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"Be" as the main verb

Today I'm going to write about grammar and what a better way to start than with the verb "to be". "Be" can be an auxiliary verb or the main verb. As the main verb, its job is to connect a subject with its predicate (usually it's a noun or an adjective that indicates a state or a quality). In this post, as the title suggests, I'm only going to talk about the latter. But don't worry, I will talk about the other part in a future post.

“Be” as the main verb is used to talk about states, qualities, feelings, time, relationships, etc. In both Portuguese and Spanish, there are two different verbs for “to be” - "ser" and "estar".

Some expressions that use “to be” in English, we use “have” (ter) in Spanish and, sometimes in Portuguese as well: hungry, thirsty, right, wrong, … years old, sleepy, lucky. Find some examples below:

Wrong: My cat has 21 years old.

Right: My cat is 21 years old.

Wrong: You have the reason.

Right: You are right.

Wrong: You have lucky.

Right: You are lucky.

Do not forget to include the subject pronoun (I, you, he, she, it, we, they)! In English the subject is always present in the sentence. Only in very informal conversations people omit the subject, but I wouldn't recommend you doing that, at least while you're still learning. In Portuguese and Spanish, we usually omit the subject pronoun because the verb endings indicate the subject.

Wrong: My sister’s name is Amber. Is 30 years old.

Right: My sister’s name is Amber. She is 30 years old.

Wrong: Is cold today.

Right: it is cold today.

Verb forms

1. Affirmative forms

Present Simple

Past Simple


is ⇒ was - both end in “s”

are ⇒ were - both end in “re”

2. Negative forms

To make the negative form, you put the word “not” after the form of “be”.

3. Contractions

Contractions are possible in the affirmative and negative forms in the present but only in the negative in the past. They are less formal and are more prevalent in spoken language than in written. They can make a speaker sound more friendly.

Forming Questions

There are two types of questions in English: yes-no questions or WH- or information questions - they always start with a question word, such as who, whom, what, why, where, when, which, how, how many, how often, etc. To form a question you just move the form of “be” in front of the subject - you invert the subject and the verb.

Yes-no Question

WH- Question

Expressions that use “be”

Here are some examples of collocation of the verb "be":

Hungry, Thirsty, Right, Wrong, Sleepy, Lucky…

  • I'm so hungry I could eat a horse.

  • Are you thirsty? I can get you a glass of water.

  • He was right about those people.

  • You're not wrong.

  • I'm going to bed, I'm so sleepy.

  • She's lucky for having you as a friend.

Permanent or temporary qualities, states and physical characteristics

  • He’s very rich.

  • My father is very old.

Nationalities and group identities

  • Is she Irish or English?

  • I am a Beatles fan.

  • He’s a doctor.


  • How old is he?

  • He’s 10 years old.

  • I was 33 years old when I travelled to New Zealand.


  • She’s my best friend.

  • Are you his girlfriend?

  • They’re my children.


  • The shops are at the end of the street.

  • My house is near the school.

Time and dates

  • What time is it?

  • We are late!

  • The wedding is on the 1st.

Behaviour, Personality and Feelings

  • Is he nice?

  • She’s always gentle.

  • You’re being silly.

  • I’m so tired today.

Did you find learning about the verb "to be" useful? Let us know in the comments. Also if you enjoyed this post, please help to spread it by emailing it to a friend or sharing it on Facebook or Twitter. And since you’re still here, don’t forget to subscribe to my website to receive updates and great tips such as this one here.


Folse, K. (2009). Keys to Teaching Grammar to English Language Learners - A Pratical Handbook. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Redston C. & Cunningham, G. (2009). face2face Elementary Student's Book. Cambridge University Press.

Murphy, R. (2007). Essential Grammar in Use 3rd Edition. Cambridge University Press.