Grammar-QuizzesVerb PhrasesVerbsPresent TenseBe

 

Be (copular/linking verb)

Describe, identify or locate the subject

happy children
 

Static be vs. Dynamic be

STATIC "BE"

Be ("copula") links the subject of the clause to the following word that describes, identifies, or locates the subject. Be has no particular meaning other than "equivalent to". Be does not usually express action.

BE + ADJ    [DESCRIBING / ASCRIPTIVE]

Sara is beautiful(Adj) links description to subject

She is joyful(Adj)   

She is very playful(AdjP)   

BE + NOUN (NP)   [IDENTIFYING / SPECIFYING]

She is a child.  (NP)  links identification to subject

She is my sister.  (NP) 

BE + PREP PHRASE (PP)    [LOCATING / LOCATIVE]

She is in the gardenlinks location (place) to subject

She is on timelinks location in time to subject

BE + PHRASE   [CIRCUMSTANCIAL OR IDENTIFYING]

She is up to mischief.  (PP) links circumstance

Jack is on his way.  (PP) links circumstance

What he wants is justice. (What-phrase) identification

BE + CLAUSE  [EXPLANATORY]

The reason is he was treated unfairly.   (The reason is)  links content

The point is everyone should be treated fairly.  links content

DYNAMIC"BE"

Occasionally, be has a dynamic meaning. As a lexical verb it means do, act, behave, think or achieve. Take action to change. With this meaning, the auxiliary do is used in negative sentences but not in questions.

IMPERATIVE

Be all that you can be.  Be a man.  achieve 

Be joyful. behave   Be quick. move, think

Be there on time. arrive (not progressive)

NEGATIVE

Don't be late. arrive   Don't be silly. act

Why don't you be serious? behave

PROGRESSIVE "CURRENTLY"

She is being careful. moving, thinking

You are being silly.  acting, behaving

QUESTION "CURRENTLY"

Are you being serious with me?  thinking

Are you being silly?  behaving

Is he being a sore loser? behaving

TAG-QUESTION  ("AGREE WITH ME")

You are being careful, aren't you? behaving, moving

You won't be late, will you? behaving, moving

 

copular verb (Adj) — a copula links the subject of a clause to the predicate, a word that describes or identifies.

silly (Adj) – joking, not serious

up to mischief (N) — acting playfully or annoyingly, bothersome

Related page "Be"–Lexical or Auxiliary?

Also see States of Being (static verbs).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Be"

Identifying vs. describing

 

 

 

Identifying (specifying) be vs. Describing (ascriptive) be

IDENTIFYING:   BE + NOUN

The verb be is identifying ("specifying") when it is followed by a noun, phrase or clause that identifies the subject noun. Note that the elements before and after "be" may be interchanged without affecting meaning. Identifying be has the "reciprocal property" [A=B and B=A].                 

SUBJ PRED COMPLEMENT
NP V DEFINITE NOUN

Sara

My little sister

is

←→

my little sister.

Sara.

The neighbor you met

That girl

is

←→

that girl.

the neighbor you met.

    REDUCED CLAUSE

Her strength

Being curious

is

←→

being curious.

her strength.

    CLAUSE

Her strength

That she is curious

is

←→

that she is curious

her strength.

    PREP PHRASE

Lunchtime

~At noon  (Noon)

is

←→

at noon.

lunchtime.

DESCRIBING:  BE + ADJECTIVE

The verb be is describing ("ascriptive") when it is followed by an adjective or indefinite noun that describes a quality of the subject noun. Describing be does not have the "reciprocal property". Interchanging the words before and after be affects the meaning. [A=B but B≠A]

SUBJ PRED COMPLEMENT
NP V ADJECTIVE

Sara

Happy¹

is

is  ≠

happy.  (ADJ)

Sara.

Sara

is

tired.

a little tired.

    INDEFINITE NOUN

Sara

is  

a pleasure.

a joy. 

    INDEF NOUN PHRASE

Sara

is  

a lovely child.

a joy to be with. 

    PREP PHRASE

Sara

In her room²

is  

is  ≠

in her room.

Sara.

ascriptive (Adj) – describing, stating the quality or character of something or someone

specifying (Adj) – identifying, telling which one

¹An adjective does not normally function as a subject (Exc: Happy is what I want to be.)

²A preposition can only function as a subject if it is identifying.  (e.g., In her room  is where she must stay.)

complement —an element that is required by the subject or verb to complete the meaning of the sentence such as a direct object (DO), indirect object (IO), or predicative complement (PC). The examples above are predicate complements.

reduced clause — nonfinite clause such as a gerund, infinitive or particle clause

Also see: Preps for Time–BeModifying Quantity Clauses with "Be"  The reason is –"be"  (The reason is...)

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Be" Forms

Marking first, second and third person

 

 

 

"Be" is marked for person (1st, 2nd and 3rd)

BE

Be is unlike other verbs in that it is marked for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd person am, are, and is in the present and was and were in the past.

SINGULAR PLURAL

I am here. (1st)

I was here.

We are  here. 

We were  here. 

You are here. (2nd)

You were here.

You (all) are here.

You (all) were here.

She/He/It is here. (3rd)

She/He/It was here.

They are here.

They were here.

OTHER VERBS

Other verbs have one form that marks 3rd person singular as different from the rest in present tense.

SINGULAR PLURAL

I take classes.

I took classes.

We take classes.

We took classes.

You take classes.

You took classes.

You (all) take classes.

You (all) took classes.

She/He takes classes.

She/He took classes.

They take classes.

They took classes.

 

take classes — attend classes I take classes at the community center. (a series); But: I have a class at 3:00 p.m. (one class)

Also see "Be"–Lexical or Auxiliary?.

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Be" not "Have"

Complements

 

 

 

Be not Have with modifiers

BE – PHYSICAL CONDITIONS

Be is used to link comments about hunger, thirst, and other personal conditions. These are descriptive words.

is afraid

is awake

is cold

is hot

is hungry

is lucky

is right

is sleepy

is thirsty

is right

is wrong

is warm

is alive

is sick / dead

BE – PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

Be is also used to link comments about age, height, weight, size and color. Note that we use be not have for age.

is five-years-old (age)

is young (age)

is thirty (age)

is old (age)

is tall  (height)

is short (height)

is light (weight)

is heavy (weight)

is ten-feet long (length)

is one-inch wide (width)

is red (color)

is striped (pattern)

is size 8 (sizes)

is 65 kilos (weight) 

 

Also see have expressions Possession States.

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Be"

Lexical or Auxiliary Verb?

 

 

 

"Be" Lexical vs. Auxiliary

LEXICAL PROPERTIES

A lexical verb has a dictionary meaning (e.g., walk, read) an auxiliary verb combines with other verbs to form meaning (e.g., do, has, is). Be has characteristics of both lexical and auxiliary verbs. As a lexical verb, be can be inflected with tense and person or exist as the main verb of a sentence.

ASCRIPTIVE – EQUATES A QUALITY TO SOMEONE OR SOMETHING

Charlie is a clever student.     

Charlie isn't a clever student. (inflects with negation)

Is Charlie ___ a clever student?  (inverts the auxiliary with the subject)
    move left

Charlie is a clever student, and I am too.  (is included in "and…too" expressions)

They don't think Charlie is clever, but he is(is used for emphasis)

Charlie is a clever student, isn't he?   (negative aux. tagged-on as question)

IDENTIFYING – TELLS WHICH ONE OR WHICH PERSON

Charlie is the troublemaker.   

MOTIONAL

Charlie has been to the Principal's office twice already.  (has gone) 

LEXICAL – BECOME (DYNAMIC VERB)

Why don't you be more considerate? Note the "do" support!

 

 

AUXILIARY PROPERTIES

Be as an auxiliary verb expresses no particular meaning; it combines with other verbs to form tenses: progressive, passive, or quasi-modal.  The auxiliary be (not do) is used in marking a negation, a question, a tag- question or a paired conjunction/negation.                                                  

PROGRESSIVE

Charlie was raising his hand.  

Charlie wasn't raising his hand. (negation)

Was Charlie ___ raising his hand? (question)
    move left

Charlie was raising his hand, and I was too. (paired conj.)

The teacher didn't think Charlie was raising his hand, but he was. (paired neg.)

Charlie was raising his hand, wasn't he? (tag-question)

PASSIVE

Charlie was told to sit down.

PASSIVE PROGRESSIVE

Charlie was being kept in the Principal's office.  (aux + gerund-participle + past part.)

*QUASI-MODAL –  will / be going to

You are not to tell anyone. *

Occurs only as a primary form.  See Am going to / Am to

Charlie is not to raise his hand again.

Are we to be here all day?

 

Lexical vs. Auxiliary Verb—lexical verbs have  dictionary meaning; auxiliary verbs combine with other verbs to form meaning.

Also see Specifying "be".

NICE Properties (Huddleston 3 §2) (Payne 11.1) (Aarts 3.6.3.1)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Common Mistakes

Errors and Solutions

 

 

Error and Solution

ERROR

I sleepy.  

It strange to see that.

He have twenty-one years.

I have cold.

Hello.  May I speak to Albert.
This is him.  

SOLUTION

I am sleepy.   (Missing verb–use be as the verb.)

It is strange to see that.  (Missing verb–use be as the verb.)

He is twenty-one-years old.  (Use be not have.)

I am cold. cold (Adj) – chilly  /  I have a cold.   a cold (N) – a common illness that affects the nose 

This is he.  / This is him See Pronouns after "be"

 

Related Article:   "Make-or-Break Verbs", New York Times, Web 16 Apr 2012 Story

 

 

 

 

 

 

► Show Grammar Notes and Works Cited ▼ Hide Grammar Notes

Grammar Notes (Advanced)

Traditional and Linguistic Description

 

 

 

Traditional and Linguistic Description

TRADITIONAL DESCRIPTION

The Verb Be—A sentence with be as the main verb has three basic patterns.  (Azar A-5)

  • be + noun  John is a student.
  • be + adjective  John is intelligent.
  • be + prepositional phrase  John is in the library.

Linking Verbs—Other verbs like be that may be followed immediately by an adjective are called "linking verbs." An adjective following a linking verb describes the subject of a sentence. (Azar A-6)

  • feel, look, smell, sound, taste
  • appear, seem
  • become (get, turn, grow with the meaning of become)

 

 
LINGUISTIC DESCRIPTION

Copular verbs (or copulas) are used to associate some attribute, expressed by the subject predicative following the verb, with the subject of the clause.  You're stupid.  The copula be links the attribute very stupid with the subject you.

There are a few verbs that function as copulas:

  • current copular verbsbe, seem, appear, keep, remain, stay
    • likelihood— seem and appear
    • continuation of existing state—remain, keep, stay
    • personal attitude—seem
  • resulting copular verbsbecome, get, go, grow, prove, come, turn, turn out, end up, wind up.

Predicatives are depictive (seem) or resultative (became). (Huddleston 4 §4.5)

There are two kinds of copular clauses. (Huddleston 4 §5)

  • His daughter is very bright.  [ascriptive]
  • The winner was his daughter. [specifying]

There are two syntactically distinct be verbs in English: a lexical main verb and an auxiliary. The syntactic differences of the two bes are related to the semantic difference between stativity and activity.

(Payne 269)

 

Word Categories: N – Noun; V – Verb; Aux – Auxiliary; Adj – Adjective; Adv – Adverb; P –Preposition; Det –Determiner.

Phrasal Categories: NP – Noun Phrase; VP – Verb Phrase; AdjP – Adjective Phrase; AdvP – Adverb Phrase; PP – Prepositional Phrase; DP – Determinative Phrase.

Clausal Categories: Cls – clause; F – finite clause; NF – nonfinite clause (Ger – gerund; Inf – infinitive; PPart – past participle).

Word Functions: Subj – subject; Pred – predicate/predicator; Compcomplement: elements required by an expression to complete its meaning (DO – direct object; IO – indirect object);  Adjunctadjunct: elements not required by an expression to complete its meaning (Subord – subordinator; Coord – coordinator); Suplsupplement: a clause or phrase added onto a clause that is not closely related to the central thought or structure of the main clause.

 

 

 

Works Cited

  • Aarts, Bas. Oxford Modern English Grammar. Oxford UP, 2011.
  • Azar, Betty Schrampfer, and Stacy A. Hagen. Understanding and Using English Grammar. 4th ed., Pearson Education, 2009.
  • Biber, Douglas, and Stig Johansson, et al. Longman Grammar Of Spoken And Written English. Pearson Education, 1999.
  • Huddleston, Rodney D., and Geoffrey K. Pullum. The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. Cambridge UP, 2002.
  • Payne, Thomas Edward. Understanding English Grammar: A Linguistic Introduction. Cambridge UP, 2011.
  • Swan, Michael. Practical English Usage. 3rd ed., Oxford UP, 2005.

 

 

 

 

Practice 1

Robert

hiding behind the door
 

 

Complete the paragraph with the correct verb forms.

  1. Select the response from the list that best completes the sentence.
  2. Compare your response to the feedback by clicking the "check" button.

 

1.
2.
Tom
Feedback
Tom But the jumping and licking
3.
Tommy protests¹ and says, So don't make fun of me! "
Feedback
Tommy protests and says, I don't like it at all. So don't make fun of me!"
 

¹ protest (V) — strongly disagree, claim unfairness or injustice

² slobbery (Adj) — disagreeably wet, dripping with saliva

 

 

 

 

 

Practice 2

Identifying, Describing and Locating

 

 

 

Does the information following "be" identify, describe or locate the subject?

  1. Select an option
  2. Compare your response to the feedback by clicking the "check " button at the bottom.

 

16.
My sister and I are students of traditional dance.

       

17.
We are in a dance class together.

       

18.
My sister is graceful.

       

19.
I like to watch her when she is on the dance floor.

       

20.
She is the best is the class.

       

 

 

 

 

 

Practice 3

Career Work

programming
 

Read for Errors

Rudy a computer programmer. He gets up early and in his office by 9 a.m. every day.  He very skillful and does good work.  He at his desk probably 14 hours a day.  He a clever person. Often he tired at night and don't want to go out.

He in a bad mood. So, he sit and watch TV and be quiet.  Maybe he in the wrong job.  If he unhappy, he should get a better job, but for now his salary good. So, he will stay in his job for a while longer.

programmer (N) –a person who writes programs or applications for computers

salary (N) – money that one receives for working

 

 

 

 

Edit for Errors

  1. Edit the sentence(s) in the text box.
  2. Compare your response to the feedback by clicking the "Check" or the "Check 1-10" button.

 

21.
Rudy a computer programmer.


22.
He gets up early and in his office by 9 a.m. every day.


23.
He very skillful and does good work.


24.
He at his desk probably 14 hours a day.


25.
He a clever person.


26.
Often he tired at night and don't want to go out.


27.
He in a bad mood.


28.
So, he sit and watch TV and be quiet.


29.
Maybe he in the wrong job.


30.
If he unhappy, he should get a better job, but for now his salary good.