The verb “to BE”

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The verb “to be” is a very important verb in the English language. It is used in many situations.

The verb “to be” is irregular. It doesn’t have the same form or follow the same grammar rules as regular verbs.

In this lesson about the verb “to be”, you will learn the following:

  • The present form (affirmative, negative and question form)
  • The past form (affirmative, negative and question form)
  • The past participle
  • The meaning and use of the verb TO BE with examples.

Present form of the verb “to be”

Affirmative

Full form Contracted form
I am I’m
you are you’re
he / she / it is he’s / she’s / it’s
we are we’re
you are you’re
they are they’re

 

Negative form

Full form Contracted form
I am not I’m not
you are not you’re not
he / she / it is not he’s / she’s / it’s not
we are not we’re not
you are not you’re not
they are not they’re not

 

Question form

am I?
are you?
is he? / is she? / is it?
are we?
are you?
are they?

 

 

 

 

 

Past form of the verb “to be”

Affirmative past form

I was
you were
he was / she was / it was
we were
you were
they were

 

Negative past form

Full form Contracted form
I was not I wasn’t
you were not you weren’t
he / she / it was not he wasn’t / she wasn’t / it wasn’t
we were not we weren’t
you were not you weren’t
they were not they weren’t

 

Past question form

was I?
were you?
was he? / was she? / was it?
were we?
were you?
were they?

Past participle of the verb “to be”

The past participle of the verb to BE is “been“.

We use the past participle in many situations. The most common is the present perfect:

I have been
you have been
he has / she has / it has   been
we have been
you have been
they have been

 

Use and meaning of the verb TO BE

There are 2 common types of use of the verb “to be”:

  1. As a main verb
  2. As an auxiliary verb (helping verb)

Let’s look at each type in more detail:

The verb “to be” as a main verb

As a main verb, “to be” has 2 uses:

“to be” indicates the existence of a person or thing.
“to be” gives us more information about a person or thing.

As a main verb, the verb “to be” acts as a linking verb.
A linking verb does NOT describe an action.
A linking verb gives us more information about the subject of the sentence.
A linking verb does NOT take a direct object.
A linking verb takes a complement.

There are 3 types of complement with the verb “to be”:

“to be” + noun

Examples:
I am a teacher.
You are a student.
Jane is a doctor.

“to be” + adjective

Examples:

Tired girl
Image by stockimages | FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I was tired.
You are old.
Mark is sad.
We were hungry.

“to be” + prepositional phrase

Examples:
I was in the kitchen.
You are under the bridge.
They are from Japan.

The verb “to be” as an auxiliary verb

An auxiliary verb is also called a “helping” verb. It helps another main verb.

Example:
I am walking. (present continuous tense)

In the above example, the sentence is in the present continuous tense. The present continuous tense has 2 parts. – 1) the verb “to be” (I am), acting as an auxiliary verb and 2) walking (the main verb)

There are 2 common uses of “to be” as an auxiliary verb:

  1. “to be” + ING form of the main verb (continuous tenses)
  2. “to be” + past participle (passive voice)

Let’s look at each use in more detail:

“to be” + ING form of main verb

Here are the most common continuous verb tenses. They are each made up of the verb to be in a specific tense PLUS the main verb in the ING form.

Present continuous:
I am walking
you are walking
he / she / it    is walking
we are walking
you are walking
they are walking

Past continuous:
I was walking
you were walking
he / she / it    was walking
we were walking
you were walking
they were walking

Future continuous:
I will be walking
you will be walking
he / she / it    will be walking
we will be walking
you will be walking
they will be walking

Present perfect continuous:
I have been walking
you have been walking
he / she / it   has been walking
we have been walking
you have been walking
they have been walking

 

Passive voice

“to be” + past participle

We use different tenses of the verb BE followed by the past participle of the main verb to form the passive voice.

Examples:

The dog is called Toby. (present tense, passive voice)
The kitchen was cleaned yesterday. (past tense, passive voice)
The shirts were made in China. (past tense, passive voice)
My car has been stolen. (present perfect tense, passive voice)
The bridge will be built next year. (future tense, passive voice)

Shafey Barakat
CELTA Certified English Instructor
Professionals' Development Analyst
Moodle Administrator

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