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 amit_ck on Fri, 20/08/2021 - 05:26

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A survey is now BEING carried out nationwide. Can't be it "A survey is carried out nationwide."? What is the role of "is/are/am/will+being+Past participle ?" Could you please give me some examples of it?

Hi amit_ck,

In these sentences there is a passive verb (is being carried out / is carried out), but in the first sentence it's in the present continuous, and in the second sentence it's in the present simple. This difference affects the meaning.

The first sentence shows that the action is happening right now (i.e., at the moment that the speaker says this sentence). Have a look at this page for more information and examples about the present continuous.

The second sentence is in the present simple. This is used for actions that happen regularly in the present. So, the second sentence means that the survey is carried out regularly (e.g. A survey is carried out every year). It doesn't necessarily mean that it is happening right now. This page has more information and examples about the present simple.

I hope that helps :)

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Deviljin on Sun, 23/05/2021 - 17:22

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sir, can we use verb TO BE in present, past, future perfect continuous tense. if yes, can you please quote one one example with meaning of the same. if not, than can you please quote the reason of the same. regards

Submitted by Peter M. on Tue, 25/05/2021 - 07:26

In reply to by Deviljin

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Hello Deviljin,

Your question is slightly ambiguous, but I'm going to assume you mean the continous form of each of the tenses you mentioned (present continuous, past continuous etc).

The answer to your question is yes, the verb be can be used in all of those forms, though quite specific contexts are required for some of them.

 

  • present continuous: I'm being as patient as I can.
  • past continuous: I was just being polite, nothing more.
  • future perfect continous: You want me to be patient? I've been patient for weeks now! By the end of this week I'll have been being patient for nearly a month!

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you so much Peter sir for replying. And i am so sorry for creating ambiguity. Actually i meant to ask that can we use verb BE in perfect continuous form. Actually my school teacher told me that the verb BE cannot be used in perfect continuous form. When i asked him that , is this sentence correct. (he has been being nice to me ). My teacher said , it is wrong. Even i searched the whole internet, but i could not find a chart showing usage of verb BE in all tenses. If there is any grammar book or any other source that you know of, containing a chart showing the usage of verb BE in all tenses, would you mind sharing it. So that i can show it to my teacher and further discuss it with him. And sir, i am a huge fan of yours and other teachers' of this website. Thank you so much Regards Deviljin (raj)

Hello again Deviljin,

I'm not aware of any such table but I'm sure you can find something like that somewhere on the internet with a search for 'English verb conjugation be' or similar. However, things like this are not particularly useful, in my view, as they do not connect the form to its meaning in context.

 

A form may be theoretically possible but extremely unlikely as it requires an extremely unlikely context, which is what your teacher had in mind, I'm sure. Although 'will have been being' is grammatically possible and although I cam imagine a context in which it might be used, I don't think I have ever actually used it in my life as the context is so specific and unlikely.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Nevı on Mon, 15/03/2021 - 14:00

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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.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Jack on Tue, 29/12/2020 - 08:02

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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.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by knownman on Wed, 23/12/2020 - 18:44

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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?

Jonathan

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') And 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.
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.

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,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by SonuKumar on Wed, 28/10/2020 - 10:58

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Sir, How to use the word 'price' in singular form as well as in plural form ? Can you explain with an example or two ? I have already looked it up in a dictionary and still quite understand as to why It is used in plural form with a singular noun like 'house prices' and vice versa like 'onions price' ? Could you clearify once and for all ?

Submitted by SonuKumar on Mon, 26/10/2020 - 20:03

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Sir, What are the prices of onions and potatoes in your area. or what is the price of onion(s) and potato(es) in your area. Are both the sentences right and can I use plural form of the nouns in the second sentence ? How to use the noun 'price' in singular and plural in general ?

Submitted by Peter M. on Tue, 27/10/2020 - 08:13

In reply to by SonuKumar

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Hello SonuKumar,

Both sentences are correct. You can use the plural nouns or the singular for generic meaning here.

 

To my ear, the plural 'What are the prices of...?' is the better choice here. I don't think the singular form is correct in this construction.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

So, what is the price of onion and potato in your area. what is the price of onions and potatoes in your area. Are both of these correct ? when to use the noun word 'price' in singular and when to in plural ? Could you please explain with an example ?

Submitted by Peter M. on Wed, 28/10/2020 - 07:16

In reply to by SonuKumar

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Hello again SonuKumar,

Yes, both of those are correct and speakers can choose which they use.

As I said, I think the most natural choice is 'What are the prices of...', but people will use other forms as well.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by CHÉKYTAN on Sat, 12/09/2020 - 15:08

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Hello sir or madam, This is related to short form. Is below sentence correct? Nothing can make you a wise person but your very own experience. Extra question: Is comma required before but?

Hello Chekytan,

Please note that this is a question of punctuation, which we don't really cover on LearnEnglish. That said, I wouldn't use a comma before 'but' here.

There might be some style guides out there that would disagree, but I think most would recommend against one here.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Luke warm on Mon, 07/09/2020 - 07:55

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Hello sir, In a Matrimonial ad I have seen a caption " be found " . My doubt is 1. Is that caption " be found " a passive sentence. 2. If it is a passive sentence does it mean "be found by someone or something" is this correct. 3. If it is a passive sentence why there is be instead can't we say " is found or are found" . 4. Can we replace "be found" with " to be found ". Does Adding "to" make any difference in the sentence. Thanks in advance. Luke warm

Hello Luke warm,

When you say 'caption', you mean the short text beneath a photo? I'd need to see the advert to be able to say for sure, but it might be an imperative (i.e. a command) -- the imperative form of verbs is the same as the base form (first form).

If it is an imperative, it could be a passive verb form (with the meaning you suggest in 2) or it could be a verb + adjective. 'to be found' is a grammatical verb form, but I don't think it'd make much sense in the context you describe (though of course I haven't seen it and so can't say for sure).

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by AkiraTa05 on Thu, 13/08/2020 - 18:06

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While any measure that increases women’s sense of safety and the likelihood of conviction is to be welcomed, it does not solve the underlying problem of men failing to accept women’s bodily autonomy. What is the meaning and function of "to be welcomed" in the sentence above? Thanks a lot.

Hi AkiraTa05,

X is to be welcomed means 'X should be welcomed' or 'We should welcome X'. 

This use of to be is for giving instructions or obligations. The speaker is telling other people (or him/herself) what should be done. 

Here are some more examples.

  • You are to submit your report by 5 p.m.
  • It was a wonderful day, never to be forgotten.

This use of to be is quite formal in style.

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by cms10 on Sun, 09/08/2020 - 17:44

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Hi teacher, could you explain the use of "be to" in the sentences below? 1. How is the programme to be financed? 2. I formed the opinion that he was not to be trusted. Thanks in advance.

Hi cms10,

There are two different meanings of to be here.

1. Describing future events that are certain to happen. Your first sentence means the financing of the programme has not begun yet (i.e. it's in the future), but we want to ask about the plans for it (i.e. what has already been decided about the financing). This is quite formal in style. Here are some more examples of this meaning. 

  • The company is to make an announcement tomorrow.
  • Construction work is to finish before the end of the year.

 

2. Giving instructions. If I say He is not to be trusted, it's an instruction or an obligation. I'm telling myself or someone else not to trust that person. Here are some more examples.

  • You are to submit your report by 5 p.m.
  • It was a wonderful day, never to be forgotten.

This is also quite formal in style.

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Luke warm on Sat, 27/06/2020 - 04:46

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Hello sir, Could you explain these sentences. We know that some verbs are followed by infinitives. 1. You seem to be nervous. 2. People tend to be happier if they are in a long-term relationship. 3. For example, John’s book was thought to be a contraction of John, his book. 4.it was thought to be he. Sir, my problem is that I was confused with the meaning of " be". What does the " to be" mean in above sentences. Does " to be" mean existence of something or " to be" = to live or the "to be" mean something going to happen in the future or "to be" is like an empty subject "it". Or something else..... I was totally confused with the meaning of "be" in the above sentences.

Hello Luke warm,

Be is called a copula verb in linguistics. It links the subject to a subject complement. The subject complement provides information about the subject: giving it a name or a quality, identifying it or describing it in some way.

Your sentences are examples of these various functions.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Luke warm on Mon, 08/06/2020 - 13:42

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Hello sir, Could you explain clearly about following two sentences. Especially, the second one. Because the meaning says ' it is used to show that something will happen in future' but why there is "was" if it mean future. Be [+ to infinitive] FORMAL used to show that something will happen in the future: 1. We are to (= we are going to) visit Australia in the spring. 2.She was never to see (= she never saw) her brother again.

Hello Luke warm

The verb 'be' plus 'to' infinitive speaks about something that will happen in the future from the perspective of the time being spoken about.

In 1, the time spoken of is now, and so the visit to Australia is after now.

In 2, the time spoken of is a time in the past, and so her not seeing her brother again happened after that (i.e. in the future from the perspective of that past time), but which is in the past from our perspective now.

Does that help you make sense of it?

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by yahyoo2 on Wed, 13/05/2020 - 14:19

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I think we also use some adjectives with It and the verb to be and to-infinitive too E.g It’s good to meet you. I’m glad to hear from you

Submitted by Luke warm on Wed, 15/04/2020 - 13:23

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Hello sir, Be kind Be confident Be honest Sir my doubt is what does the word " be" Mean in the above sentence Does it mean ' behave honest' or ' become honest ' ? Thank you sir.

Hello Luke warm,

Be is the imperative form of the verb to be. We use imperatives to give orders or instructions. You can think of it as a stronger and more direct way to say you should be.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Aniyanmon on Wed, 22/01/2020 - 02:30

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Dear Sir, Kindly see the following sentences. 1) The Crime Branch sleuths had identified John to be deceased in the first week of December 2019. (Here I would like to know whether we can use "being" in the place of "to be" and rewrite the sentence as "The Crime Branch sleuths had identified John being deceased in the first week of December 2019.") 2) The police on reaching his area found the house to be locked. (Here also I would like to know whether this sentence can rewrite as " The police on reaching his area found the house being locked.") Thank you.

Submitted by Peter M. on Wed, 22/01/2020 - 08:06

In reply to by Aniyanmon

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Hello Aniyanmon,

You cannot use 'being' in either sentence without changing other aspects.

When a participle phrase is used, it always refers to the subject of the main clause. Thus, if you use 'being' in the first sentence it would mean that the Crime Brnach sleuths were deceased, not John.

 

 

You cannot use 'being' in the second sentence either. 'Locked' here has a passive meaning, so a past participle is needed, not a present participle, which would have an active meaning.

 

You can read more about participles and their uses on this page.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Achmad Shocheb on Tue, 26/11/2019 - 22:53

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Hello, I found this sentences below on my english exercise. A : Do you like your new job? B : Yes, but my employer insist that I be on time. I really don't understand why that sentence uses 'be' instead of 'am' after subject 'I' Best regard Achmad

Hello Achmad Shocheb

In this case, 'be' is a subjunctive form. If you'd like to know more about the subjunctive, I'd suggest this Wikipedia article, but in general I would recommend that you just learn that the verb 'insist' is followed by a 'that' clause with the verb in the base/bare infinitive form.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by amirfd on Wed, 17/07/2019 - 12:08

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Hello. She believes that they easily won the game because they are familiar with teamwork, ....................? Tag question for the main clause or subordinate clause?

Submitted by Kirk on Thu, 18/07/2019 - 03:48

In reply to by amirfd

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Hello amirfd

The main clause: 'doesn't she?' See our Question tags page for more on this topic in general.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Zahid Bhuiyan on Tue, 16/07/2019 - 11:25

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Hi, Could you please explain the use of "to be" in the following sentences. I am not clear about the meaning and in what conditions I can use "to be"? Thanks 1. The apparatus allows the grout to be injected at different injection rates. 2. Soil water content (or soil moisture content, SMC) is considered to be a critical parameter in geotechnical engineering.

Submitted by Kirk on Tue, 16/07/2019 - 21:34

In reply to by Zahid Bhuiyan

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Hello Zahid Bhuiyan

In 1, 'to be injected' is a passive infinitive. The active infinitive is 'to inject' and 'be' is one of elements that makes it become passive. In 2, 'to be' is often used between the verb 'consider' when it is used in the passive ('is considered') and the topic that is being focused on.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Dona S on Thu, 31/01/2019 - 16:16

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Hello English Team, My son has written in an essay; "On Monday, the 31st of August." His English teacher has said that it should be corrected as "On Monday, August 31st". I´m a bit confused about it. Please explain. Thanks.

Hello Dona S,

There are several ways to express the date in English. Your son's way is correct but is generally used in speech rather than writing, and I imagine this is why the teacher corrected it.

You can read more about how the date is said and written on this page;

https://dictionary.cambridge.org/grammar/british-grammar/writing/dates

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Dona S on Wed, 30/01/2019 - 10:42

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I read two sentences as follows: "On the first day, we went to the Buckingham Palace" and, "On the first day, we went to Buckingham Place." I have a doubt whether it´s "to" or "to the" is correct. Please explain. Thanks

Hello Dona

'to Buckingham Palace' is the best form to use here. Many buildings that have the name of their owner or builder in them (Buckingham Palace was named after Buckingham House, which was bought by the Duke of Buckingham) are not preceded by 'the', though there are many exceptions to this rule. Our definite articles page has more information on this topic in general if you're interested.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Lasantha on Thu, 10/01/2019 - 05:53

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Dear Sir, Please kindly explain me what is the difference between? “There is been an accident” and “An accident has happened”