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 meeting is next week.
The book is on the shelf.
Let it be.
To Be - 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.
Mary is president.
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.|
|Subject||Intransitive Verb||Phrase or Adverb|
|1. Amber||2. ran||3. across the field.|
|1. Amber||2. ran||3. quickly.|
|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
In Developing a Powerful Writing Style, the eBook available from Grammar.com, 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