see also: BE
Pronunciation Verb
  1. (intransitive, now, literary) To exist; to have real existence.
    • 1526, Bible, tr. William Tyndale, Matthew 2:
      Rachel wepynge ffor her chyldren, and wolde nott be comforted because they were not.
    • 1600, William Shakespeare, Hamlet:
      To be, or not to be, that is the Question […].
    • 1603, Michel de Montaigne, chapter 12, in John Florio, transl., The Essayes, […], book II, printed at London: By Val[entine] Simmes for Edward Blount […], OCLC 946730821 ↗:
      {...}}it were great sottishnesse, and apparent false-hood, to say, that that is which is not yet in being, or that already hath ceased from being.
    • 1643, Thomas Browne, Religio Medici, II.2:
      There is surely a peece of Divinity in us, something that was before the Elements, and owes no homage unto the Sun.
    • 1886-88, Richard F. Burton, The Supplemental Nights to the Thousand Nights and a Night:
      Now one day of the days, […] the Sultan cast his eyes upon her as she stood before him, and said to his Grand Wazir, "This be the very woman whereof I spake to thee yesterday, so do thou straightway bring her before me, that I may see what be her suit and fulfil her need."
    • 2004, Richard Schickel, "Not Just an African Story", Time, 13 December:
      The genial hotel manager of the past is no more. Now owner of a trucking concern and living in Belgium, Rusesabagina says the horrors he witnessed in Rwanda "made me a different man."
  2. (with there, or dialectally it, as glossary dummy pronoun) To exist.
    • 1598, William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice:
      Some men there are loue not a gaping Pigge: / Some that are mad, if they behold a Cat: / And others, when the bag-pipe sings i’th nose, / Cannot containe their Vrine for affection.
    • 1817, Jane Austen, Persuasion:
      "There is a sort of domestic enjoyment to be known even in a crowd, and this you had."
    • 2011, Mark Sweney, The Guardian, 6 July:
      "There has been lots of commentary on who is staying and who is staying out and this weekend will be the real test," said one senior media buying agency executive who has pulled the advertising for one major client.
    There is just one woman in town who can help us. (or, dialectally:) It is just one woman in town who can help us.
  3. (intransitive) To occupy a place.
    The cup is on the table.
  4. (intransitive) To occur, to take place.
    When will the meeting be?
  5. (intransitive, in perfect tenses, without predicate) Elliptical form of "be here", "go to and return from" or similar.
    The postman has been today, but my tickets have still not yet come.
    I have been to Spain many times.
    Moscow, huh? I've never been, but it sounds fascinating.
  6. (transitive, copulative) Used to indicate that the subject and object are the same.
    Knowledge is bliss.
    Hi, I’m Jim.
  7. (transitive, copulative, mathematics) Used to indicate that the values on either side of an equation are the same.
    3 times 5 is fifteen.
  8. (transitive, copulative) Used to indicate that the subject is an instance of the predicate nominal.
    A dog is an animal. Dogs are animals.
  9. (transitive, copulative) Used to indicate that the subject plays the role of the predicate nominal.
    François Mitterrand was president of France from 1981 to 1995.
  10. (transitive, copulative) Used to indicate that the subject has the qualities described by an adjective.
    The sky is blue.
  11. (transitive, copulative) Used to indicate that the subject has the qualities described by a noun or noun phrase.
    The sky is a deep blue today.
  12. (transitive, auxiliary) Used to form the passive voice.
    The dog was saved by the boy.
  13. (transitive, auxiliary) Used to form the continuous forms of various tenses.
    The woman is walking.
    I shall be writing to you soon.
    We liked to chat while we were eating.
  14. (, auxiliary) Used to form the perfect aspect with certain intransitive verbs; this was more common in archaic use, especially with verbs indicating motion. "He is finished", and "He is gone" are common, but "He is come" is archaic.
    • 1606, Macbeth by William Shakespeare:
      They are not yet come back. (instead of the modern They have not yet come back.)
    • 1850, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, The Blessed Damozel, ll.67-68
      ‘I wish that he were come to me, / For he will come,’ she said.
    • Matthew 28:6 (various translations, from the King James Version of 1611 to Revised Version of 1881):
      He is not here; for he is risen […].
    • 1922, A. E. Housman, Last Poems XXV, l.13:
      The King with half the East at heel is marched from lands of morning;
  15. (formal, transitive, auxiliary) Used to express future action as well as what is due to, intended to, or should happen.
    They are to be married next month.
    They are to stay here until I return.
    They are not to be blamed.
    How are they to get out of this mess?
    I am to leave tomorrow.
    I would drive you, were I to obtain a car.
  16. (transitive, copulative) Used to link a subject to a measurement.
    This building is three hundred years old.
    I am 75 kilograms.
    He’s about 6 feet tall.
  17. (transitive, copulative, with a cardinal numeral) Used to state the age of a subject in years.
    I’m 20. (= I am 20 years old.)
  18. (with a glossary dummy pronoun it) Used to indicate the time of day.
    It is almost eight. (= It is almost eight o’clock.)
    It’s 8:30 [read eight-thirty] in Tokyo.
    What time is it there? It’s night.
  19. (With since) Used to indicate passage of time since the occurrence of an event.
    It has been three years since my grandmother died. (similar to My grandmother died three years ago, but emphasizes the intervening period)
    It had been six days since his departure, when I received a letter from him.
  20. (now, chiefly, in the present tense, ;, rare and regional in the past tense) Used to link two noun clauses, the first of which is a day of the week, recurring date, month, or other specific time (on which the event of the main clause took place), and the second of which is a period of time indicating how long ago that day was. [from 15th c.]
    I saw her Monday was a week: I saw her a week ago last Monday (a week before last Monday).
    On the morning of Sunday was fortnight before Christmas: on the morning of the Sunday that was two weeks before the Sunday prior to Christmas.
    • 1748, Samuel Richardson, Clarissa, Letter 229:
      Miss Lardner (whom you have seen at her cousin Biddulph's) saw you at St James's church on Sunday was fortnight.
    • 1770, Ireland, Historical Memoirs of the Irish Rebellion, in the year 1641 ... In a letter to Walter Harris, Esq; [By John Curry.] The fourth edition, with corrections throughout the whole, and large additions, by the author, page 186:
      And so, without as much as to return home to furnish myself for such a journey, volens, nolens, they prevailed, or rather forced me to come to Dublin to confer with those colonels, and that was the last August was twelvemonth.
    • 1803, Great Britain. Parliament. House of Commons, Journals of the House of Commons, page 249:
      That they were present at the Election in August was Twelvemonth, at which there was the strictest Scrutiny that ever they saw in their Lives, by all the Four Candidates.
    • 1815, Walter Scott, Guy Mannering, I.5:
      Allow me to recommend some of the kipper—It was John Hay that catched it Saturday was three weeks.
    • 1859, George Eliot, Adam Bede:
      “Did there come no young woman here—very young and pretty—Friday was a fortnight, to see Dinah Morris?”
    • 1895, Miss M. E. Rope of Suffolk, quoted by Joseph Wright, in The English Dialect Dictionary, page 202:
      'Twas there to-morrow is a week.
    • 1915, John Millington Synge, The Playboy of the Western World, I:
      I killed my poor father, Tuesday was a week, for doing the like of that.
    • 1920 (published), St. George Kieran Hyland, A Century of Persecution Under Tudor and Stuart Sovereigns from Contemporary Records, London, Paul, page 402, quoting an earlier document, Loosley volume 5, no. 28, "List of Prisoners: In Sir W. More's handwriting": :
      Theobald Green gent dead in the Marshalsea in August was twelvemonth
      John Grey gent delivered out of the Marshalsea about August last by Mr. Secretary and remains in St. Mary Overies.
      John Jacob gent delivered out of the Marsh. the XVII of May was twelvemonth and sent to Bridewell by order of the Council.
  21. (often, impersonal, with it as a glossary dummy pronoun) Used to indicate weather, air quality, or the like.
    It is hot in Arizona, but it is not usually humid.
    Why is it so dark in here?
  22. (be#English-dynamic_conjugation|dynamic / lexical "be", especially in progressive tenses, conjugated non-suppletively in the present tense, see usage notes) To exist or behave in a certain way.
    • 2006 October 9, Kristin Newman (writer), Barney Stinson (character), How I Met Your Mother, season 2, episode 1:
      "When I get sad, I stop being sad and be awesome instead."
    "What do we do?" "We be ourselves."
    Why is he being nice to me?
  23. (AAVE, Caribbean, auxiliary, not conjugated) To tend to do, often do; marks the habitual aspect.
    • 1996, David Sheffield, Barry W. Blaustein, Tom Shadyac and Steve Oedekerk, screenplay of The Nutty Professor
      Women be shoppin’! You cannot stop a woman from shoppin’!
    • 2020, Moneybagg Yo, Thug Cry
      Niggas be tellin' these bitches 'bout business
  24. to be alive
    • circa 1600 William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 1:
      To be, or not to be: that is the question: / Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer / The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, / Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, / And by opposing end them?

*Some non-standard dialects use were in these instances.

**Some non-standard dialects use was in these instances.

*Some non-standard dialects will have were in these instances.

**Some non-standard dialects will have was in these instances.

***Subject pronoun is optional.

  • The verb be is the most irregular non-defective verb in Standard English. Unlike other verbs, which distinguish at most five forms (as in dodoesdoingdiddone), be distinguishes many more:
    • Be itself is the plain form, used as the infinitive, as the imperative, and as the present subjunctive (though many speakers do not distinguish the present indicative and present subjunctive, using the indicative forms for both).
      I want to be a father someday. (infinitive)
      If that be true... (present subjunctive; is is common in this position)
      Allow the truth to be heard! (infinitive)
      Please be here by eight o’clock. (imperative)
      The librarian asked that the rare books not be touched. (present subjunctive; speakers that do not distinguish the subjunctive and indicative would use an auxiliary verb construction here)
      Be is also used as the present tense indicative form in the alternate, dynamic / lexical conjugation of be:
      What do we do? We be ourselves. (first-person plural present indicative, lexical be)
      but: Who are we? We are human beings. (first-person plural present indicative, copula be)
      It is also an archaic alternative form of the indicative, especially in the plural:
      The powers that be, are ordained of God. (Romans 13:1, Tyndale Bible, 1526)
      We are true men; we are no spies: We be twelve brethren... (Genesis 42:31-2, King James Version, 1611)
      I think it be thine indeed, for thou liest in it. (Hamlet, Act V, Scene 1, circa 1600)
    • Am, are, and is are the forms of the present indicative. Am is the first-person singular (used with I); is is the third-person singular (used with he, she, it and other subjects that would be used with does rather than do); and are is both the second-person singular and the plural (used with we, you, they, and any other plural subjects).
      Am I in the right place? (first-person singular present indicative)
      You are even taller than your brother! (second-person singular present indicative)
      Where is the library? (third-person singular present indicative)
      These are the biggest shoes we have. (plural present indicative)
    • Was and were are the forms of the past indicative and past subjunctive (like did). In the past indicative, was is the first– and third-person singular (used with I, as well as with he, she, it and other subjects that would be used with does rather than do), and were is both the second-person singular and the plural (used with we, you, they, and any other plural subjects). In the traditional past subjunctive, were is used with all subjects, though many speakers do not actually distinguish the past subjunctive from the past indicative, and therefore use was with first– and third-person singular subjects even in cases where other speakers would use were.
      I was out of town. (first-person singular past indicative)
      You were the first person here. (second-person singular past indicative)
      The room was dirty. (third-person singular past indicative)
      We were angry at each other. (plural past indicative)
      I wish I were more sure. (first-person singular past subjunctive; was is also common, though considered less correct by some)
      If she were here, she would know what to do. (third-person singular past subjunctive; was is also common, though considered less correct by some)
    • Being is the gerund and present participle, used in noun-like constructions, in the progressive aspect, and after various verbs (like doing). (It’s also used as an actual noun; for those senses, see the entry for being itself.)
      I don’t like being here. (gerund)
      All of a sudden, he’s being nice to everyone. (present participle in the progressive aspect)
      It won’t stop being a problem until someone does something about it. (present participle in the progressive aspect)
    • Been is the past participle, used in the perfect aspect. In Middle English, it was also the infinitive.
      It’s been that way for a week and a half.
  • In archaic or obsolete forms of English, with the pronoun thou, the verb be has a few additional forms:
    • When the pronoun thou was in regular use, the forms art, wast, and wert were the corresponding present indicative, past indicative, and past subjunctive, respectively.
    • As thou became less common and more highly marked, a special present-subjunctive form beest developed (replacing the regular present subjunctive form be, still used with all other subjects). Additionally, the form wert, previously a past subjunctive form, came to be used as a past indicative as well.
  • The forms am, is, and are can contract with preceding subjects: I’m, ’s, ’re. The form are most commonly contracts with personal pronouns (we’re, you’re, they’re), but contractions with other subjects is possible; the form is contracts quite freely with a variety of subjects. These contracted forms, however, are possible only when there is an explicit, non-preposed complement, and they cannot be stressed; therefore, contraction does not occur in sentences such as the following:
    Who’s here? —I am.
    I wonder what it is.
    I don’t want to be involved. —But you are involved, regardless.
  • Several of the finite forms of be have special negative forms, containing the suffix -n’t, that can be used instead of adding the adverb not. Specifically, the forms is, are, was, and were have the negative forms isn’t, aren’t, wasn’t, and weren’t. The form be itself does not, even in finite uses, with “not be” being used in the present subjunctive and “do not be” or “don’t be” (or, in dated use, “be not”) being used in the imperative. The form am has the negative forms aren’t, amn’t, and arguably ain’t, but all of these are in restricted use; see their entries for details.
  • Outside of Standard English, there is some variation in usage of some forms; some dialects, for example, use is or ’s throughout the present indicative (supplanting, in whole or in part, am and are), and/or was throughout the past indicative and past subjunctive (supplanting were).
Synonyms Pronunciation
  • IPA: /bi/, /bə/, /bɪ/, (Northumberland) /bɛ/
  1. (dialectal, possibly, dated) altform en. Also found in compounds, especially oaths, e.g. begorra.
    • 1851, Oliver Ormerod, Felley fro Rachde:
      O ful tru un pertikler akeawnt o... th' greyt Eggshibishun. Be o felley fro Rachde.
    • 1860, Henry Baird, The Song of Solomon in the Devonshire Dialect, i 8:
      Go thy way vorth be tha vootsteps uv tha vlock.
    • 1870, Joseph Philip Robson, Evangeline: The Spirit of Progress, 332:
      Aw teuk me seat be day an' neet.
    • 1870, Roger Piketah, Forness Folk 44:
      Fetchin' it yan... be a round about rooad.
    • 1878, John Castillo, Poems in the North Yorkshire Dialect, 35:
      Like a leeaf be firm decree / Mun fade an' fall.
    • 1885, Alfred Lord Tennyson, To-morrow:
      ‘I'll meet you agin to-morra,’ says he, ‘be the chapel-door.’



  1. Bachelor of Engineering.
Proper noun
  1. (linguistics) Initialism of Black English
  2. Initialism of Buddhist Era
  3. Abbreviation of Berlin#English|Berlin, a federal state of Germany.
  4. Abbreviation of Bengkulu, a province of Indonesia.

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