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:

answer
argument
assertion
belief
claim
explanation
feeling

hope
idea
(a) pity
rule
(a) shame
thing

 

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:

answer
decision
hope
idea
intention
promise
thing
way
wish

 

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:

awful
bad
clear
extraordinary
funny
good
interesting
lucky
obvious
possible
probable
sad
true
unlikely
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

Comments

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,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello PaolaO26,

This is an example of archaic language which we can find in old literature but which is rarely used in modern English. The form is the subjunctive and it is the same as the base form of the verb. In modern English it is rare but does occur after certain verbs. For example:

I suggested that he go.

She insisted that Paul be told the truth.

However, these are quite rare. In old forms of English the subjunctive was more common and was used after more verbs, including 'require' as in your example.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, Sire!
I've been troubled with my writings lately and I have problem with this sentence,

"You were the only light that shone very brightly."

Is it grammatically correct? Or do I have to put V-ing after were.. Or what term should I use when I'm using "were"? Thank you so much!

Hello stdeandra,

The sentence is grammatically correct, but whether or not it is appropriate will depend upon the context. You could say '...the only light shining...' and '...so brightly' but these are stylistic choices, not grammatical questions.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

1= tools of the palaeolithic types continued to be made . so sir i can not understand why is here sentence used = to be = word in sentence.

Hello birajmehta,

The construction here is a passive form of the infinitive:

continue to do (continue + to infinitive)

continue to be done (continue + passive infinitive)

You can read more about passive forms on this page.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Should I test the feature to see whether the class will get cancelled after the 11th minute would pass?

Is this grammatically correct ? How could I express myself better in this situation? I know about the conditionals but I am not sure if I can use it in this situation or if I can I don't know how.

Hello Sash,

I'm actually not sure what you're trying to say here. The grammatical form you are using is not correct as we would not mix 'will' and 'would' in this way, but I don't understand the sentence you are trying to say, so it's hard to suggest how to say it. If you can explain what you mean then we can try to help.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

I am trying to understand which is the subject +passive verb+ infinitive in this sentence
"A large number of contemporary Egyptian traditions are said to have their origons in very ancient times"
Please can you help me?

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