25/05/2016 Nicoletta

The verb BE explained

Latest posts by Nicoletta (see all)

The Mother of All Verbs:“BE”

When we are born we rely on our mothers for survival right? And when we start to learn English the verb “be” is super important. That’s why I like to call it the mother verb, because without it we can’t learn English.

It is very important that you understand the verb “be” and its functions, and that you are able to use it across all skills with accuracy and fluency. This is because the verb “be” is the foundation of English, and as we know, a house built on sand will eventually collapse because it needs a strong foundation in order for it to survive.

The laying of the foundation of the mother verb is extremely important.

So, what exactly is the verb “be”?

When you start learning English, you come face to face with “be”, but usually only in the basic functions, like when “be” is used as the main verb. This is when it is used to link the subject to a quality or a description of something or someone. These descriptions are often adjectives or noun phrases. Ok, it sounds more difficult than it is, here are some examples:

  • She is a lovely person.
  • Michael is handsome.
  • I am really tired.

This is relatively simple and with lots of active practice, easy to absorb.

But, how many times have you come across a seemingly random “be”. One that just didn’t make sense to you? As I said before, it is the mother of all English verbs and so the most commonly used verb in the English language. And so it has many different uses. One of the first forms of “be” that you need to understand is the general meaning: “to exist” or “to happen‟ .

Let’s get real

Existential: [eg-zi-sten-shuh l] (adjective) – Relating to existence.

This existential meaning is the most common use of the verb “to be” after the basic function and the reason why many students do not understand why it was used in the first place.

The existential use of “be” is how we demonstrate that something or someone is real or exists. Usually, the existential use of “be” comes after “there”, which acts like a “fake” subject, followed by the Present Simple or Past Simple or presentational verbs like: exist, appear, come, stand and occur.

The noun phrase is usually indefinite and you can see this by the use of the a/any.

  • There‘s a strange man in the office.
  • There were lots of people at the party.
  • There weren’t any students in the class.
  • There appeared a rainbow after the storm.


Booking a Busbus to the city

Ben is trying to get back to the city. Using the correct form of the verb “be”, choose the right answer in the sentences that follow.

If you need more ideas on how to improve your English then contact us. By joining one of our specialized English courses you can develop your English skills quickly. And if you don’t feel like travelling you can have private online lessons. We are here to answer your questions!

Contact Us


Tagged: , , , , ,

About the Author

Nicoletta Nicoletta is the co-founder of English One. She holds a Dip. TESOL (licentiate) from Trinity College, London. She is a passionate teacher and teacher trainer with well over a decade of EFL experience.