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Conjugating the Verb "To Be"

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  Ed Good  —  Grammar Tips
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Now let’s take the verb to be through a complete conjugation. But first, consider its uniqueness.

To Be, Unique Among All Verbs

In the entire English language, one verb stands out: the verb to be. It serves more roles than most verbs, for it can serve as a main verb and a primary auxiliary verb. As an auxiliary, it serves the vital roles of forming the passive voice (The ball was hit by John) and the progressive tense (John was hitting the ball over the fence).

Miss Hamrick could never make up a chant about the irregular forms of the verb to be because it doesn’t have just one past-tense form like the other irregular verbs do. It does have the standard one-word present participle, being, and the standard one-word past participle, been.

But there’s not a chant like drink-drank-drunk available for the verb to be. Instead of using the infinitive form for the present tense and one word for each of the standard four forms (infinitive, past tense, past participle, present participle), the verb to be uses three words to express present tense and two words to express past tense.

Thus, the verb to be uses eight words to express the standard forms:

To Be, Eight Words Showing Its Various Forms

You need eight words when conjugating the verb to be:

Form To Be
Infinitive 1. be
Present Tense 2. am 3. is 4. are
Past Tense 5. was 6. were
Past Participle 7. been
Present Participle 8. being

 

Irregular Verbs, Five Words Showing Various Forms

In contrast, only five words are needed to show the forms of the irregular verb see:

Form To See
Infinitive 1. see
Present Tense 1. see (same as infinitive) 2. sees (third-person singular)
Past Tense 3. saw
Past Participle 4. seen
Present Participle 5. seeing

 

It’s vital, of course, that you learn to conjugate the verb to be throughout all tenses, for you’ll need all these forms when you create the progressive tenses and the passive voice. Study, please, a conjugation of the verb to be:

 

Present Tense, To Be

Here’s the present tense of the verb to be:

Person Singular Plural
First Person I am We are
Second Person You are You are
Third Person He-she-it is They are

 

Past Tense, To Be

Here’s the past tense of the verb to be:

Person Singular Plural
First Person I was We were
Second Person You were You were
Third Person He-she-it was They were

 

Future Tense, To Be

Here’s the future tense of the verb to be:

Person Singular Plural
First Person I will be We will be
Second Person You will be You will be
Third Person He-she-it will be They will be

 

Present-Perfect Tense, To Be

Here’s the present-perfect tense of the verb to be:

Person Singular Plural
First Person I have been We have been
Second Person You have been You have been
Third Person He-she-it has been They have been

 

Past-Perfect Tense, To Be

Here’s the past-perfect tense of the verb to be:

Person Singular Plural
First Person I had been We had been
Second Person You had been You had been
Third Person He-she-it had been They had been

 

Future-Perfect Tense, To Be

Here’s the future-perfect tense of the verb to be:

Person Singular Plural
First Person I will have been We will have been
Second Person You will have been You will have been
Third Person He-she-it will have been They will have been

 

Hard Copy

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

 

Previous: Conjugating Irregular Verbs Next: Conjugating in the Progressive Aspect

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16 Comments

  • stephene.97410
    Is the verb "be" the only verb in the English language with a unique present tense first person singular conjugation: "am"? In other words, for example, the verb "see" is only different from the singular third person's point of view: S/he sees... as opposed to I see, you see, we see, you (plural) see, they see. Most other English verbs follow that pattern. 
    LikeReplyReport 12 months ago
    • Soulwriter
      I believe I understand your query . Yes, the verb 'be' is indeed unique in it's lone classification.
      LikeReplyReport 12 months ago
  • neils.33020
    The "verb" to be is not a word. The "verb" is a phrase made up of two words, to and be. To say to be is a word is incorrect.
    LikeReplyReport 13 months ago
  • Jeff Streeby
    Can anybody explain the niceties of tense in this example? "It was meant >to have been< a surprise."
    LikeReplyReport 11 year ago
  • Gladys Tineo
    I totally love this website, because my ESL student really need help with conjugating verbs, and learning parts of speech.
    LikeReplyReport 22 years ago
  • Steve Harris
    Yes, it matters. (imho) The verb "to be" is the glue that holds English together. Native speakers conjugate on-the-fly automatically if they were exposed to "proper" English as a child but are probably ignorant of the gramatical details and descriptions. English learners have the challenge of learning this unique verb; actually, it "should, would, could be" much easier/ simpler than having to learn the 126 various conjugations of a verb in Latin. 
    LikeReplyReport2 years ago
  • Jane Vivian
    And does it matter to anyone but me?
    LikeReplyReport 12 years ago
  • Jane Vivian
    In high school in the 40’s, my English teacher added “seem” and “become” when conjugating the verb “to be”, thus: am, is, are, was, were, be, been, being, seem and become. Did anyone else learn this? Antiquated, colloquial, misguided, I may be all three. Sorting through old ideas, which to keep and which to throw away. 
    LikeReplyReport 42 years ago
    • Robert Daly
      Seem and become can be considered "pseudo-copulatives". Their meaning is very similar to or related to "to be." I wouldn't teach it as part of "to be," though. Another one is the use of "look" as in "She looks nice." Not quite "is nice," but we can't really say that the person is commiting an action either. 
      LikeReplyReport 11 year ago
    • M Jems
      You're right. "looks" in this case is an intransitive verb. In fact, it's a acting like a modal as it expresses possibility or likelihood. So, in this case, I'd actually call it a modal verb (although not one of the core modal verbs such as can, could, shall, and so on). 
      LikeReplyReport1 year ago
    • M Jems
      Huh, ironic that I make a mistake with an extra "A" in a thread on grammar.
      LikeReplyReport1 year ago
  • Felicidade Bronzeada
    Cojugate the verb to be in the past simples
    LikeReplyReport 12 years ago
  • Chris Pedder
    Mate - the first person (sing and plural) future of "to be" is "I shall" not "I will". The latter indicates necessity ie I must. Hence I shall; you will; he will; we shall etc
    LikeReplyReport 12 years ago
  • Danny Del Barçelona
    CONJUGATE 2 VERBS IN PRESENT TENSE
    LikeReplyReport2 years ago
  • Roodway François
    This is so great! Good job.
    LikeReplyReport 12 years ago
  • Daniel Rutter
    I need some examples of the -s -es forms of the be verb.
    LikeReplyReport2 years ago
  • Tony Davidson
    what about 'would have been'? What is that tense known as...?
    LikeReplyReport3 years ago
    • Yanina Davila
      well, it´s a conditional ,i.e "been" is a participle that serves the perfect modal to refer to a posibility in the past...
      LikeReplyReport 12 years ago
  • Fien Judith
    thank you
    LikeReplyReport4 years ago
  • Diana Ramnarine
    Thank You
    LikeReplyReport4 years ago

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