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 Sash,

I'm actually not sure what you're trying to say here. The grammatical form you are using is not correct as we would not mix 'will' and 'would' in this way, but I don't understand the sentence you are trying to say, so it's hard to suggest how to say it. If you can explain what you mean then we can try to help.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Scarlett on Thu, 17/11/2016 - 17:56

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I am trying to understand which is the subject +passive verb+ infinitive in this sentence "A large number of contemporary Egyptian traditions are said to have their origons in very ancient times" Please can you help me?

Hello Scarlett,

Generally we do not provide answers to exercises from elsewhere for our users as we simply have too many users to do so. However, I will tell you that the key here is that there is a very long subject ('A large number of contemporary Egyptian traditions') - once you identify this I think you can find the passive verb and infinitive.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Sash on Tue, 01/11/2016 - 17:43

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Hello again! Is the following sentence grammatically correct? I would choose what to drink depending on the sort of mood I'm in.

Hello Sash,

Without a context it is difficult to comment for sure, but there seems to be a conflict here.

If the sentence refers to a particular hypothetical situation, then we would use was rather than am:

I would choose what to drink depending on the sort of mood I was in.

On the other hand, if the sentence refers to typical behaviour (rather than a particular example), then we would use the present simple rather than would:

I choose what to drink depending on the sort of mood I'm in.

However, it is possible to make a sentence which contains both would and the present simple. I have done so as part of this answer:

If the sentence refers to typical behaviour, then we would use the present simple rather than would.

However, this is because there is an implied second clause here:

If the sentence refers to typical behaviour, then we would use the present simple rather than would if we needed to say it.

In other words, the would is justified because of the implied contextual meaning, which is why the context is important in answering your question.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

 

Thank you so much Mr. Peter for your concise answer. I appreciate it.

Submitted by Jefrieap on Sun, 23/10/2016 - 01:57

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Sir, I when should I use "I am being a doctor" and "I am a doctor".

Hello Jefrieap,

We do not generally use 'be' in continuous forms as a main verb, so 'I am a doctor' is the correct form and 'I am being...' is not correct.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Sash on Thu, 20/10/2016 - 00:24

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Hello! Why do we have to be in the sentence "I want to be a scientist." or "There appears to be smoke coming out of the house. " Could you refer me to a page that talks about it. Thank you.
Thank you very much, Mr. Peter. I thought that was the case. Thanks

Submitted by MCWSL on Wed, 28/09/2016 - 11:27

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Hello. Do these sentences have difference: I was told.., I have been told..? Thank you.

Submitted by Dona S on Wed, 31/08/2016 - 11:12

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Hello English Team, Kindly explain to me the usage of "at the beginning/in the beginning" and "at the end/in the end." Thanks

Hello Dona S,

I'm afraid this is too long an answer for us to deal with in the comments section. There are simply too many examples to list. Often both are correct and in general I would say that 'at the beginning' is more common where there is a choice.

'At the beginning' usually refers to a time or place; 'in the beginning' carries more of a meaning of 'at first' and suggests that something changes later on.

If you have a concrete example in mind then we will be happy to comment, of course.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you very much for the explanation Peter. I´ll try to read some examples and figure out how they are used in different situations. Thank you once again. Regards, Dona

Submitted by raji on Mon, 04/07/2016 - 13:15

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Sir in a sentence ' justice should not only be done but it must seen to be done, I cannot understand properly the usage of ' to be' form. I searched in Internet extensively with no use. Please explain in what circumstances we used ' to be form like I want to be lawyer, military operation to be conducted so on. Thanks

Hello raji,

'Justice should not only be done but it must seen to be done' is not grammatical, so I'm not surprised you don't understand it. I suppose it's meant to say 'it must be seen to be done', in which case the idea is that it's important that people see the authorities carrying out justice. In other words, it's important for justice to be carried out, but it's also important that people see that justice is being carried out.

The infinitive form has so many uses I can't possibly explain them all here, but I can point you in the right direction for the two you ask about. In 'I want to be a lawyer', the infinitive is used after the verb 'want'. This is a very common use, and one that you can see explained (and with examples) in the dictionary.

In 'a military operation to be conducted', which is a more uncommon use of the infinitive, it is being used to indicate a planned or expected future event. Note that here the infinitive ('to be conducted') is passive, whereas above ('to be a lawyer') it was active.

In general, it's important that you provide the context for the sentences you ask about and also tell us how you understand them or how you think about them. We're happy to help people with difficult points from time to time, but I'm afraid we're not able to provide personalised tutorials. 

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

 

Submitted by raji on Mon, 04/07/2016 - 12:11

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Sir please explain 'To Be' forms with explanation sentence of 'justice seen to be done'. Why and for what reasons 'to be' form was used in this sentence

Hello raji,

I'm afraid you'll have to provide more context for us to be able to help you with that phrase.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by manuel24 on Sun, 19/06/2016 - 10:01

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hello, is it correct to say" why are you worried or "why worry"?and why?

Hello manuel24,

Both are fine. In the first, 'worried' is an adjective and in the second it's a verb. The first is more common, but there's nothing at all wrong with the second.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by dupontm on Tue, 07/06/2016 - 13:59

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Hi again would you say these 2 sentences are equally used in spoken English ? The best style possible / The best possible style and The best thing imaginable / The best imaginable thing also would you say that The first train available in the morning is more colloquial than The first available train in the morning. ? with thanks

Hello dupontm,

All of those sentences are correct. I wouldn't like to say that any of them are definitively more or less colloquial as this is quite a subjective question. The alternatives are not actually merely questions of word order, in fact: where the adjective follows the noun the structure is actually a reduced relative clause. For example:

The best style possible > The best style (which is) possible

I would say that the versions with the adjective following the noun are less common in general, but I would not go further than that.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by dupontm on Sun, 05/06/2016 - 21:38

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hi it appears I found this question-answer page when originally typing in VERB BE IN ENGLISH, not specifying British Council, but I don't seem to find the same section for other questions when typing British Council so how do I get direct to the Q&A page ?

Hi dupontm,

We don't have a specific Q&A page for the site but most pages have a comments section where it is possiblet to ask questions. We try to answer as many questions as we can but we are a small team and we don't offer online lessons!

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by aa on Sat, 14/05/2016 - 02:38

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is it possible or not to use "were" like this : we were lived here in 2015. ?

Hello aa,

The sentence you ask about is an example of a passive verb form. It is formed correctly, but because 'live' is an intransitive verb, it is not used in the passive – therefore that sentence doesn't make any sense.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Ali Azam Russell on Tue, 12/04/2016 - 09:11

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I want to know whether this statement, " I WANT TO ADMIT MYSELF INTO A COLLEGE", is correct. Do favour me....

Hello Ali Azam Russell,

No, 'admit' doesn't generally take a reflexive pronoun and certainly not in this context. I'd suggest something like 'I'd like to be admitted to a college' or 'I'd like to get into a college' as alternatives.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Ali Azam Russell on Tue, 12/04/2016 - 08:56

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Nice to see you all.... What is the specific difference between Finite Verb and Principal Verb? Give some examples also....

Hello Ali Azam Russell,

'Finite' and 'nonfinite' are terms that we don't generally use here, as they're a bit specialised for most learners. I'd suggest you check the Wikipedia article on Finite verbs for more information on that. A principal verb generally refers to the main verb of a sentence or clause. For example, in 'I haven't seen my best friend in ages', 'see' is the principal verb, which is in a present perfect form – 'have' is the auxiliary verb and 'seen' is the past participle form of the main verb 'see'.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by chris kim on Wed, 30/03/2016 - 10:03

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hi in question with be such as are you a student?are is auxiliary and main verb?

Submitted by Ali Azam Russell on Tue, 29/03/2016 - 14:28

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What are the functions of adjectives in different sentences ? Please give some examples. Love to you all.

Hello Ali Azam Russell,

You can find several pages on adjectives in the section on adjectives. Please note there is also a search box at the top right side of this page that you can use as well.

Best regards,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by naell on Sat, 26/03/2016 - 12:17

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hello sir . i have got a question what the . What is the difference between the following two sentences and why? where are you going ? (1) why you are in such a rush to find a job ? (2) In the two examples above. verb (be) at first comes before subject but at second example it comes after subject Please explain it to me, I will be obliged to you

Hello naell,

The second sentence is not correct – it should start like this: 'Why are you in such a rush ...' So in both sentences, you have the same pattern: wh-word + auxiliary (or main verb) + subject pronoun.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Ali Azam Russell on Fri, 18/03/2016 - 05:46

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It's nice to share with you all regarding questions and answers. Question: What is the basic difference between verb To Be and Principal verb? Could you please answer with easy examples ?

Hello Ali Azam Russell,

The principal verb in a sentence can be 'be' or any other verb (e.g. 'talk', 'go', etc.). 'be' is a very important verb because it can be used in so many ways – not only as a principal verb (e.g. 'My father is tall') but also as an auxiliary verb (e.g. 'My sister is coming to see me').

I hope this helps you. If you have another question, please feel free to ask it, but please make it as specific as possible.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by aaminah on Tue, 23/02/2016 - 15:00

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Dear sir , I want to know which sentence is correct ? a or b a: Richard and I was excited last night . b: Richard and I were excited last night .

Hello aaminah,

The correct sentence is 'b'. Please note that normally we do not answer questions like this which may come from schoolwork or tests - that is not our job, I'm afraid!

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by aaminah on Tue, 23/02/2016 - 11:55

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Dear sir , I want to know which sentence is correct ? a or b a: Richard and I was exited last night . b: Richard and I were exited last night .

Hello aaminah,

I'm afraid neither of those sentences make sense to me. I presume that 'exit' means 'leave' here. But 'exit', 'go' and other intransitive verbs are not used in the passive, so these sentences are nonsensical.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Dona S on Tue, 23/02/2016 - 10:21

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Hi English Team, Is it grammatically correct if I say "I have been knowing her since 1990." Please explain. Thanks n kind regards, Dona

Hello Dona,

Although there are some exceptions, the continuous tenses are not normally used with verbs of thinking and feeling such as 'know'. 'I've known her since 1990' is the form you should use here.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by bakhtiar85 on Thu, 04/02/2016 - 18:58

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Hello, I wanted to ask if it is correct to change the second part of a conditional sentence instead of the first one (regarding 'if' and 'unless').e.g. If you don't read, you won't succeed. Unless you read, you will fail. I know that the second sentence is more correct if we say "unless you read, you won't succeed." Thank You

Submitted by Peter M. on Fri, 05/02/2016 - 07:09

In reply to by bakhtiar85

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Hello bakhtiar85,

I think all of those are perfectly grammatically correct. In terms of grammar, none of them are more or less correct.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Sir, he started his question with ' I wanted to ask...' ; I would like to know what would ' I want to know ' mean here ? ; what is the difference between the two ?

Submitted by Kirk on Mon, 27/03/2017 - 13:21

In reply to by dipakrgandhi

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Hello dipakrgandhi,

I'm not sure which sentence you're talking about -- I don't know who 'he' is -- but in any case, in general, when asking others something, 'I want to ask' is more polite than 'I want to know'. This is because it is less direct, which is one of the most important ways of being polite in English.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team