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 Dona S on Tue, 18/03/2014 - 10:07

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Hi LearnEnglish Team, Could you please explain the difference between "somebody sits in a chair" and "sombody sits on a chair." to me. Thank you.

Hi Dona S,

This really depends on context, but in general people sit in chairs. If you sit on a chair, you might be seated in some way on it, but not exactly in the position that is intended (for example, on the arms of the chair, rather than on the seat). Note that the same rule doesn't apply for sofas or benches, which we sit on!

I'd suggest that you do an internet search for "in a chair" and "on a chair" (it's important to enclose the phrases in inverted commas) - in the results, you can see lots of different examples of how these phrases are used.

Best wishes,

Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Dona S on Sat, 15/03/2014 - 22:24

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Hi LearnEnglish Team, I heard the following sentence in one of your dialogues. "He won´t get lost on a dark night." My question is, WHY should it be "on a dark night," NOT "in a dark night"? Please explain. Thank you.

Hello Dona S,

Prepositions are a tricky area in English, with many small differences in meaning between them, and different prepositions possible in different contexts.  Usually we say 'at night' when we talk about nighttime, but when we add an adjective in a narrative we use 'on a (adjective) night'.  'In' is quite rarely used with 'night', and generally we see it only when we are talking in general and using the definite article ('People are often scared when they wake up in the night') or talking about 'a night' as a length of time ('He finished the job in a night').

As I said, it is complex, but I hope the explanation above help you with it.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you very much Peter. I got it. In American English, I often hear "in the night," but not "at night." For example; "they work in the night." Is it wrong if somebody says so? Should it be corrected as "they work at night"???

Hello Dona S,

I don't think it's related to the different dialects, but rather to a slight difference in meaning:

We say at night when we are talking about all of the night:

When there is no moon it is very dark at night.

He sleeps during the day and works at night.

but we say in the night when we are talking about a short time during the night:

He woke up twice in the night.

I heard a funny noise in the night.

You can find this explanation, and other information about time and dates on this page.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you very much Peter. Your explanation is a great help for me. Appreciate it.

Submitted by Dona S on Fri, 07/03/2014 - 11:41

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Hi LearnEnglish Team, I would like to know how to use the articles "a" and "an" when some words begin with "y" since they sound "e". For example the word "year." According to my knowledge, vowels are "a,e,i,o,u and sometimes y". "Year" has "e" sound. Which article could I use in the following sentence?? " I visit my friend once a year" or is it "I visit my friend once an year." Please explain. Thank you.

Hi Dona,

The y at the beginning of the word year and most other words that begin with the letter y is considered to be a consonant. The y at the end of the word friendly or in the word gymnastics are examples of y as a vowel.

Therefore you should say "I visit my friend once a year" (not an year).

Best wishes,

Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Dona S on Thu, 06/03/2014 - 18:14

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Hi LearnEnglish Team, When somebody wants to have your address, phone number etc. you could say, "he asked my address/phone number" or "he asked for my address/phone number??? You Need to use a preposition in this sentence?? please explain this to me. Thanks.

Hi Dona,

The correct question is with the preposition for. You can ask a question, ask someone to do something, but when you request a thing, you should say ask for that thing. This topic in general is explained a bit more on our two- and three-part verbs page, and is just the way that English has evolved over time.

Best wishes,

Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Dona S on Wed, 05/03/2014 - 21:21

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Hi LearnEnglish Team, I have a question for you about "shaking hands." For example: I would say, (a) Rob shook hands with Adam. (b) Rob shook hand with Adam. Are both the sentences correct?? If not, which one is the correct one?? Also, please explain me why. And, is it correct if I say, "Rob shook Adam´s hand" or it shoud be "hands"??? Awaiting your response. Thank you.

Hello Dona S,

You can say either of these, or you can say 'they shook hands with each other'; the meaning is the same as we assume that if, say, Rob shook hands with Adam then Adam also shook hands with Rob!

The answer to your second question is that the singular is correct - 'Rob shook Adam's hand'.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Dona S on Sat, 01/03/2014 - 20:06

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Hi Kirk, Is there any difference between "she is in the toilet" and "she is on the toilet". These two are sometimes confusing me. Could you explain how I could use them correctly.

Submitted by Peter M. on Sun, 02/03/2014 - 08:08

In reply to by Dona S

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Hello Dona S,

Both of these can be used when someone goes to the toilet, but there is a slight difference.  When we say 'in the toilet' we mean either inside the actual toilet ('Oh no, I dropped my pen and it's in the toilet!') or, if we are talking about a person, in the room ('She's in the toilet but she'll be back in a moment').  When we say 'on the toilet' we mean actually using the toilet for what is it designed for.

I hope that clarifies it for you.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Dona S on Sat, 22/02/2014 - 20:29

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Hello The LearnEnglish Team, Could you explain me the usage of "tell" and "say."

Hi Dona S,

This is mentioned a little bit on our verbs followed by that clause page, but I'll briefly explain it here, too.

say and tell mean exactly the same thing and only differ in terms of grammatical use: tell must be followed by a direct personal object. For example, He told me his name, I will tell him that you're happy - notice that in both of these examples, tell is followed by a direct personal object (me and him). say does not require a direct personal object, e.g. He said his name, I will say that you're happy.

Best wishes,

Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Dona S on Thu, 20/02/2014 - 13:37

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Hi Kirk, What´s the difference between "speak/talk to some" and "speak/talk with someone?" Do The British use only speak/talk to someone?

Hi Dona S,

Both speak or talk to and speak or talk with are used in current English. It's perhaps true that British English tends to prefer to and American English tends to prefer with, but both forms are used extensively in both varieties of English these days.

Best wishes,

Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Dona S on Thu, 20/02/2014 - 09:20

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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,

Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by nilox7 on Sun, 22/09/2013 - 10:52

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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,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by ChandimaD on Sun, 02/06/2013 - 17:52

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Dear Sir/Madam,

Could you please explain the different between 'being' and 'been'?

Regards.

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,


Peter
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by nish7685 on Sat, 01/06/2013 - 16:44

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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'?

Dear Nish,

We don't use 'are' with singular nouns. Use 'a' with singular nouns.

Ex:

There is a canteen in front of the staff room.

There is a pen on the table.

Regards.

Chandima

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,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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: http://etymonline.com/index.php?term=be&allowed_in_frame=0

Submitted by Ebenezer Son on Sun, 14/04/2013 - 14:35

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How different is the TO BE VERB from the BE VERB. Thanks.

Hello Ebenezer!

 

It is not a different verb - just a different form of the verb, called the infinitive (or sometimes the to + infinitive). You can read about it here.

 

Regards

 

Jeremy Bee

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Rayne on Wed, 08/08/2012 - 16:37

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It is brief and useful . Thanks .

Submitted by Manpreet singh on Thu, 12/07/2012 - 17:14

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it helps me alot

 

Submitted by Jay Ryan on Sat, 12/05/2012 - 02:10

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Hi to everyone,

When does an intensifier becomes pleonasm? How does one make sure that using intensifiers do not lead into redundancy?

Kind Regards,

Jay

Hello Jay -

 

That's a very complex question, and not one easily answered in formal linguistic terms, or with strict rules. Instead, it is more a question of stylistics and expressive range. Spoken language is much more tolerant of redundancy than written language – 'It's very, very good' is perfectly acceptable spoken English, for example, and in some kinds of writing, it would be acceptable to use redundancy to give emphasis. On the other hand, in academic writing, you would avoid this kind of redundancy – although there are some set idioms (“null and void”) which are still acceptable. In short, you cannot make sure that using intensifiers does not become redundant without considering the specific context and the way native speakers would use the language in that context.

 

Hope that helps!

 

Regards

 

Jeremy Bee

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by mohamed rassem on Wed, 04/04/2012 - 12:25

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so intresting subjects and exercices so good

Submitted by harshal chohan on Thu, 15/03/2012 - 09:17

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Nice exercise

Submitted by Walt Whitman on Wed, 29/02/2012 - 23:18

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"What is your name?"

This sentence is supposedly easy to parse. Professor George Oliver Curme (in his "English Grammar" dating back to the Thirties) maintains that "what" is the subject. I'm a bit confused. I think that in the sentences, "What is the matter with your brother?" and "Who called you", "what" is the subject. The replies would be, "Something is the matter with my brother" and "Someone called me" (no changes in the sentence structure). What do you think?

Thank you very much.

WW

 

 

Submitted by Sarah Badra on Wed, 29/02/2012 - 00:49

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Thanks a million!