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VERBS, AUXILIARY. Be in questions and dependent sentences

Be in questions and dependent sentences.

So, as a rule, it will be found that be is used with some notion of doubt, question, thought, &c.; for instance, (a) in questions, and (b) after verbs of thinking.


“Be my horses ready?

“Be the players ready?

This is especially frequent in questions of appeal:

“Where be his quiddities?

“Where be thy brothers?

“Where be the bending knees that flatter'd thee?
Where be the thronging troops that follow'd thee?” Ib. iv. 4. 95-6.

And in questions implying doubt, e.g. "where can they be?"

“Where be these bloody thieves?

Partly, perhaps, by attraction to the previous be, partly owing to the preceding where, though not used interrogatively, we have

“Truths would be tales,
Where now half-tales be truths.


“I think it be, sir; I deny it not.

“I think this Talbot be a fiend of hell.

“I think he be transformed into a beast.

“I think it be no other but even so.

So 1 Hen. IV. ii. 1. 12; T. G. of V. ii. 3. 6.

Be expresses more doubt than is after a verb of thinking. In the following, the Prince thinks it certain that it is past midnight, the Sheriff thinks it may passibly be two o'clock:

Prince. I think it is good morrow, is it not?
Sheriff. Indeed, my lord, I think it be two o'clock.

Very significant is this difference in the speech of the doubtful Othello--

“I think my wife be honest, and think she is not,

where the is is emphatic and the line contains the extra dramatic syllable. Be is similarly used by a jealous husband after "hope:"

“Ford. Well, I hope it be not so.

where the hope is mixed with a great deal of doubt.

“I kissed it (the bracelet):
I hope it be not gone to tell my lord
That I kiss aught but he,

where, though the latter part is of course fanciful, there is a real fear that the bracelet may be lost.

Also, in a dependent sentence like the following:

“Prove true
That I, dear brother, be now ta'en for you.

Be follows "when," as "where" above, especially where when alludes to a future possibility.

“Haply a woman's voice may do some good
When articles too nicely urged be stood on.


“Alas, our frailty is the cause, not we,
For such as we are made, of such we be,

it can scarcely be asserted that "for" is "for that" or "because." It is more probable that the scene originally ended there, and that Shakespeare used be in order to get the rhyme, which so often terminates a scene.

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