You are here

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


Hi teacher,
I want to write something my
processes paragraph assignment.But I can't decide to write that sentence that I wrote.
'The last step is unless you find the information, you can also type some phrases.'

If my sentence is wrong, why teacher could you explain me? And What can I write with the same meaning

Hi Nevı,

It's hard to be sure if our suggestion is exactly what you want as we can't see the broader context, but I think you need 'if' rather than 'unless' here, along with a couple of other changes:

The last option if you have still not found the information is to search for some phrases.



The LearnEnglish Team

Hello teacher
I would like to ask, in this sentence :
The jacket had a purpose, and so did the boy. His purpose in life WAS TO travel ,and, after two years of walking the Andalusian terrain, he knew all the cities of the region. Quoted from the Alchemist.
What does it mean "WAS TO" in this situation ?
Thank you !

Hello Jack,

We use the infinitive to describe goals or intentions, so the construction here is as follows:

[subject] + [be] + [to infinitive]

His purpose + was + to travel...

Here are some similar sentences:

My aim is to win the match!

Our goal is to finish this project before the weekend.



The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks teacher :D !

Hello, Kirk, Peter, and Jonathan,

"Students are to write a rough draft of their wiki update and e-mail it to the teacher. She adds it to each student’s electronic portfolios. The teacher reads the updated version and gives them feedback"

In the above sentence, 'Students are to write a rough draft...' What is the meaning, its tense and what is it called in the grammar?
Thanks for the answer in advanced.

Hi knownman,

Students are to write ... means something similar to these words:

  • Students should write ...
  • Students must write ...
  • Students are expected to write ...

In your example, are (a form of be) introduces an instruction or obligation (i.e. what someone is expected to do), which is the to + infinitive verb (to write). Other forms of be can be used:

  • I am to write ...
  • Everybody is to write ...
  • You are to write ...

This use of to be is quite formal in style. As for the tense, it's in the present simple here, showing that students are expected to do this now. But it can be used in the past too, if the expectation was in the past (e.g. Last year, students were to email their draft to the teacher, but there's a new system this year). I don't know if this meaning of to be has any specific name.

Does that make sense?


The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks for the answer, Jonathan.
What about using in the future tense. I think I can use the same pattern for the future tense. I deduce from your explanation that I can use that in the future tense as well.
For Example:
Our teacher is to retire next year. ( used 'is to' instead of 'is going to retire')
The authorities estimate the country is to have a new economic crisis in one year in the country. (used 'is to' instead of 'will')

Are these sentences are correct?

Thanks for your time.

Hello knownman,

When we use 'be' plus an infinitive in this way, it's to speak about a plan or arrangement, or a kind of order. So your first example is correct, since it's speaking about a plan, but the second one is not correct, since it's making a prediction. I'd recommend you use 'will' there.

All the best,


The LearnEnglish Team

Hi, Jonathan,
I saw the answer about the above question just on the second comment page.
Someone asked about this. You have already answered.
Thanks for the help.
Have a nice one.