Grammar

To Be Verbs: Know Some Uses

Verbs play a very special role in the English language. Every sentence must have a verb. However, there are...

Victoria Mac Callum Written by Victoria Mac Callum · 3 min read >
to be verbs

Verbs play a very special role in the English language. Every sentence must have a verb. However, there are many verb forms in English, which might get confusing to learn without proper guidance. On this page, we cover all the key things you should know about “to be” verbs.

What are to be verbs?

In English, “to be” verbs are used in almost every sentence to describe things/ people, say things according to context (present, continuous, etc.), and to talk about feelings, names, age, profession, nationalities, and so on.

All complete English sentences must have a verb, but some only carry “to be verbs”. This is especially true for sentences that do not describe an action – like the sentence “I am a student.”

Unlike regular verbs, “to be verbs” are extremely versatile and change irregularly when used with different subjects, tenses or contexts. Read on to find out more about forms and usages of the “to be” verb.

To be verbs list

The English “to b e” verbs include:

  • am
  • are
  • were
  • is
  • was
  • being
  • been

As mentioned earlier, the verb “to be” is very irregular. It takes many forms according to tense (present, past, present participle, and past participle) as well as the subject of the sentence. Let’s break these verb forms down.

Base Form (Be)

Also called the main verb, this is the most basic way a verb can appear in a sentence. The main verb type is the one you use to search in the English dictionary. It is often used with the imperatives or infinitives forms.

  • Example (imperative): Be careful with the eggs!

         Be in school by 8 am.

  • Example (infinitive): she likes to be alone

           I want to be in the house

Present Form of to be verb

This type of “to be” is primarily used with the simple present tense. Its meaning and representation can vary depending on the context and subject. The present form of to be verbs can also be shortened by the use of an apostrophe (‘). Here are some examples:

  • I am in the living room = I’m in the living room.
  • You are going too fast! = You’re going too fast!
  • He is my favorite = He’s my favorite.
  • She is going away = She’s going away.
  • It is raining outside = It’s raining outside.
  • We are coming with you = We’re coming with you.
  • They are at home = They’re at home.

Past Tense

This tense is used to show that an event already took place. A “to be” verb changes in the past tense. For example, “I am” changes to “I was” and “you are” becomes “you were.” Here are examples of the same sentences above written in the past tense:

  • I was in the living room
  • you were going too fast
  • he was my favorite
  • you were going away
  • it was raining outside
  • we were coming with you
  • they were at home

Past Participle

Also known as past progressive, this type of “to b.e” is written as “been.” It is used to make sentences in perfect as well as passive tenses. Unlike most other forms of “to be,” it does not change with the subject of sentences.

Example in perfect form:

  • He has been in the library all afternoon.
  • They have been competing for employee of the year.
  • You have been a great study partner
  • We have been playing foosball
  • I have been looking for you

Example in passive form:

  • The boy could have been hit by a car.
  • You should have been in class.

Note: the passive form is where interest/ emphasis is put on the recipient of the action rather than the person or object executing it.

Present Participle

Also referred to as continuous or present progressive, the present participle of “to be” is being.  It is a progressive verb that shows an action is still occurring. Just like been, the present progressive also doesn’t change with the subject of the sentence. For Example:

  • The baby is being rude.
  • You were being unfair to them.
  • They are being helpful in the kitchen.
  • John and Janet were being crazy on the dancefloor.

To be verbs in negative sentences

When used in negative sentences, you always have to add the word “not” after the “be” verb except for the main form, and past/ present participle. For instance:

  • Main form: I do not want to be in the house
  • Present: I’m not in the living room
  • Past: I was not in the living room
  • Past participle:  He has not been in the library all afternoon
  • The boy could not have been hit by a car

Also, the ‘be’ verb can be combined with “not” to create a short form for use in negative sentences. For example:

  • He isn’t my favorite.
  • The two aren’t coming.
  • They weren’t at home.

To be verbs in questions

“To be” can also be used at the start of a sense to create yes/no questions in English. For example:

  • Are you going to the festival?
  • Is the baby eating well?
  • Were they studying together?

Here are answers to a few more questions you might have concerning “to be” verbs.

Is be a verb?

Yes, as we have seen in the base form section, “be” in itself is the main verb. It describes a state of existence, occurrence, or taking place.

Example: The marathon will be in summer next year

Is from a verb?

No; “from” is not a verb. It is a preposition that indicates a point in time or space. For example:

Space: The distance from London to New York is 3,459 miles

Time: I will be in town from Tuesday to Saturday

Is by a verb?

Just like “from,” ” by” is not a verb but rather used as a preposition. It may also serve as a noun or adverb. For example:

adverb: He drove by and didn’t wave at us.

preposition: The spread of Coronavirus can be controlled by wearing masks and sanitizing.

When used as a noun in the English language, “by” is simply a variant of “bye”.

What is an auxiliary verb?

An auxiliary verb is one that functions to create the mood, express tense, tone, aspect, emphasis, and modality in a sentence.

Simply put, an auxiliary verb adds grammatical or functional meaning to the sentence/ clause, whereas the main verb is responsible for providing the primary semantic context of the sentence.

From what we have covered above, therefore, “to be” qualifies for an auxiliary verb. Other types of auxiliary verbs include:

  • To Have: has, had, have, having, will have
  • To Do: do, did, does, will do
Written by Victoria Mac Callum
Victoria honed up her English language skills in the Media Industry working at a campus radio station in 2014. Since then, she has upgraded to more demanding roles of English teacher on Preply and course creator. She's also a radio presenter, news anchor, voice-over artist, writer and editor. Profile
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