I was just texting someone about what they were up to and wanted to finish the conversation by asking them to be careful. So I said "Please be careful," to which they responded "I'll be".

English isn't their first language, and I'm kind of helping them learn at the moment, so I can't expect them to know how horribly incorrect that sounds, but now it's driving me crazy and I want to know if it's something I need to correct them on.

I have no idea however, if that is grammatically correct or not.

Anybody have an idea?

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    Technically it's "correct", though it sounds weird to my ears. But note that "I'll" is a contraction of "I will", and "I will be" is perfectly normal and only seems weird stodgy ears.
    – Hot Licks
    May 13, 2022 at 17:31
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    Texting? Perhaps they just accepted the first 'suggestion' and could not be bothered to write proper English. I would not "correct them" unless you want to be moved to their 'pedant' list. It was just a brief text. May 13, 2022 at 17:31
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    I believe there's a difference between USAan and UKan Englishes in where final auxiliary do is allowed and/or forbidden. I've heard and read I will do instead of I will as a short answer, which is just impossible for me. Likewise I have done instead of I have. Oh, and that's not a clitic, and that isn't a good way to describe the structure. May 13, 2022 at 18:51
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    @JohnLawler Yes, that's absolutely right about British non-finite auxiliary do. (Just got a paper accepted in which that bit of data is crucial.) May 15, 2022 at 20:25
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    The reason is that you said "Please be careful" and they replied "I [ll/will] be". Their answer there is emphatic and contrasts with the idea that you implicitly raised that maybe they wouldn't be. Positive polarity emphasis requires that the finite auxiliary (i.e., the first one) is stressed. Stressed auxiliaries cannot be contracted with preceding material. Notice that in other contexts, I'll be is fine. For example A: "Who will be there? B: "I'll be." May 15, 2022 at 20:43

1 Answer 1


Thank you for this interesting question. I recognised the word 'clitic' only because, I studied ancient Greek at school, where we had to learn about the fact that some words, especially some particles were described as enclitic, meaning that they apply to (modify) the word that comes immediately before them. It is derived from the verb *κλίνειν [klinein], meaning to lean. The particle δη [ pronounced dare] has no meaning, but gives to the word it follows strong emphasis. It says to the listener "what you just heard is important: pay attention." There is no easy English equivalent. Literal-minded translators sometimes rely on words like indeed, making for laboured versions. The Cambridge dictionary, indeed, gets the point well, in its definition.

really or certainly, often used to emphasize something: Indeed, it could be the worst environmental disaster in Europe this century.

  • Evidence suggests that errors may indeed be occurring.
  • We live in strange times indeed.
  • Many people are very poor indeed

The idea behind the word enclitic, as used in the study of ancient Greek grammar, is that it 'leans' on the word it follows. The word δή is an enclitic particle. And, in fact, the English indeed is used in just that, and is also enclitic. It holds you attention on the word you heard just before it.

But contemporary usage is different. Sidney Greenbaum (Oxford English Grammar Chapter 8.1 p.399) deals with clitics, in a slightly different sense. He is discussing different aspects of words and in his discussion of compound words, he writes:

There are also instances where two words are combined without forming a compound in the usual sense. The negative word not and a very small number of frequently occurring words (mostly verbs) can be contracted and attached to other words. Usually they are attached at the end of words as enclitics : she's (for she is or she has), don't (do not). Occasionally there are proclitics: d'you (do you), 'tis (it is).

As you can see, this use of the word clitic and its compounds, proclitic and enclitic differ from the ancient Greek usage. It involves the abbreviation of pairs of words into compounds. Ancient Greek wouldn't have been able to, even if there had been an inclination. For There was no punctuation or separation of words. So the first sentence of this paragraph would have read:


Grammarians of ancient Greek would have construed don't not as a compound but as the elision of two words. That is not how the term is understood today. For example, the Merriam Webster dictionary defines clitic as follows:

a word that is treated in pronunciation as forming a part of a neighbouring word and that is often unaccented or contracted.

It can be used as either a noun or an adjective. In terms of contemporary usage, an enclitic is a (usually abbreviated)word combined with (leaning back on) the previous word to form a compound. A proclitic is the same but 'leaning forward' onto the following word.

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    But you haven't answered the question. Is "I'll be" grammatical, and if not, why not? May 15, 2022 at 20:16

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