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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, The LearnEnglish Team,

I´m German and, I´m teaching ESL students in Germany. One of my students asked me a question which was a bit complicated for me to make her understand why. She asked me why one says I´m married. She thinks I´m married means that I was married since married is "past participle." She said that married is past tense, and that means I was married, but I´m no more married. Could you please explain me the grammar point which is related to this question.

Hello Dona S,

I'd recommend our page on -ed and -ing adjectives, but I'll give you some ideas. First I'd suggest explaining to your student that any given word can have many different meanings and uses. You could ask your student to look up almost any noun or adjective in a good monolingual dictionary (see, for example "brilliant" in our Cambridge Dictionaries Online on the right) so they can see the different meanings.

Then you could explain that "married" is both a past simple and past participle form. All regular and some irregular verbs in English have identical past simple and past participle forms (e.g., painted, cooked, etc.). The past participle form has many uses, and one of them for some forms is as an adjective. It's been a long time since I studied German, but I believe the same is true in German.

When a past participle is being used as an adjective, the verb determines what time is being referred to, not the adjective. Like many other adjectives formed from past participles, "married" refers to a change of state. A person gets married, i.e. changes from being single to being married, so in a sense it refers back to the past, but it's also still true in the present.

Without knowing more about your student, that's what I'd recommend. I hope that helps you!

Best wishes,

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you very mush

Just a linguistic question regarding the sentence; “Bill Clinton was the president of the US."”
I thought the English language did not use the definite article (the), when dealing with a unique object, and therefore the sentence should be; “Bill Clinton was president of the US.".
My thought is this; even though there have been many presidents of the US, there is only one US President, at any given moment in time. Normally, the definite article should not be used when dealing with singular objects, e.g. a headmaster of a particularly school, is, normally, referred to like this; “ Bill Cotton was headmaster of the SCT. Marry's School of orphans. 
Languages is changes, and perhaps this tradition is also changing?
I'm not trying to be an annoying language geek, I would just like to know if this practice is changing.

Hi nilox7,
Don't worry, that's a good question. Sometimes the most common words (the is certainly one of them) are the most difficult.
In English, we use the when we believe the person we are speaking with knows what we are referring to (see our definite article page for a detailed explanation). Often this is because we've already mentioned that thing/person, but sometimes it's because there is only one, as in your example - there is only one US president at any given time.
At the same time, to me it sounds fine to say "Clinton was president of the US" and also "Cotton was headmaster". If you do a quick internet search on "was the headmaster" and also "was headmaster", you'll see that both forms are frequently used.
I'm not sure if this resolves the dilemma for you, but I hope it clarifies the matter a little bit.
Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Sir/Madam,
Could you please explain the different between 'being' and 'been'?

Hello ChandimaD,

Both of these are forms of the verb ‘be’. ‘Being’ is the -ing form or present participle and ‘been’ is the third form or past participle. Like any other -ing form or third form, they are usually used as part of different verb forms - the third form is used in perfect forms and passive forms, while the -ing form is used in continuous verb forms.
For more information on -ing forms, take a look here.
I hope that’s useful for you.
Best wishes,

The LearnEnglish Team

When using several singular nouns in a sentence (for example a canteen, a shrine room and a library )what is the be verb we should use after the word "There" ?
Is it 'There is a canteen, a shrine room and a library.' or
     'There are a canteen, a shrine room and a library'?

Just remember that "there is" refers to a singular person, place or thing while "there are" refers to plural persons, places, or things. That is to say in standard English. There are dialects that do no adhere to this general rule.

To add to the confusion sometimes "there be" may be used in some dialects, though in the standard, when used at all, it usually follow the word "that" to give a subjunctive meaning.

This peculiarity of the verb to be is because the modern verb, as in many languages throughout the world is a composite of 2 or more different verbs.

Compare French "être" which is a merger of old french "ester" from Latin "stare" (to stand) and "estre" from Latin "essere" (to be), which in in turn was a composite verb.

For the etymoligical history of the modern "to be" see the following:

Hello nish7685,
The most common usage when the first noun is singular is 'there is...'. This is a slightly grey area, however, and some dialects might follow different usage.
Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team