Verb “To Be”

To Be or Not To Be

The eBook Developing a Powerful Writing Stylethoroughly discusses the problem of overusing the verb to be. We urge you to read it. When you do, notice that the chapter on the verb to be does not contain the verb to be at all in more than 2,200 words.

The verb to be shows existence or, as the case may be, nonexistence. This existential feature of the be word prompted Shakespeare’s Hamlet to ask:

“To be or not to be, that is the question.”

The verb to be also shows that something takes place, happens, or will occur in the future, as in:

The meeting is next week.

It shows that something occupies a particular place, as in:

The book is on the shelf.

It shows that things can remain as before, as in:

Let it be.

To Be – Functions

Three Functions

The verb to be serves to join the grammatical subject of the sentence with either an adjective or a noun to describe or identify the subject. When it connects an adjective, that adjective is called the predicate adjective. Thus:

John is big.

When it connects a noun, that noun is called the subject complement or predicate noun or predicate nominative. The subject complement restates what the subject is. Thus:

Mary is president.

And sometimes it connects a phrase showing where or when something is. Thus:

John is in the batter’s box.

To Be – Three-Part Sentences

Sentences Using the Verb To Be

Like the other verbs we’ve visited, the verb to be serves to form three-part sentences. Recall that the transitive verb typically joins the subject and the direct object to form a three-part sentence, as in:

Subject Transitive Verb Direct Object
1. John 2. hit 3. the ball.


The intransitive verb, while it has no object, typically has a third part that helps complete the thought, as in:

Subject Intransitive Verb Phrase or Adverb
1. Amber 2. ran 3. across the field.
1. Amber 2. ran 3. quickly.


Some typical three-part sentences with the verb to be serving as the main verb include:

Subject Verb to be Adjective, Noun, or Phrase
1. Amber 2. was 3. angry.
1. Jane 2. is 3. the leader.
1. I 2. am 3. from the South.
1. The book 2. is 3. on the table.

To Be – Use Sparingly

Watch Out

In Developing a Powerful Writing Style, the eBook available from, you will learn that the verb to be, when overused, tends to weaken your writing style. So right now, if you can tear yourself away from these pages, you should review some of your own writing and see how often the verb to be shows up.

Better yet, try to listen to yourself and see how much you rely on be’s when you talk. Look and listen for these eight words:

am, is, are, was, were, been, being, be

Also listen for be’s that show up as contractions, as in:

there’s, here’s, it’s, he’s, she’s, and others

Hard Copy

You may download our entire discussion of the Parts of Speech. Simply download the Grammar eBook Understanding the Parts of Speech.


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