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I'm currently reading the Lord of the Rings book, and one sentence says: "... Where there be mountains of gold, they say". Now I'm not English mothertongue, but I've found the same expression somewhere else, probably in song lyrics as well.

I would like to know if it is correct to use (apart from literature context) and what it means and how it is different from "where there are mountains of gold...".

Thank you!

  • The language in LOTR is consciously archaic. Nobody talks that way any more. That particular construction is a hypothetical use of be (hypothetical because of the they say at the end), which some might call a 'subjunctive'; it has the kind of meaning that real subjunctive verbs often have in languages with subjunctive mood inflection. – John Lawler Jun 10 '18 at 16:47
  • In some West Country dialects (i.e. South West England), "be" is used for "is" (and "am", "are") even today. But not in any standard varieties. – Colin Fine Jun 10 '18 at 18:10
  • I cannot accept that "nobody talks that way any more". There are plenty of people of erudition who would deliberately employ such language for its elegance - in the same way people readily employ Shakespearian dialogue in order to get their point across. And long may it continue, in my opinion. – WS2 Jun 10 '18 at 18:46
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Yes, "there be" is from the past. And nowadays only used when imitating the past. Searching "there be" in Shakespeare's plays returns 86 matches ...

I think there be six Richmonds in the field
King Richard III: V, iv

  • You mean the dragons aren't there anymore? – Hot Licks Jun 10 '18 at 17:03
  • But even in Shakespeare, be would not be used in a simple declarative sentence, "there be dragons there": it was subjunctive, and only used in a hypothetical or counterfactual way - here, because of "I think". – Colin Fine Jun 10 '18 at 18:09
  • @ColinFine Would it not be perfectly normal for the chair of a meeting, in Britain, to say something like "If there be no further business, may I propose that we adjourn to the bar"? It is in everyday use. – WS2 Jun 10 '18 at 18:50
  • @WS2: I would not regard it as the least bit normal. I would regard it as a bizarre bit of misapplied archaism. – Colin Fine Jun 10 '18 at 21:29
  • @ColinFine According to NGrams it remains alive and well in retirement - not what it once was, but still with us. – WS2 Jun 11 '18 at 6:37

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