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:

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
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Submitted by Bhuwaneshwar Prasad on Fri, 13/03/2015 - 12:40

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Hello English Team, Could you explain verb been and where should be used. Give me some examples. Regards, Bhuwaneshwar

Hello Bhuwaneshwar,

'been' is the past participle of 'be' - you can find definitions and examples in our dictionary.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by adilnawaz on Sat, 29/11/2014 - 17:00

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dear sir, I need help understanding subject, object, nouns, pronoun, verbs and adjectives etc. also any tips to improve my vocabulary. many thanks

Submitted by Peter M. on Mon, 01/12/2014 - 15:48

In reply to by adilnawaz

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Hello adilnawaz,

That's quite a list - I'd guess you've covered most of the English grammar system there! I think our grammar pages can help you. You can use the index to find useful pages to help you with each topic on your list.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by abcd123 on Sat, 29/11/2014 - 16:21

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Hi all, I'm an ESL teacher and I have trouble explaining 'to be'. Here are my questions: 1) Why do we always say that the present tense of 'to be' is: am, is, are. Why don't we say that it's: am, is, are, be. Isn't 'be' used in the present tense as in "I want to be happy". 2) When we refer to an irregular verb and refer to 'be' we see this: Simple Form Simple Past Past Participle be was, were been As you see 'be' is the Simple Form. Why? We don't use the word 'be' very much. Usually we use : is, am, are. Any help or ideas would be appreciated

Submitted by Peter M. on Mon, 01/12/2014 - 15:53

In reply to by abcd123

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Hi abcd123,

1. 'to be' or 'be' is the infinitive or base form; it is a different form from the present. This page will help you to see the difference.

2. The term usually used (and the term we use on our page) is 'base form'. 'Simple' is usually used to describe verb forms as a way of differentiating them from continuous forms.

I hope that helps to clarify it for you.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Dona S on Mon, 24/11/2014 - 08:41

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Hello English Team, Is there any difference between " going to dinner" and "going for dinner." Please explain. Thank you n have a great day!

Hello Dona S,

Personally, I'd say 'go out' instead of 'go' if what you mean is to go to a restaurant to eat. With 'go out', both 'to dinner' and 'for dinner' are used.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Dona S on Mon, 20/10/2014 - 18:43

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Hello English Team, "Adam was born and grown up in England." Is this sentence gramatically correct? or should I say, "Adam was born and raised in England." Also, I read in one of Raymond Murphy´s grammar books, if I say, "Adam was born and brought up in England," that means Adam was brought up by someone (in the sense adopted by someone). What´s the best way to express the above? Please Explain. Thank you.

Hello Dona,

Your first sentence is not correct. This is because 'to be born' only exists in the passive in English, whereas 'to grow up', as an intransitive verb, has no passive form. Most people, including myself, would use your second sentence, though others object to the use of the verb 'raise' with this sense, saying the proper verb here is 'to rear', as only animals or plants are 'raised'.

I don't agree that 'to bring up' suggests that Adam was adopted. It could mean that, but not necessarily. You might want to check in a few dictionaries to see how it's used.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Dona S on Sat, 11/10/2014 - 11:09

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Hi English Team, Would you mind explaining how to use "except" and "except for" to me please. It´s a bit complicated for me. Thank you.

Hi Dona,

'except for' is used before nouns and pronouns (and pronouns go in their object forms, e.g. 'except for me' not 'except for I') and 'except' is used in most other cases.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Dona S on Thu, 09/10/2014 - 12:18

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Hello LearnEnglish Team, I have three different pairs of sentences. There are two sentences in each pair. They are very similar to each other. Would you mind explaing if there is any difference between the two sentences in each pair. 1. "The letter was already posted" and "letter had already been posted." 2. "Would you like something to drink"? and "Would you like to drink something"? 3. "Mary prepares for lunch." and " Mary prepares lunch." Awaiting you response. Thank you.

Hi Dona S,

What do you think? There is a difference in the sentences in 1, which you can find out about by reading our past tense page. In 2, there's not a significant difference. In 3, you can find out if there's a difference by using the dictionary (look up 'prepare').

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Dona S on Tue, 30/09/2014 - 10:04

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Hi LearnEnglish Team, Please give me a brief explanation for "stressed syllable" (eg: the word "music"). I really don´t understand how words get stressed. Awaiting a quick response. Thank you.

Hi Dona S,

In every word with more than one syllable, there is one that is stressed. For example, if you look up the word 'friendly' in our dictionary (see the search box on the right), you can hear it pronounced by clicking on the red or blue icons. Notice this pronunciation is represented as /ˈfrend.li/. The ' in /ˈfrend.li/ means that the syllable after it (frend) is where you put the emphasis when you pronounce the word (not on "li"). I'm not able to record it here, but if you pronounced the word as /frend.'li/ (i.e. with stress on the second syllable), it would be incorrect and others might not understand you so easily.

I hope this helps you.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by alkathiri1987 on Tue, 30/09/2014 - 07:33

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in fact .. it is an interesting exercise and the answers from the team also added to my vocabulary and grammar thank you once again

Submitted by tagrapankaj on Wed, 06/08/2014 - 10:31

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mail is sent to you or mail has been sent to you.. plz explain the difference sir..and their meaning context wise.

Submitted by madamwaew on Tue, 08/07/2014 - 13:13

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I am teaching English language at Banmaisamukkhi school and I love it so much.

Submitted by benbouziane on Fri, 04/07/2014 - 19:14

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i need learen english

Submitted by Dona S on Wed, 02/07/2014 - 21:31

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Hi LearnEnglish Team, Could you please explain how to use "in holidays" and "on holidays" correctly. Thanks

Hello Dona,

As far as I know, in is not used with "holiday(s)". You can go or be on holiday, go home for the holidays or work over or during the holidays, but I can't think of an instance when I'd say in holidays.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Dona. The adjective to Holidays its only on... Ex: Im on holiday we cant use im in holidays its wrong.

Submitted by Dona S on Tue, 10/06/2014 - 22:09

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Hi LearnEnglish Team, Could you explain the correct usage of "made of " something and "made from" something. (eg: bread is "made of" flour and bread is "made from" flour) Is there any difference between these two? Awaiting your reply. Thank you

Hi Dona S,

Normally, made of is used to describe the material used to make something. For example, we can say that a house is made of wood or stone (or whatever). But when the material used to make something undergoes a significant transformation, made from is normally used. For example, paper is made from trees. When speaking about how to prepare some kind of food, often with is used: bread is made with wheat flour, water, salt and yeast.

I hope this helps.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by leitor on Mon, 02/06/2014 - 20:36

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Hi iam new here and i woul like your help, becouse i wont learn english.

Hi leitor,

Welcome to LearnEnglish! My first suggestion would be to explore the site.  Use the links at the top of the page to go to different sections and see what kinds of materials are available.  Get a feel for the level of difficulty of different sections so you can see what will be most useful to you at the moment.

Then start with something that is not too high a level. Many users find Elementary Podcasts Series Three a good place to start.  Work through the episodes, and remember that you can use the transcript to help you, or to read and listen to at the same time after you have done the exercises. As you work, it's important to keep a vocabulary notebook. Organise it by topic ('work', 'family', 'food', etc.) and add words and phrases to it as you go through the material.  Test yourself regularly to see if you remember the words.

Finally, practise English every day, even if it's only for 10 minutes. You can study the vocabulary you've recorded, listen to an Elementary Podcasts episode again, or if you have a friend who is also learning English, practise speaking with them. You can also practise by yourself, just speaking English when you are alone at home or at work.  This kind of practice is great for developing fluency in speaking, so that when you need to use English in the 'real' world you are ready and confident.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by pilytriana on Thu, 24/04/2014 - 04:46

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How can I difference ser from estar in english, because you use verb to be for the two forms?

Hi pilytriana,

In English, there is only one verb (be). You can use it for both ser and estar!

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by florzambonini on Thu, 10/04/2014 - 00:17

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I`d like to know if it possible to use the verb be in short answers for questions with "what". For example, "what`s your favourite band? " and to answer: One Direction IS. Instead of, it is one Direction, or just One Direction. Thank you

Hi florzambonini,

Yes, it is possible, though it is more common to just answer a question like this with the noun phrase - in your example, One Direction.

Best wishes,

Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Dona S on Wed, 09/04/2014 - 23:01

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Hi LearnEnglish Team, Could you please tell me whether the following sentence is gramatically correct, if not, please exaplain. "I need a dish while I cook a meal. Thank you

Hi Dona S,

Yes, it is correct, though usually an -ing form or a continuous tense is used after while. For example, "I need a dish while cooking (a meal)".

Best wishes,

Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Dona S on Thu, 03/04/2014 - 19:57

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Hi LearnEnglish Team, What´s the antonym of "sins?" Thank you

Hi Dona S,

Could you explain the context? Perhaps virtue? I'd suggest checking that word in the dictionary before using it. You might also want to consult a thesaurus (which has synonyms and antonyms of words) - there are several free ones available online.

Best wishes,

Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Dona S on Thu, 03/04/2014 - 07:51

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Hi LearnEnglish Team, I have a quesion about "family." According to my knowledge it could be both singular and plural. How do I say this sentence? My family "live" in London OR my family "lives" in London. My second question is; When you say "I met with an accident" Should it be always something to do with a vehicle (car or van etc.)? Look forward to hearing from you. Thank you.

Hello Dona S,

Both 'live' and 'lives' are possible here.  The choice depends entirely on the speaker: if you wish to present the family more as a unit/as a whole then you might say 'lives', whereas if you are thinking of the family as a collection of people/individuals you might say 'live'.

In modern English it is much more common to say 'I had an accident'.  The phrase 'meet with an accident' is not wrong, and has the meaning of 'an accident happened to me', but does sound rather archaic to the modern ear, I would suggest.  It does not have to involve a vehicle; it can refer to any unpleasant accident.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Dona S on Mon, 31/03/2014 - 21:37

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Hi LearnEnglish Team, Could you tell me the difference between "friendly with me" and "friendly to me." Thank you.

Hello Dona S,

I would say 'friendly to' tends to describe behaviour - how a person acts - while 'friendly with' tends to refer more to a relationship - how a person feels.  However, that said, I think the distinction is both very subtle and very small and I can't think of a context in which one would be appropriate and the other would not.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you Peter. It´s a bit confusing. You could give me some examples if you like (some sentences).

Hello Dona S,

As I said, the distinction is very subtle and I can't think of an example in which only is possible and the other not.  I would usually say 'friendly to' when I talk about a person's behaviour in a particular situation:

She wasn't very friendly to me then, was she?

But I would tend to say 'friendly with' when talking about the general relationship between people:

She's very friendly with my sister.  They've know each other since primary school.

I hope that helps to clarify it.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Dona S on Thu, 27/03/2014 - 06:26

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Hi LearnEnglish Team, Could you please check the following paragraph and let me know whether everything is written correctly. If there are any changes , please mark them. "We focus on continuous improvement in our company and would appreciate if you take a little time to fill out our questionnaire. Your Evaluation will help us to further optimize the service and services and increas customer satisfaction. Thank you.

Hi Dora,

I'm afraid we don't correct users' submissions on LearnEnglish - this is a job for a local teacher where you live.  I know it would be very popular, but that is the problem: if we started doing this then we would have no time for anything else!

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Dona S on Thu, 20/03/2014 - 07:25

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Hi LearnEnglish Team, Could you explain a bit about idioms, phrases and proverbs to me. I really don´t know how to differentiate them. Thank you.

Hello Dona S,

You can find definitions of and examples for these words by using the Cambridge Dictionaries Online search tool on the right of this page.  Just type in the word!

To find exercises on these areas you can use the search window, which you can also find on the right of the page.  For example, if you type in 'proverb' then you'll see links to activities and pages on that topic, and the same is true with 'idiom'.

'Phrase' is a much more general term.  You can find more information on this page, plus links to different types of phrases at the bottom.

I hope those links are helpful,

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Dona S on Wed, 19/03/2014 - 21:22

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Hi LearnEnglish Team, I have a question for you about the word "whereabouts." For example; When one says "I´m from England then the other asks, "whereabouts in England"? that means he asks what area in England that person comes from? Is this correct or it should be "whereabout in England"? Please explain. Thank you.

Hi Dona S,

I'd encourage you to look up whereabouts in the dictionary (see the search box on the right). There you'll see it has noun and adverb forms (in the example you mention, it is an adverb), and is always spelled with an -s at the end (just look up "whereabout" and you'll see there is no entry for it).

Best wishes,

Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team