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The verb 'be'

Level: beginner

The verb be has the following forms:

The verb be
Infinitive form be
Present simple: + I am, I'm
You are, You're
He/She/It is, He/She/It's
We are, we're
You are, you're
They are, they're
? Am I?
Are you?
Is he/she it?
Are we?
Are you?
Are they?
- I am not, I’m not
You are not, You aren’t, You're not
He/She/It is not, He/She/It isn’t, He's not
We are not, We aren’t, We're not
You are not, You aren’t, You're not
They are not, They aren't, They're not

Past simple + I was
You were
He/She/It was
We were
You were
They were
? Was I?
Were you?
Was he/she/it?
Were we?
Were you?
Were they?
- I was not, I wasn't
You were not, You weren't
He/She/It was not, He/She/It wasn't
We were not, We weren't
You were not, You weren't
They were not, They weren't
Past participle been
Present perfect has/have been
Past perfect had been
Present participle being
Present continuous am/is/are being
Past continuous was/were being

We use the infinitive form be with modal verbs:

It will be dark soon.
They might be tired.

The verb be is a link verb. It is used:

My mother is a teacher.
Bill Clinton was the president of the US.

This soup is very tasty.
The children were good.

  • with a prepositional phrase:

John and his wife are from Manchester.
The flowers are on the table.

am, is, are 1
ex. am, is, are 1
am, is, are 2
ex. am, is, are 2
am, is, are, was, were 1
ex. am, is, are, was, were 1
am, is, are, was, were 2
ex. am, is, are, was, were 2

Level: intermediate

We were walking down the street. Everything was wet.
It had been raining for hours.

The house was built in 1890.
The street is called Montague Street.
This car was made in Japan.

be in continuous and passive forms 1
ex. be in continuous and passive forms 1
be in continuous and passive forms 2
ex. be in continuous and passive forms 2

Level: advanced

We use some nouns with the verb be followed by a that clause:

The problem was that I had no money.
The obvious explanation is that he simply forgot.
The danger is that the whole thing might catch fire.
It's a pity that the children aren't here.
The lucky thing is that nobody was hurt.

Nouns commonly used in this way are:


(a) pity
(a) shame


We use some nouns with the verb be followed by a to-infinitive:

The only way is to start all over again.
His answer is to work a bit harder.
Her only hope was to find a new job as soon as possible.
The easiest thing would be to ask your father.

Nouns commonly used in this way are:



To comment on statements, we use some adjectives with it and the verb be and a that clause or wh-clause:

It's lucky that we met.
It's not clear what happened.
It was amazing how he managed to escape.

Adjectives commonly used in this way are:

be with nouns and adjectives 1
ex. be with nouns and adjectives 1
be with nouns and adjectives 2
ex. be with nouns and adjectives 2


Hello raji,

'Justice should not only be done but it must seen to be done' is not grammatical, so I'm not surprised you don't understand it. I suppose it's meant to say 'it must be seen to be done', in which case the idea is that it's important that people see the authorities carrying out justice. In other words, it's important for justice to be carried out, but it's also important that people see that justice is being carried out.

The infinitive form has so many uses I can't possibly explain them all here, but I can point you in the right direction for the two you ask about. In 'I want to be a lawyer', the infinitive is used after the verb 'want'. This is a very common use, and one that you can see explained (and with examples) in the dictionary.

In 'a military operation to be conducted', which is a more uncommon use of the infinitive, it is being used to indicate a planned or expected future event. Note that here the infinitive ('to be conducted') is passive, whereas above ('to be a lawyer') it was active.

In general, it's important that you provide the context for the sentences you ask about and also tell us how you understand them or how you think about them. We're happy to help people with difficult points from time to time, but I'm afraid we're not able to provide personalised tutorials. 

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team


Sir please explain 'To Be' forms with explanation sentence of 'justice seen to be done'. Why and for what reasons 'to be' form was used in this sentence

Hello raji,

I'm afraid you'll have to provide more context for us to be able to help you with that phrase.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

hello, is it correct to say" why are you worried or "why worry"?and why?

Hello manuel24,

Both are fine. In the first, 'worried' is an adjective and in the second it's a verb. The first is more common, but there's nothing at all wrong with the second.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi again would you say these 2 sentences are equally used in spoken English ?
The best style possible / The best possible style and
The best thing imaginable / The best imaginable thing

also would you say that
The first train available in the morning is more colloquial than
The first available train in the morning. ?

with thanks

Hello dupontm,

All of those sentences are correct. I wouldn't like to say that any of them are definitively more or less colloquial as this is quite a subjective question. The alternatives are not actually merely questions of word order, in fact: where the adjective follows the noun the structure is actually a reduced relative clause. For example:

The best style possible > The best style (which is) possible

I would say that the versions with the adjective following the noun are less common in general, but I would not go further than that.


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

hi it appears I found this question-answer page when originally typing in VERB BE IN ENGLISH, not specifying British Council, but I don't seem to find the same section for other questions when typing British Council so how do I get direct to the Q&A page ?

Hi dupontm,

We don't have a specific Q&A page for the site but most pages have a comments section where it is possiblet to ask questions. We try to answer as many questions as we can but we are a small team and we don't offer online lessons!


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

is it possible or not to use "were" like this : we were lived here in 2015. ?