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What is the Verb To Be?

To be means being as in existing. I am, you are, he is, they are, are are all forms of being in the present (to be).

The verb 'to be' in text messages.
The verb ‘to be‘ in text messages. By Gflex on Canva.



What is the verb “to be”?

Hamlet was right: to be or not to be—that is the question, of this post at least. What is the verb to be? How does the verb to be conjugate in its various tenses? What even is verb conjugation? These terms probably sound familiar, but let’s understand what they really mean.

Forms of ‘to be’

Forms of the verb 'to be'.
Forms of the verb ‘to be‘.

The verb to be is deceptively simple, so try not to overthink it. To be describes existing: ‘I am’, ‘you are’, and ‘she is’ are all forms of the highly irregular verb ‘to be’. For a formal definition: Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the verb ‘be’ as “to take place: to occur”. Anything that is exists, and experiences the state of being that the verb ‘to be’ describes.

Regular or irregular?

Since being is taken literally as in existing, its use in English varies to refer to the past, present or future. Verb tenses refer to the different points in time at which things or people can be (read: exist). “To be” is a form of the base verb, “am”. This makes it highly irregular in English since its other tenses (was, is, are, were) look nothing like “i am”.

Most English verbs undergo some change in form to show tense, and other information like count, subject, and so on. A verb’s tense is the point in time at which the action or event occurs. We can think of verb tenses as slices of time, and the three main tenses are past, present, and future.

My brother saw a movie yesterday. (past)

I play football every weekend. (present)

I will write that email tomorrow. (future)

Likewise, to be has various verb conjugations based on the number of subjects and the tense:

To be verb forms. Made by Gflex on Canva.
Forms of to be. By Gflex on Canva.

Present tense of ‘to be‘ (are/am/is) examples:

The following sentences show the correct use of the present tense verb am/are in context:

1. I am going for a walk. (present tense first person singular of be)

2. Sarah is a good student. (third person and first person singular present tense of be)

3. You are a good student. (second person singular and third person present pl. of be)

4. They are good students. (third person pl. present of be)

5. We are good students. (first person plural present tense of be)

Past tense of ‘to be’ (was/were) examples:

The following sentences show the correct use of the past tense of the verb to be, was/were, in context:

1. I was out for a walk. (first person and third person singular past tense of be)

2. Sarah was a good student. (third person singular past tense of be)

3. We were good students. (first person plural past of be)

4. They were good students. (third person plural past of be)

5. You were a good student. (second person singular and plural past of be)

Future tense of ‘to be’ (I/she/they will) examples:

The following sentences show the correct use of the future tense verb will in context:

1. I will be a good student. (first person singular future tense of be)

2. Sarah will be a good student. (Third person singular future tense of be)

3. We will be good students. (first person plural present of be)

4. They will be good students (third person plural future tense of be)

5. You will be a good student. (second person sing. future tense of be)

Origin of the verb ”to be

From etymology online on to be (v.):

Old English beon, beom, bion “be, exist, come to be, become, happen,” from Proto-Germanic *biju- “I am, I will be.” This “b-root” is from PIE root *bheue- “to be, exist, grow,”.

Worksheet on the verb ‘to be’

Test your knowledge on the tenses of the verb, ‘to be’:

1. Present Simple Tense: I _______ happy.

a) am

b) is

c) are

2. Present Continuous Tense: She _______ studying for her exam.

a) am

b) is

c) are

3. Past Simple Tense: They _______ at the party last night.

a) am

b) is

c) were

4. Past Continuous Tense: At 3 PM yesterday, he _______ playing basketball.

a) am

b) is

c) was

5. Present Perfect Tense: We _______ to that museum before.

a) am

b) has

c) have

6. Future Simple Tense: She _______ here tomorrow.

a) am

b) is

c) will be

7. Future Continuous Tense: By this time tomorrow, they _______ traveling.

a) am

b) is

c) will be

8. Present Perfect Continuous Tense: He _______ working for hours.

a) am

b) is

c) has been

Answers

  1. a) am
  2. b) is
  3. c) were
  4. c) was
  5. c) have
  6. c) will be
  7. c) will be
  8. c) has been

Learn more about verbs

Sources  

  1. P.C. Wren and Martin’s English Grammar and Composition

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