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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


Sir , this is a sentence I have read : While talks were on between Democrats in Congress and Trump earlier this week on legislation to protect young undocumented migrants, who were Trump has given Congress six months to enact a replacement plan for DACA recipients.

I have not understood what ' who were ' is doing here.

Would you explain ?

Thank you

Hello dipakrgandhi,

As written, that sentence is incorrect. Either you have made a mistake in copying it or the author has made a mistake when writing it.


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you. I have copied it correctly; may be it is author's mistake.

I couldn't find the right section in the list of grammar units, so maybe here you could answer my question: is it corect to say " to be popular among"? Or in all cases "be popular with" must be used?
Thanks a lot!

Hello Daniel157,

It's good to consult a dictionary for this kind of question. In the Cambridge Dictionary entry for 'popular', you will see the answer to your question in the example sentences, where both 'with' and 'among' are used.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

I'd live in a big house by the sea if I were rich
In the above sentance can we use was instead of were. I think we use were only for plurals.

Hello Satish Patil,

Both 'was' and 'were' are possible in conditional sentences of this kind. In fact, in the past it used to be only 'were' that was acceptable, but not 'was' is also quite common. The reason for the use of 'were' is that the past form in these conditionals is actually not the past simple but the past subjunctive. The past subjunctive is identical in form to the past simple apart from this use of 'were'.

I think in formal contexts 'were' is still preferable, but 'was' is quite common in more informal language.


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

By our conduct god requires that we be holy. Why does it say "we be" instead of "we are"? Thanks for your answer.

I disagree with Paul that this is archaic. In American English, this is how it would be said, so you may have been reading an American newspaper. I'm American and I would say, "God requires that we be holy." I could also say, "God requires us to be holy", which voids the present subjunctive in this case. There are plenty of other common examples in American English that one may not hear in British English too often.

For example:

"It is my fervent wish that she marry me." ("she marry")

"God forbid I be working." ("God forbid" and "I be working"; in this instance, if I were to say this, it would be sarcasm. For instance: if my mother were trying to convince me to take off work to come to her dinner that night and I told her I had to work and she persisted, I might say this sarcastically to her.)

"I pray that her marriage be a happy one." ("her marriage be")

"I shall continue to wait here in hopes that he find a way to get here." ("he find")

"We will do this on one condition: that we be paid an additional sum for our time." ("we be paid")

"The game will most likely be cancelled in the even that it rain." ("it rain")

"Whether it be raining, snowing, or a beautiful, sunny day, I'm going to London tomorrow." ("Whether it be raining")

"I'm preparing supper now in order that it be ready by in an hour." ("it be")

"I will do it so that it be done correctly." ("it be done")

In the song, "America the Beautiful", there's a far more archaic line of the subjunctive that is not used very often in American English anymore except in this song: "Till all success be nobleness and ev'ry gain divine!" ("success be")

Most of the time in American English, "till" and "until" do not take the present subjunctive anymore; however, one will still see the past subjunctive here and after other subordinating conjunctions in American English: " I wouldn't do the work on his house until I were sure that I would be paid or unless I were paid ahead of time." ("I were sure" and "I were paid")

These are just some examples of the many that one may find in American English. In American legal opinions, especially those that are about 40 years old or older, there are many instances of the present subjunctive (and the past subjunctive) following subordinating conjunctions.

Hello Nick2004,

I think the examples you provide actually illustrate the point I was making. The relevant Merriam Webster definition of archaic is as follows:

having the characteristics of the language of the past and surviving chiefly in specialized uses - an archaic word


'Specialized uses' would include legal language, religious language and similar, and it is in these contexts that we find the subjunctive used. We very rarely hear the subjunctive used in everyday conversation other than after certain verbs, as I said in my original reply. Even with those verbs the subjunctive is slowly disappearing and traditional constructions such as '...suggest he go...' are being supplanted by constructions without the subjunctive (...'suggest he goes...').

While it is possible to use the subjunctive in the way you demonstrated in your examples, I think it is a choice which the speaker makes when they wish to give their speech or writing an old-fashioned or deliberately literary tone, which fits precisely with the definition of archaic above.


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team