be

Listen:

UK:*UK and possibly other pronunciationsUK and possibly other pronunciations strong: /ˈbiː/, weak: /bi/

US:USA pronuncation: IPAUSA pronuncation: IPA/bi; unstressed bi, bɪ/

US:USA pronunciation: respellingUSA pronunciation: respelling(bē; unstressed bē, bi)



Inflections of 'be' (v): (⇒ conjugate)
am
v 1st person singular
is
v 3rd person singular
are
v 2nd person singular; 1st, 2nd, & 3rd person plural
was
v past 1st & 3rd person singular
were
v past 2nd person singular; 1st, 2nd, & 3rd person plural
being
v pres pverb, present participle: -ing verb used descriptively or to form progressive verb--for example, "a singing bird," "It is singing."
been
v past pverb, past participle: Verb form used descriptively or to form verbs--for example, "the locked door," "The door has been locked."
be
v present subjunctive
were
v past subjunctive
WordReference Collins English Usage © 2020
be
forms
Be is the most common verb in English. It is used in many different ways.
The present tense forms of be are am, are, and is, and the past tense forms are was and were. Be is both an auxiliary and a main verb.
...a problem which is getting worse.
It was about four o'clock.
Auxiliary verbs
Am, is, and are are not usually pronounced in full. When you write down what someone says, you usually represent am and is using 'm and 's.
I’m sorry,' I said.
‘But it’s not possible,' Lili said.
‘Okay,’ he said. ‘Your brother’s going to take you to Grafton.'
You can also represent are using 're, but only after a pronoun.
‘We’re winning,' he said.
You can also use the forms 'm, 's and 're when you are writing in a conversational style.
Contractions
used as an auxiliary
Be is an auxiliary when forming continuous tenses and passives.
She was watching us.
Several apartment buildings were destroyed.
Verb forms
In conversation, get is often used to form passives.
➜ See get
used as a main verb
You use be as a main verb when you are describing things or people or giving information about them. After be, you use a complement. A complement is either an adjective or a noun group.
We were very happy.
He is now a teenager.
Complements
indicating someone's job
When be is followed by a noun group indicating a unique job or position within an organization, you do not have to put ‘the’ in front of the noun.
At one time you wanted to be President.
Be careful
Make is sometimes used instead of ‘be’ to say how successful someone is in a particular job or role. For example, instead of saying ‘He will be a good president’, you can say ‘He will make a good president’.
indicating age and cost
You can talk about a person's age by using be followed by a number.
Rose Gibson is twenty-seven.
You can also use be to say how much something costs.
How much is it?
It's five pounds.
Age Money
with prepositional phrases
You can use many kinds of prepositional phrase after be.
He was still in a state of shock.
I'm from Dortmund originally.
...people who are under pressure.
with to-infinitives
You sometimes use to-infinitive clauses after be.
The talks are to begin tomorrow.
What is to be done?
Infinitives
in questions and negative clauses
When you use be as a main verb in questions and negative clauses, you do not use the auxiliary ‘do’.
Are you OK?
Is she Rick's sister?
I was not surprised.
It was not an easy task.
in continuous tenses
Be is not usually a main verb in continuous tenses. However, you can use it in continuous tenses to describe someone's behaviour at a particular time.
You're being very silly.
‘be’ and ‘become’
Do not confuse be with become. Be is used to indicate that someone or something has a particular quality or nature, or is in a particular situation. Become is used to indicate that someone or something changes in some way.
Before he became Mayor he had been a tram driver.
It was not until 1845 that Texas became part of the U.S.A.
➜ See become
after ‘there’
Be is often used after there to indicate the existence or occurrence of something.
Clearly there is a problem here.
There are very few cars on this street.
There was nothing new in the letter.
Be careful
You cannot use be without there to indicate that something exists or happens. You cannot say, for example, ‘Another explanation is’ or ‘Another explanation must be’. You must say ‘There is another explanation’ or ‘There must be another explanation’.
➜ See there
after ‘it’
Be is often used after it to describe something such as an experience, or to comment on a situation.
It was very quiet in the hut.
It was awkward keeping my news from Ted.
It's strange you should come today.
➜ See it
‘have been’
If you have visited a place and have now come back from it, British speakers say that you have been there.
I have been to Santander many times.
➜ See go
'be' also found in these entries:
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