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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

To Be

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

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Previous: Conjugating Irregular Verbs

Next: Conjugating in the Progressive Aspect

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  • scottt.14646
    The plural "you" became the singular "you." pushing out "thou art." But "art" was for a long time the correct ninth word conjugating "to be."
    LikeReply3 months ago
  • maryams.87400
    sentences uising be in all tenses
    LikeReply5 months ago
  • GrahamCresswell
    The future tense of the verb "to be" has regional variations that are quite important for understanding.
    In English English, the first person is "shall" - " I shall do this", " we shall do that". And, more importantly in the interrogative - "Shall I do this?", Shall we do that?, which indicate asking permission or agreement. In Celtic English, the first person future is "will" - "I will do this", "we will do that". In the Celtic interrogative - "will I do this?", "will we do that?", also indicate a suggestion but can be baffling to English English speakers who will understand it as a question of fact and answer "I don't know, will you?". But it's more complicated than that because, in official English, "shall" is used in the second and third person to indicate obligation, requirement or determination. "You shall go to the ball, don't let anyone stop you". "The applicant shall complete the form in duplicate". And in conversational English English the first person "will" indicates determination. "I will go to the ball, don't try to stop me".

    In conversational English of all regions you can avoid all this in the indicative by using the contraction - "I'll do this", "we'll do this". But in the interrogative it's useful to be aware of the differences.
    LikeReply7 months ago
  • Gumbo123
    oops - - correction since I cannot edit my own comment.
    #21 = will

    i.e., "I might have been wrong yesterday, and I may be wrong today, but I will stive to be right tomorrow and should have been very conscious of my effort to do so." 
    LikeReply1 year ago
  • Gumbo123
    I remember from 10th grade English class circa 1977 - - there are 20 words required to conjugate all forms of the verb "TO BE" . . .

    i.e., "I might have been wrong."
    LikeReply1 year ago
  • 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. 
    LikeReply 22 years ago
    • Soulwriter
      I believe I understand your query . Yes, the verb 'be' is indeed unique in it's lone classification.
      LikeReply 22 years 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.
    LikeReply 22 years ago
    • Soulwriter
      You're absolutely correct
      LikeReply 12 years ago
  • Jeff Streeby
    Jeff Streeby
    Can anybody explain the niceties of tense in this example?
    "It was meant >to have been< a surprise."
    LikeReply 24 years ago
    • jimalton
      In your sentence, "have
      been", of course, is the present perfect which when used as a verb
      indicates some activity or state that has recently completed. In your
      sentence the verb is the past passive "was meant"; and "to have been" is
      in the form of a verb but is not performing as a verb but as a
      preposition conveying more meaning than the alternative preposition
      "as" such as that the surprise was not surprising, whereas "as" would
      not convey that meaning.
      LikeReply 21 year ago
  • Gladys Tineo
    Gladys Tineo
    I totally love this website, because my ESL student really need help with conjugating verbs, and learning parts of speech.
    LikeReply 34 years ago
  • Steve Harris
    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. 
    LikeReply 14 years ago
  • Jane Vivian
    Jane Vivian
    And does it matter to anyone but me?
    LikeReply 24 years ago
  • Jane Vivian
    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. 
    LikeReply 64 years ago
    • Isabela Mendes
      Isabela Mendes
      LikeReply 14 years ago
    • Robert Daly
      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. 
      LikeReply 33 years ago
    • M Jems
      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). 
      LikeReply 33 years ago
    • M Jems
      M Jems
      Huh, ironic that I make a mistake with an extra "A" in a thread on grammar.
      LikeReply 13 years ago
  • Felicidade Bronzeada
    Felicidade Bronzeada
    Cojugate the verb to be in the past simples
    LikeReply 24 years ago
  • Chris Pedder
    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
    LikeReply 24 years ago
  • Danny Del Barçelona
    Danny Del Barçelona
    LikeReply 15 years ago
  • Roodway François
    Roodway François
    This is so great! Good job.
    LikeReply 25 years ago
  • Daniel Rutter
    Daniel Rutter
    I need some examples of the -s -es forms of the be verb.
    LikeReply 15 years ago
  • Tony Davidson
    Tony Davidson
    what about 'would have been'? What is that tense known as...?
    LikeReply 15 years ago
    • Yanina Davila
      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...
      LikeReply 25 years ago
  • Fien Judith
    Fien Judith
    thank you
    LikeReply 16 years ago
  • Diana Ramnarine
    Diana Ramnarine
    Thank You
    LikeReply 16 years ago
  • Mihajlo Plejic
    Mihajlo Plejic
    LikeReply 17 years ago


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