility of using ye; not ever, in any circumstances except, irrelevantly, when quoting something ancient. Further, although it should make sense to all native and many other speakers of English, be you is almost as archaic. Most people would understand it and everyone hearing it would wonder where you learned such strange English. Commented May 31, 2017 at 1:59

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