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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Hello Lasantha,

The first sentence is not correct. You can, however, say

There has been an accident.

 

The difference between There has been an accident and An accident has happened is really only one of style. I think the first sentence is much more common in English. The second feels a little clumsy in terms of style, though grammatically it is perfectly fine.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Maurox54 on Sat, 13/10/2018 - 22:40

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hello! need some help with something now, I've heard before that the following: is, are, was, were can be used as an auxiliary verb, full verb or verb to be EX: aux verb : "he is playing football" full verb: "they are fifteen years old" the verb to be: "My mother is a teacher" and the point is: I don't understand the difference between "be" as a verb to be and "be" as the full verb help!

Hello Maurox54,

Auxiliary verbs in English are used in many ways. We use them to make questions, negatives, emphatic forms, progressive forms, perfect forms and passive voice, for example. There are a number of verbs used in this way: be, have and do are the most common but there are others.

When we use a verb as an auxiliary it does not have an inherent meaning. It rather has a grammatical function, changing the main verb into a different form. That is why we do not study auxiliary verbs as a category but rather study the forms which they help to make (progressive aspect, passive voice etc.).

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by dipakrgandhi on Fri, 21/09/2018 - 08:10

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'Why natural is not always be safe for babies' This is the headline in newspaper. What is this 'be' doing here? What if we write it without 'be' ? Regards

Hello dipakrgandhi,

In my estimation, that is a mistake. I agree with you: 'be' should be omitted. This is probably just an error their proofreader missed.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by rama_bee on Mon, 30/07/2018 - 02:21

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Dear Team, Kindly explain me the below context, We are blessed with a baby boy, and We have blessed with a baby boy. Which one is more correct?

Hello rama_bee,

The normal phrase is as follows:

We have been blessed with a baby boy.

 

The phrase is most often used by religious people as it suggests a blessing from God.

The first version ('are blessed') is also grammatically correct but is much less common and would be only used as an announcement at or just after the moment of birth.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Peter, Thank you very much for the explanation. RamaB

Submitted by manuel24 on Sun, 08/07/2018 - 11:26

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when to use is+being?could you show me an example?

Hi manuel24,

When we use 'be' in the present continuous, it usually means that we are talking about an event or an action that is happening right now rather than a more permanent quality. For example, if we have a very intelligent friend, we'd say 'She is very intelligent'. But if our friend is doing something senseless, which is uncharacteristic of her, we could say 'She is being stupid' to show that we are referring to this specific action at this specific time and not her general character.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Crokong on Tue, 03/04/2018 - 08:29

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Hello sir. Could you tell me what the verb 'get' means in this sentence? I'm motivated to get my work done even faster.

Submitted by Dona S on Thu, 29/03/2018 - 14:33

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Hello EnglishTeam Could you kindly explain how to use "being able" in a sentence correctly. Thanks Dona

Hello Dona,

As a verb 'be able' is not used in a continuous form. However, we can use it as a gerund:

Being able to swim is important for every child. ['Being able to swim' is the subject of the sentence]

I have always dreamed of being able to fly. ['being able to fly' is the object of the preposition 'of']

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Dona S on Thu, 22/03/2018 - 14:45

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Dear EnglishTeam, "what did you do in the holidays?" I found this sentence in my son´s text book. Is the usage of preposition correct? I just thought of using either "on" or "during" instead. It´s a bit confusing. Please explain. Thanks n regards, Dona

Hello Dona S,

It is possible to use 'in' here. We usually say on holiday (singular) to mean during my vacation and in the holidays to mean during the time outside of work/school time. You could use 'during' here but not 'on', which we only use with the singular form, as above.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by birajmehta on Sun, 18/03/2018 - 09:47

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sentence : the population whose level of income is below xyz figure is considered to be below the poverty line. > is it better off to remove "to be" from this sentence . i do not understand why is it here in this sentence. or is it necessary

Hello birajmehta,

Alhough the sentence would be intelligible without it, 'to be' is necessary here. Sometimes 'to be' is omitted after 'considered' when a noun follows it (e.g. 'is considered to be a disaster'), but in this case what follows is a phrase -- in such a case, 'to be' is not omitted.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by birajmehta on Thu, 01/02/2018 - 18:38

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" What would a traveller visiting a medieval town expect to find?" ////////// sir i can not understand the meaning of this sentence as well as its construction or structure

Hello birajmehta,

This is actually quite a simple sentence but it looks complex because it has such a long subject. If we replace the subject with 'you' then I think the structure becomes clear.

What would you expect to find?

The subject is 'a traveller visiting a medieval town' and this is a noun followed by a reduced relative clause:

a traveller who is visiting a medieval town

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Baahubali on Tue, 16/01/2018 - 13:50

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hello sir i have recently read a sentence ; "convict requested that he be allowed to speak freely." is it right? or must be can be used in place of be. thanks

Submitted by Peter M. on Fri, 19/01/2018 - 06:12

In reply to by Baahubali

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Hello Baahubali,

This sentence is fine. The construction is an example of the subjunctive, which is the base form of the verb ('be') used after certain verbs. 'Request' is one such verb but there are others. These are generally related to certain ways of speaking such as 'insist', 'suggest' and 'demand'.

You can read more about the subjunctive here.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by abdulhaqcivil1 on Tue, 26/12/2017 - 17:32

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Hello Sir, Please correct me, am I right? in a nut shell, We use "be" verbs to describe a "characteristic property it has or possession" about anything we want represent. Else, give me some piece of advice about the circumstances to use "be" verbs. Thanks & Regards, Abdul haq.

Hello Abdul haq.,

Yes, it sounds like you've got the right idea. The dictionary definition for 'be' might also be useful for you.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Sash on Fri, 24/11/2017 - 13:56

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I am sorry I am asking this random question. What does this mean? Regulations will drive interest in electric trucks.

Hello Sash,

I would understand the sentence to mean that (probably new) regulations will increase (act as a driving force for) interest in electric trucks. In other words, more people will be interested in buying electric trucks as a result of new regulations.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by 3d on Wed, 22/11/2017 - 17:20

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Hi, Can 'to be' verbs be termed as helping verbs also?

Submitted by Kirk on Thu, 23/11/2017 - 06:53

In reply to by 3d

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Hello 3d,

Could you explain the fuller context, please? It's difficult to help without knowing what you're trying to understand.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Arvin2017 on Fri, 03/11/2017 - 09:47

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Hello Sir, Could you please help me with the usage of '' being'' in this sentence: Back then they could not have even thought that handheld mobile gadgets would be being used constantly by all of us. Could we omit '' being'' ? and if yes would the meaning of the sentence change ?

Hello Arvin2017,

We can start wit the construction [would + infinitive]. For example:

would think

would go

would be

 

The infinitive can be marked for continuous (progressive) aspect:

would be thinking

would be going

would be being

This is the use of 'being' in your example.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Sash on Wed, 11/10/2017 - 14:05

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I expect my instructions to be carried out to the letter. Can you please tell me what part of grammar is 'to be carried out'?

Hello Sash,

That is a passive infinitive, i.e. an infinitive in the passive voice.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by dipakrgandhi on Sun, 17/09/2017 - 05:14

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Sir , this is a sentence I have read : While talks were on between Democrats in Congress and Trump earlier this week on legislation to protect young undocumented migrants, who were Trump has given Congress six months to enact a replacement plan for DACA recipients. I have not understood what ' who were ' is doing here. Would you explain ? Thank you

Hello dipakrgandhi,

As written, that sentence is incorrect. Either you have made a mistake in copying it or the author has made a mistake when writing it.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Daniel157 on Sun, 30/07/2017 - 13:44

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Hello! I couldn't find the right section in the list of grammar units, so maybe here you could answer my question: is it corect to say " to be popular among"? Or in all cases "be popular with" must be used? Thanks a lot!

Submitted by Kirk on Tue, 01/08/2017 - 20:39

In reply to by Daniel157

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Hello Daniel157,

It's good to consult a dictionary for this kind of question. In the Cambridge Dictionary entry for 'popular', you will see the answer to your question in the example sentences, where both 'with' and 'among' are used.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Satish Patil on Sun, 07/05/2017 - 15:05

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I'd live in a big house by the sea if I were rich In the above sentance can we use was instead of were. I think we use were only for plurals.

Hello Satish Patil,

Both 'was' and 'were' are possible in conditional sentences of this kind. In fact, in the past it used to be only 'were' that was acceptable, but not 'was' is also quite common. The reason for the use of 'were' is that the past form in these conditionals is actually not the past simple but the past subjunctive. The past subjunctive is identical in form to the past simple apart from this use of 'were'.

I think in formal contexts 'were' is still preferable, but 'was' is quite common in more informal language.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by PaolaO26 on Thu, 13/04/2017 - 01:14

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By our conduct god requires that we be holy. Why does it say "we be" instead of "we are"? Thanks for your answer.

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

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

Submitted by stdeandra on Mon, 20/03/2017 - 22:19

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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

Submitted by birajmehta on Mon, 20/02/2017 - 19:45

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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.

Submitted by Sash on Wed, 23/11/2016 - 10:44

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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.