Be Verbs

What are Be Verbs?

Fundamentally, Be verbs (also, “Being” verbs or “To-Be” verbs) are irregular verbs that indicate states of being or conditions. Here are Be Verbs in their different forms:

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

By themselves, they don’t really mean anything but they are necessary for a wide variety of grammatical functions. They can function as main verbs, auxiliary verbs, and linking verbs. Additionally, the participial forms of verbs can’t stand alone without Be verbs. They’re also often used with modal expressions.

Let’s look at examples of Be verbs and some of their functions in sentences:

  • I am waiting for the architect’s portfolio. (present progressive/continuous tense)
  • Is the English teacher strict? (affirmative question)
  • They are members of the drama club. (main/linking verb)
  • Nigel and Lillian weren’t amenable to the changes. (negative main/linking verb)
  • The participants could be late. The airport queues are long. (modal expression)
  • My friends and I have been to that part of the island. (present perfect tense)

Becoming skilled at using Be verbs can be a challenge due to their wide range of meanings and usage. In this article, we will cover not just their forms and uses but also the best practices for mastering Be Verbs and the common errors made by English language learners that you should avoid them.

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Be Verbs General Rules

1. Subject-Verb Agreement and Be Verbs in Tenses

As helping or auxiliary verbs, Be Verbs are conjugated differently in tenses. They must also follow subject-verb agreement rules. Let’s look at the following table:

SubjectPresent TensePast tense
he/she/it and singular subjectsiswas
we/you/they and plural subjectsarewere
Be Verbs Conjugation Table

Note: Remember that Be verbs are conjugated as “been” in perfect tenses. As a main verb, their present participial form is “being” and their past participial form is “been.”

2. Be Verbs Contractions in the Present Tense

Most native English speakers use contractions regularly, especially in everyday conversations. The following table shows the rules and format of Be verbs in affirmative and negative sentence structures in the present tense. Take note that we’re still following subject-verb agreement rules. We will use pronouns as subjects in this table:

Present Tense
Affirmative FormContractionNegative FormContraction
I amI’mI am notI’m not
you areyou’reyou are notyou’re not
he ishe’she is nothe’s not
she isshe’sshe is notshe’s not
it isit’sit is notit’s not
we arewe’rewe are notwe’re not
they arethey’rethey are notthey’re not
Be Verbs Present Tense Contractions Table

In the present tense, the negative contractions in this list can be used interchangeably with “you aren’t”, “he isn’t”, “she isn’t”, “it isn’t”, “we aren’t” and “they aren’t.”

3. Be Verbs Contractions in the Past Tense

Let’s take a look at contractions in the past tense:

Past Tense
Affirmative FormContractionNegative FormContraction
I wasI wasI was notI wasn’t
you wereyou wereyou were notyou weren’t
he washe washe was nothe wasn’t
she wasshe wasshe was notshe wasn’t
it wasit wasit wasn’tit wasn’t
we arewe werewe were notwe weren’t
they arethey werethey were notthey weren’t
Be Verbs Past Tense Contractions Table

Take note that in the affirmative sentence in the past tense, we don’t use contractions. Also, negative contractions in the present tense don’t have counterparts in the past tense.

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Be Verbs as Main Verbs Rules and Uses

Often, Be verbs also function as linking verbs when used as main verbs. The following table lists the uses of Be Verbs as the main verbs in sentences:

QualitiesBe Verbs are used to describe permanent and temporary qualities, states, or conditions. For example:

– The sky was downcast.
– Those were terrible times.
– Pizza is so good at this restaurant.
AgeWe also use Be verbs to talk about how old subjects are. For example:

– She can’t enter the bar because she isn’t 18 yet.
– How old are the twins?
– We were in our twenties when we met in Thailand.
PlaceWe can use Be verbs to describe where subjects are located. For example:

– Golda’s cottage is on top of a cliff.
– They were in Cambridge last summer.
– Her new fruit stands are spread in the old quarter.
TimeTime and dates can be stated by Be verbs. For example:

– Klaus and Betina are always early.
– The meeting was at 7.
– What time is Jean’s birthday party?
Nationality and Group IdentityBe verbs are used to talk about a subject’s nationality and their affiliations to a club, team, and so on. For example:

– She has been a fan since the band’s debut.
Is Yuri Russian or Japanese?
– They are on the sales team.
Jobs and ProfessionsWe can use Be verbs to indicate what people do for a living. For example:

Wasn’t he a nurse a few years ago?
– Both my sisters are interior designers.
– Our ancestor was the leader of the King’s guard.
RelationshipsRelationships can be described by Be verbs. For example:

– Lydia is my aunt.
Weren’t they best friends in high school?
I’m Bobby’s grandson. Yes, Don is my father.
Behavior and PersonalityWe can use Be verbs to describe the way subjects behave and their nature or character. For example:

– Her children can be difficult to control.
Is Robert always so quiet?
– Roydon was always gentle with the new hires.
Be Verbs Rules and Uses Table

Be Verbs as Auxiliary Verbs Rules

Be verbs are used as auxiliary or helping verbs to indicate the progressive or continuous aspects of tenses. They are needed to form the present and past progressive tenses and all the other progressive tenses. Let’s take a look at the following table:

Present Progressiveam/is/are + present participle– I am bringing some wine to the party.
– Sally and Rob are performing with a band.
– Petra is enjoying the attention.
Past Progressivewas/were + present participle– Wilma was talking to Tomas when the car pulled up.
– We were dancing on the balcony an hour ago.
– Norman was reading the letter in the pantry.
Future progressivewill be + present participle– Esther will be playing the piano at the dinner.
– Olivia will be joining us at the clubhouse.
– Boris will be opening another gallery next summer.
Present Perfect Progressivehas/have been + present participle– Twyla has been working at the cafe for a year.
– Did you know that Tanya has been living with the Kims?
– Kit and Fe have been researching the origins of the manuscript.
Past Perfect Progressivehad been + present participle– They had been walking all day so they could use some rest.
– The workers were thirsty because they had been picking apples in the July heat.
– Ryan had been acting for a decade before he gave up.
Future Perfect Progressivewill have been + present participle– We will have been sewing for three days on Saturday.
– I will have been working here for a year in September.
– In June, the family will have been living in this house for 5 years.
Be Verbs as Auxiliary Verbs Rules

Reminder: Tenses with modal auxiliaries or modal expressions use Be verbs as well. For example:

  • We must be willing to do what others will not.
  • Alona must have been studying the family tree to get all that information.
  • They could have been cooking with used oil, for all we know.
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Be Verbs in Passive Voice Rules

As auxiliary verbs, Be verbs can be used to form passive tenses. In this instance, Be verbs are followed by the past participle of verbs.

Passive Voice
PresentPastFuturePresent PerfectPast PerfectFuture Perfect
am/is/are + past participlewas/were + past participlewill be + past participlehas/have been + past participlehad been + past participlewill have been + past participle
Be Verbs in Passive Voice Rules

Reminder: Tenses with modal auxiliaries or modal expressions use Be verbs as well. For example:

  • We could’ve been caught if Elias didn’t warn us.
  • They would be informed by my assistant that the meeting is canceled.
  • She must’ve been told by someone working in the company.

Progressive Tense Be Verbs in the Passive Voice

When Be Verbs act as main verbs, a complete range of tenses is possible in the passive voice in theory. However, only the present and past progressive tenses are used in the passive voice for the main verb “being.” For example:

Present Progressive:

  • We are being assisted by off-duty firemen.
  • I am being dressed by a popular local brand.
  • She is being driven by my cousin’s personal chauffeur.

Past Progressive:

  • The novel was being written by one of our scholars when they pulled funding.
  • Dina was being helped by the students from the law department.
  • Tibetina and Wanda were being scolded for taking out forbidden books.
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Examples of Be Verbs

1. As Main/Linking Verbs

  • Conjugation rules for irregular verbs aren’t clear.
  • I am concerned about the condition of people in the town.
  • Mona is livid before she heads to bed.
  • We were terrible to her in school.
  • Stella will be in London for most of October.

2. As Auxiliary Verbs

  • We were analyzing the degree of permanence for each solution.
  • Can you ask Jocelyn if she’s doing your homework?
  • Krisha will have been cooking for three hours by the time the birthday party starts.
  • Jaro was implying that someone from the group spread the rumors.
  • The police have been watching the activity around the compound.

3. In Modal Expressions

  • Paloma might be wondering where we took the packages.
  • You could have been more patient about learning voice control.
  • Miranda should have been trained in these concepts already.
  • They may be included in the parade but we need to inform Janine.
  • Gallowglass might be interested to know that we plan to invest.

4. Interrogative Affirmative

  • Was she there at the service?
  • Are Spanish verbs different?
  • Is business writing challenging for Jack?
  • Was it scary driving through the dark tunnel?
  • Will you be coming if Nerissa joins us?

5. Interrogative Negative

  • Isn’t Pepito the incumbent winner of the talent competition?
  • Weren’t you interested in learning the Spanish language as well?
  • Isn’t this the most amazing tool for slicing vegetables?
  • Wasn’t Vivian the one who said passive voice would make writing sound dull?
  • Aren’t you glad that Marvin is studying with a professional tutor?

6. Interrogative with Question Words

  • Why do you think he isn’t an honest friend?
  • Which of these is the best restaurant in town?
  • What time is the bus tomorrow?
  • Where are the ingredients for the beef stew?
  • How are they not going to be hungry tomorrow without packed lunches?
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Be Verbs Exercises with Answers

Exercise on Be Verbs

Choose the correct Be verb to complete each of the following sentences:

1. They ___ taking the first bus tomorrow.

a) are

b) is

c) were

2. Where ___ the twins during the auction yesterday?

a) was

b) are

c) were

3. You’re right. I ___ in an awesome mood this morning.

a) am

b) is

c) were

4. I ___ thinking about you since the trip.

a) have been

b) has been

c) will be

5. They ___ hoping to see Satu but she had already left.

a) are

b) were

c) am

6. ___ that your cousin at the gala wearing Dior?

a) is

b) was

c) were

7. I’m not sure why but they said he ___ here.

a) had been

b) weren’t

c) isn’t

8. It ___ a nice day at the beach yesterday.

a) being

b) was

c) been

9. They ___ instructed to close all exits.

a) been

b) was

c) were

10. The staff ___ given their orders so don’t worry.

a) had been

b) have been

c) aren’t


1. a: They are taking the first bus tomorrow.

2. c: Where were the twins during the auction yesterday?

3. a: You’re right. I am in an awesome mood this morning.

4. a: I have been thinking about you since the trip.

5. b: They were hoping to see Satu but she had already left.

6. b: Was that your cousin at the gala wearing Dior last night?

7. c: I’m not sure why but they said he isn’t here.

8. b: It was a nice day at the beach yesterday.

9. c: They were instructed to close all exits.

10. a: The staff had been given their orders so don’t worry.

Be Verbs List

Be VerbsModal ExpressionsAuxiliary VerbsContractions (using the pronouns “I”, “he”, and “we” as the subject)
can be
may be
might be
could be
should be
would be
must be
am/is/are + present participle (also in the passive voice)

was/were + past participle (also in the passive voice)

has/have/had been + present participle

has/have/had + past participle (passive)
I wasn’t
he’s not
he isn’t
he wasn’t
we aren’t
we weren’t
Be Verbs Table

Advice for ESL Students & English Language Learners

Without verbs, it’s not possible to create complete sentences. When broken down into its simplest grammatical components, entire thoughts in English can be expressed with just a noun and a verb. For example, “Anne danced.” is a complete sentence. Some sentence structures like commands can even be complete with just a verb. “Read.”, for example. Verbs allow sentences to move forward. They also display actions, states of being, conditions, tenses, mood, voice, etc. For all its various forms and functions, it can be difficult for English learners to achieve proficiency in the use of verbs. To help reach your language goals, consider following a few general pieces of advice.

1. Use Grammar Lists

Studying grammar resources such as lists, tables, charts, and diagrams can be tedious due to their vastness. However, these tools are unavoidable during self-directed instruction. The trick is to use tools that you’re most comfortable with or easy for you to decipher and understand. Obviously, these materials don’t represent a singular method of mastering grammar. Nonetheless, they work effectively as introductions to all grammatical concepts. The right tools are advantageous because they can maximize the benefits of independent learning: they split up complex grammar subjects into more comprehensible patterns, formats, and rules. Moreover, a great deal of them includes real-world sentence examples which are useful in vocabulary expansion and sentence construction skills.

2. Use Audio-Visual Resources

Studying in regular English classes isn’t enough to attain an advanced level of proficiency in any given timeframe. Since self-studying is part of language learning, it’s crucial to know how English speakers use the language in various situations. A time-and-tested way to acquire this is by substantial exposure to audio and video resources. Media holds functionality without limits. They can improve your stock knowledge in both academic and informal English easily and significantly. Use media with a purpose, which means you need to actively listen and learn from it. A lot of English students have become fluent by following how their favorite TV show characters talk. Not to mention that social media platforms are full of countless dedicated videos for every language need imaginable.

3. Practical Use

In any branch of learning, theory means nothing without practical use. Ever wonder why so many English students who have accomplished incredible grammar skills can barely tell someone a story or struggle with talking for a long time? It’s often because they rarely practice or speak English. Mastering books can only limit fluency in the domain of reading and writing, which is only a small part of overall communication.

It’s good practice to speak or talk every time there’s a chance to, both with native and non-native English speakers. You should make an effort to organize a study group if an actual opportunity is lacking. You can also encourage and nurture friendships with fellow English language learners or speakers. As a bonus, you can learn about different cultures as well, and develop an insight into how others study and use the English language in their countries.

Additionally, it is important for learners to properly understand intransitive verbs and linking verbs.

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Common Errors Made by English Learners

Study the following list of common errors that English language learners commit with Be Verbs so you can avoid making the same mistakes:

Common ErrorsExplanation/Examples
There Is and There areUsing “there” as a subject with Be verbs need to follow the rules of subject-verb agreement. “There is” is used for singular subjects, and “there are” is used for plural subjects. For example:

– There are lots of things to do on the island. NOT There is lots of things to do on the island.

And while we’re on the subject, we use “There are a lot of” for countable nouns. “There is a lot of” is used for uncountable nouns. For example:

– There are a lot of toys in the room.
– There is a lot of sugar in this coffee.
Contractions1. It’s/Its

A lot of people confuse the spelling of “its” and “it’s.” Normally, we use the apostrophe to indicate possession as in “Lisa’s bag” but we don’t do it with “it.”

Wrong: The organization reached it’s first year as the leading company in the market.
Correct: The organization reached its first year as the leading company in the market.

2. They’re/Their/There

A lot of mix-ups happen with these 3 words as they sound the same and even look alike.

– They’re – the contraction of they + are
– Their – shows possession (possessive adjective/pronoun)
– There – an adverb or a pronoun

3. You’re/Your

Another annoying mistake for the grammar/spelling police. “You’re” is the contraction of “you + are.” “Your” is a possessive pronoun/adjective.

– Wrong: Your my favorite person.
– Right: You’re my favorite person.
Wrong Auxiliary VerbWhen the main verb is in the simple present tense, we don’t use Be verbs. We use “Do.” For example:

Wrong: Are you hang out here?
Correct: Do you hang out here?
Be Verbs Common Errors Table
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Learning Strategies and Best Practices with Be Verbs

Below is a list of useful tips for studying Be verbs:

Tell the Active and Passive Voice Apart EffectivelyAs auxiliary verbs, Be Verbs are in the active voice if they are followed by present participles. On the other hand, if they are followed by past participles, they are in the passive voice. For example:

– They were informing us to wear costumes. (active voice: “They” performed the action.)
– They were informed to wear costumes. (passive voice: “They” received the action)
Placement with AdverbsAdverbs of frequency normally appear after Be Verbs. For example:

– Bridget is always the first to volunteer.
– He was rarely present in his son’s life.
– These animals are occasionally restless.

The adverb “still” goes after Be verbs but before other main verbs. For example:

– My cousin still volunteers today.
– They still fight but not as often.

– He was still concerned about their safety.
– Jonathan is still a member of the glee club.

Adverbs can appear between the infinitive “to be” and a participle. For example:

– Jerome wants to be widely respected in his field.
– They turned out to be gravely disappointing.
– David needed to be constantly reminded of his appointments.
As Modal VerbsAs modal auxiliaries, Be Verbs can express ideas in the future in the first and third persons, obligations in the second person, or suppositions. Although the distinction isn’t always true, the uses mentioned are employed often. Let’s take a look at some examples:

1st and 3rd person, for futurity:

– I am to buy a new phone this weekend.
– We are to stay in Marianne’s cottage on the island.
– He is to work at his aunt’s florist shop.

2nd person, for obligation:

– You are to create a video about the festivities.
– You are to cook breakfast for the guests.
– You are to sleep in the guest bedroom upstairs.
Be Verbs Common Errors Table
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Be Verbs Frequently Asked Questions

There are two types of participles: present and past. Present participles are used in progressive tenses while past participles are used in perfect tenses. They are formed with their proper auxiliary or helping verbs. They may be used in both active and passive voices.

According to Oxford English Dictionary, the following are the most common verbs:

be, have, do, say, get, make, go, know, take, see, come, think, look, want, give, use, find, tell, ask, work, seem, feel, try, leave, call

Note that this list may change over time.

There are 7: am, is, are, was, were, been, and being.

The number of types varies depending on the source. Verbs have been classified in countless ways according to their functions, which aren’t always exclusive of each other, which is why there’s a lot of overlap: a verb can be a main, linking, action, transitive, active-voice, and regular verb at the same time.

The main types of verbs are main, auxiliary, and linking verbs. The other types include action and stative, transitive and intransitive, active voice and passive voice, regular and irregular verbs, modal verbs, and phrasal verbs. This doesn’t include tenses, infinitives, and verbals which are considered as either sub-types or types of their own.

Verbs have 3 main tenses – the past, the present, and the future tenses – and each one has 4 aspects. The present tense describes things happening regularly or in the present. The past tense describes things that have already happened. The future tense describes things that have yet to take place.

The following are 4 aspects that comprise each main verb tense: Simple, Progressive of or Continuous, Perfect, and Perfect Progressive or Continuous

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