Author Topic: Why "BE"?  (Read 8119 times)

English Maiden

  • Full Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 52
  • Karma: +0/-0
    • View Profile
Why "BE"?
« on: November 06, 2011, 07:45:07 PM »
Hi, Sir! I have always wondered why the verb be (e.g. is, was, were, am, been, etc.) is called as such? I know that the verb be is used as an auxilliary verb and can also be used as a main verb, but I don't understand why the forms of this verb are collectively known as  BE. Please shed some light on this matter for me. Thanks load!

Joe Carillo

  • Administrator
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 4676
  • Karma: +210/-2
    • View Profile
    • Email
Understanding “be” as a very versatile but highly irregular verb
« Reply #1 on: November 08, 2011, 04:32:44 PM »
The verb “be” happens to be one of the most versatile and most often used words in the English language. As you say, it’s used as an auxiliary verb and can also be used as a main verb, but it’s incorrect to call it the collective word for the various forms it takes in the language. It’s a unique word by itself that also happens to be a highly irregular verb—meaning that it doesn’t obey the usual conjugation rules for regular verbs but changes into altogether new words when doing particular grammar tasks. In particular, as an intransitive verb, “be” has so many denotations or meanings and takes on different forms; as a verbal auxiliary, it has four distinct uses in the formation of the various tenses of verbs, also taking on different forms and even working with other verbal auxiliaries to evoke a specific tense and sense for a verb. You can appreciate how versatile and hardworking “be” is by going over the definitions below that I have excerpted from the Merriam-Webster’s 11th Collegiate Dictionary.

Having clarified the nature and functions of “be,” I can now tell you that the various forms of “be” that you mentioned—“is,” “was,” “were,” “am,” “been”—are not its collective in the true sense of that word. They are just inflections of “be,” or the changes in form that “be” undergoes to mark the case, gender, number, tense, person, mood, or voice of the sentence where it is used. As such, they are unique words in themselves, distinct from “be” and each with a specific functional role in the language.

Quote
be

intransitive verb 
1 a : to equal in meaning  : have the same connotation as  : SYMBOLIZE  <God is love>  <January is the first month>  <let x be 10>  b : to have identity with  <the first person I met was my brother> c : to constitute the same class as  d : to have a specified qualification or characterization  <the leaves are green>  e : to belong to the class of  <the fish is a trout> —  used regularly in senses 1a through 1e as the copula of simple predication
2 a : to have  an objective existence  : have reality or actuality  : LIVE  <I think, therefore I am>  <once upon a time there was a knight>  b : to have, maintain, or occupy a place, situation, or position  <the book is on the table>  c : to remain unmolested, undisturbed, or uninterrupted —  used only in infinitive form  <let him bed : to take place  : OCCUR  <the concert was last night>  e : to come or go  <has already been and gone>  <has never been to the circus> f archaic   : BELONG, BEFALL
verbal auxiliary 
1 —  used with the past participle of transitive verbs as a passive-voice auxiliary  <the money was found>  <the house is being built>
2 —  used as the auxiliary of the present participle in progressive tenses expressing continuous action  <he is reading>  <I have been sleeping>
3 —  used with the past participle of some intransitive verbs as an auxiliary forming archaic perfect tenses  <Christ is risen from the dead — 1 Corinthians 15:20(Douay Version)>
4 —  used with the infinitive with to to express futurity, arrangement in advance, or obligation  <I am to interview him today>  <she was to become famous>

English Maiden

  • Full Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 52
  • Karma: +0/-0
    • View Profile
Why "BE"?
« Reply #2 on: November 09, 2011, 12:41:49 PM »
Thank you for your answers, sir! They're highly appreciated. I hope you don't mind that I ask another question alongside this post. Sir, I am not sure, and ofentimes struggle with which structure to use, if there is difference between the following sentences:

Teach me HOW TO SING.
Teach me TO SING.

I want to learn TO SING.
I want to learn HOW TO SING.

I tend to stick more to using those constructions that have the adverb "how" before the to-infinitive in my written and spoken English. Is using the constructions with the adverb how dropped as effective and as intelligent a choice? I look forward to your answers. Thank you in advance!

Joe Carillo

  • Administrator
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 4676
  • Karma: +210/-2
    • View Profile
    • Email
Re: Why "BE"?
« Reply #3 on: November 10, 2011, 12:53:51 PM »
From a substance standpoint, I think there’s not much difference between these pairs of sentences that you presented:

“Teach me how to sing.”
“Teach me to sing.”

“I want to learn to sing.”
“I want to learn how to sing.”

If there’s any, I think the difference is simply in style. I would think, though, that when someone says “Teach me to sing,” his or her interest is in learning singing itself, and that when “Teach me how to sing” is said instead, the interest is in learning the proper way or procedure of singing. That difference isn’t semantically much, though, so I think the “how to sing” and “to sing” constructions can be used interchangeably in both spoken and written English.

For the same reason, I think the sentence-pair “I want to learn to sing” and “I want to learn how to sing” is also freely interchangeable.
« Last Edit: November 10, 2011, 09:52:38 PM by Joe Carillo »

English Maiden

  • Full Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 52
  • Karma: +0/-0
    • View Profile
Why "BE"?
« Reply #4 on: November 10, 2011, 09:04:56 PM »
I can't thank you enough for always taking time to answer my questions. Part of your last reply, however, makes me a little cofused about your using the preposition "on" after the word "interest." Whether as a verb or noun, I have always firmly stuck to using only the prepositions "to," as in "I am interested to buy a new laptop" and "in," as in "I am interested in buying a new laptop" and "I have no interest in buying a new laptop" after the word "interest." So, I was startled when I got to that part of your reply where you used "on" after "interest." I hope you don't get offended with this, but I feel that you were wrong in your decision to follow "interest" with "on." Am I right in thinking this? If I am wrong, I apologize. Please help clear my mind on this matter.

Joe Carillo

  • Administrator
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 4676
  • Karma: +210/-2
    • View Profile
    • Email
Re: Why "BE"?
« Reply #5 on: November 10, 2011, 09:50:35 PM »
You're right that it should be "in" and not "on" in those sentences of mine. Sorry for the slip-up! So the wrong usage won't confuse other Forum members the way it confused you, I will correct those sentences in my posting right after this.