Be

To be or not to be, that is the question. Have you ever considered what 'to be' means and does in English grammar? We will explain everything so buckle up.

How to Use "To Be" Verb in the English Grammar

The verb be is used very often in English grammar. The verb be is used as an auxiliary verb or a main verb. In this lesson, we will learn all about it.

Functions of 'To Be'

  1. Auxiliary Verb
  2. Main Verbs

1. 'To Be' as an Auxiliary Verb

Use

The verb 'to be' as an auxiliary verb has no specific meaning and it is used to show the tense or voice of the main verb. There are two ways in which the verb 'to be' is used:

  • 'To be' is used in to make a present participle and form a progressive aspect. For example:

I am learning French.

'Am' here makes a present continuous tense.

She was looking at the mirror.

'Was' here makes a past continuous tense.

They will be doing exercises.

'Be' here makes a near-future tense.

  • The verb 'to be' as an auxiliary verb is used in the passive voice. For example:

I was told to be there.

'Was' here makes a simple past passive.

Those books will be sold later.

'Be' here makes a simple future passive.

Position in a Sentence

The position of the auxiliary verb 'be' is changed in a sentence depending on the presence of the verb have or modal verbs. In other words, the tense, then the voice of the verb is prioritized. Look:

They are doing exercise.

'Doing' is the main verb and the auxiliary verb 'are' comes before it.

It has been made.

The auxiliary verb 'been' is placed after 'has' because 'has' makes the perfect tense.

_Has it been made? _ No, it hasn't been made yet.

As you see, we make questions and negations with 'has.'

It will have been made.

The modal verb comes before 'have been.'

Contraction & Negation of 'To Be'

This table shows some examples of the contraction, negation, and negative contractions of the verb to be:

contraction negation negative contraction
I am I'm I am not I'm not
she is she's she is not she isn't/she's not
they are they're they are not they aren't/ they're not
I was - I was not I wasn't
they were - they were not they weren't

For example:

I'm not a doctor, I'm a dentist.

They're over there.

2. 'To Be' as a Main Verb

Use

The verb 'to be' as the main verb adds a specific meaning to the sentence. It can be used in two ways:

  • The verb 'to be' can be the linking verb and connect the subject complement to the subject. In other words, linking verbs add more information to the sentence. Look:

I am happy.

There is a book over there.

I am there.

'There' is an adverb.

She will be 20.

She will be at the grocery store.

'At the grocery store' is a prepositional phrase.

Position in a Sentence

The verb 'to be' as the main verb acts like other main verbs and expresses the action of the doer. Note that, the verb 'be', unlike other verbs, does not take the auxiliary verb 'do' in questions or negations. For example:

A : Are you there?

B : No, I'm not there.

Conjugation

Here is the conjugation with the verb 'to be.' Look:

  • present
singular plural
I am we are
you are you are
she/he/it is they are
  • past
singular plural
I was we were
you were you were
she/he was they were
  • progressive
present past
I am doing I was doing
she/he is doing she/he was doing
we/you/they are doing we/you/they were doing
  • past participle
singular plural
I have/had been we have/had been
you have/had been you have/had been
she/he has been they have/had been

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