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Whether it Be: Grammatically Correct Use of this Phrase

In the English language, we use the word “whether” as a conjunction, which means we use it to connect sentences or clauses or to differentiate between two things that are either happening at the same time or are possible at the same time.

Generally speaking, the word “whether” can be substituted with the word “if” should you be unsure of the correctness of the sentence. 

The phrase whether it be is subjunctive, which means it is used in a grammatically correct context where there is doubt or multiple possibilities. You could substitute whether it be with whether it is with little difference. However, if you were using it to note a choice between more than two possibilities, only whether it be would be correct. 

The phrase “whether it be” may seem a little old-fashioned, but there are a multitude of ways to correctly apply it in modern speech.

We’ll walk you through using the phrase in a grammatically correct way, understanding the subjunctive form of a verb, and using synonyms to help you check your work. 

Understanding the Indicative and the Subjunctive

We can apply three moods to the verb in the English language, and these are indicative, imperative, and subjunctive. For this article’s interests, we will take a look at two of these — the indicative and the subjunctive.

The indicative is used for facts, and the subjunctive expresses doubt or a selection of possible things, events, or actions.

In the context of “whether it be” and “whether it is,” although both are grammatically correct, the phrase using “is” is indicative, and the phrase using “be” is subjunctive. Therefore, they cannot be used to describe the same things.

The subjunctive is the least used and most complex of all the English language moods and has limited use. However, it is always used with the verb “to be,” which is why “whether it be” is a subjunctive form (source).

We can also use it in the past tense with “were”; in which case “whether it be” will turn into “whether it were,” but that is a discussion for another day.

For this article’s purpose, we will now look at the various uses of “whether it be” and “whether it is” and how they differ when applied to similar situations.

Verb MoodMultiple SelectionConditional Situation/Doubt
SubjunctiveShe likes outdoor activities, whether it be jogging or gardening.

In this case, she could be doing either activity.
She likes outdoor activities, whether it be good weather or bad. 

In this case, there is doubt about the weather.
IndicativeWhether it is jogging or just walking, she likes staying active outdoors.

In this case, the speaker is certain that the subject is keeping active. 

Whether it is raining or not, she will still go outside.

The speaker is certain that the subject will be outside regardless of the weather.
SubjunctiveWhether it be cookies or cakes, my wife loves a sweet treat.

In this case, the wife likes anything sweet from the stated multiple possibilities or unstated other possibilities.
We’ll go for a walk, whether it be raining or just cold.

In this case, there is doubt about what the weather will be like.
IndicativeMy wife loves a sweet treat, whether it is a cookie or an entire cake.

In this case, the only possibilities would be the cake or a cookie.

We’ll go for a walk, whether it is raining or not. 

In this case, the speaker is certain that the walk will still take place, regardless of the rain.

“Whether It Be” vs. “Whether It Is”

As indicated in the table above, the indicative form is used for factual statements, where you are confident of the outcome or the situation you are describing (source).

The subjunctive, as is the case with “whether it be” is used to indicate a range of possible things or events or to express doubt regarding a certain situation.

When you are certain of the situation, and there aren’t at least two possible options, you would use the indicative, which is when you’ll use “whether it is.”

If you are unsure about the situation, expressing doubt, or talking about a set of things or events, you would use “whether it be.” 

Image by Gerd Altmann via Pixabay

Is “Whether It Be” Grammatically Correct?

Although it may sound foreign to the ear, the phrase “whether it be” is grammatically correct. It often describes conditional or imaginary situations, which is why it can be confusing, especially to an English second language speaker. 

The correct use of the phrase “whether it be” would be in a formal context. Many people may substitute the incorrect use of the phrase “whether it is,” and it will fall easy on the ear in everyday conversation.

However, for the correct formal use of the phrase and in the written form, it is best to use the phrase “whether it be” if the mood, the subjunctive, calls for it, as explained earlier in this article. 

Synonyms for “Whether It Be

As discussed earlier, you cannot use “whether it is” as a synonym for “whether it be” since one is indicative while the other is subjunctive.

There is ultimately no synonym for “whether it be” that you can use to convey the same emotion, so you should use  “whether it be.”

The word “whether” is a conjunction, meaning that it links sentences or clauses, and you can use it indirectly. This is why we frequently use the word “if,” which is also a conjunction, in its place.

However, in the context of “whether it be,” “if” cannot be correctly substituted.

It is also not correct to use the word “either” as a synonym for “whether it be” because “either” indicates only two possible options, events or things, and “whether it be” can indicate doubt or an entire set illustrated by a few examples (source).

Whether it BeEitherExplanation
Whether it be roses or chocolates, I love to be spoiled. I love to be spoiled with either roses or chocolates. In this case, “whether it be” is used to describe an entire range of possibilities not limited to roses and chocolates, whereas “either” indicates roses and chocolates as the only possibilities. 
I enjoy indoor activities, whether it be reading, writing, or cooking.I enjoy either reading or writing. I enjoy indoor activities like either reading or cooking. In this case, “whether it be” indicates an entire host of indoor activities inclusive of reading, writing, and cooking. In contrast, as per the two examples for the use of “either,” there can only ever be two possibilities.

As you can see from the table above, there really aren’t any possible synonyms to use instead of “whether it be.” 

As the phrase is fairly commonly used, but not overused and quite specific to the emotion it conveys, you can and should use it where it’s apt instead of searching for a synonym. Any potential synonym may be incorrect the case with “either.”

Strategies for Using “Whether It Be

So, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of it all and look at some examples of how you can use the phrase “whether it be” to level up your spoken or written word. 

Indicate a Range of Possibilities

As we’ve previously discussed, you can use “whether it be” to indicate a wide range of possibilities illustrated by a few choice examples.

  • Whether it be mountain climbing, jogging, or abseiling, he loves physical activity.
  • She likes drawing, whether it be portraits, landscapes, or still life sketches.
  • I enjoy my work, whether it be the daily emails, weekly assignments, or even monthly meetings.

To Indicate a Conditional Situation

You can use “whether it be” to indicate that a certain action, event, or thing is entirely dependent on conditional circumstances or situations. 

  • The families will go to the beach, whether it be sunshine or rain. 
  • This family’s dog will bark at anyone, whether it be the mailman, the milkman, or the fireman!

Although your head might already be spinning from learning the correct usage of “whether it be”, you may find yourself puzzled by an entirely different situation relating to the sentences above. 

If you would like to learn more about the difference between families and family’s, head on over to Families or Family’s: When to Show Possession or Pluralize.

Final Thoughts

English is the most widely spoken language globally, and that’s why it is such a popular choice for those who would like to learn a new language.

However, it can also be complex to understand and riddled with antiquated or specialized phrases like “whether it be.” 

Remember that “whether it be” is not the same as “whether it is,” even though they may sound similar in meaning. Use it to indicate a conditional situation, express doubt, or illustrate a large set of possibilities using a few choice examples.