BE Excellent



The verb “Be” and other Auxiliary Verbs

A Re-Introduction

One of the biggest problems people have with English verbs is caused by the verb ‘Be”. People think they know it but they don’t.

Sometimes if I ask my students if they know the verb “Be” properly they answer yes, other times they don’t even know what I am talking about – they have never thought about the fact that “I am, you are, he is” etc is the verb “Be”

Trying to become excellent at English without really studying this important verb is like trying to build a house on sand. Almost every sentence you try to write or say will be a problem. So PLEASE take some time with this  – it will make all the difference to your studies believe me.

English has many more tenses for the verb “BE” than other languages which use special verbs to express ideas that English uses the verb Be + an adjective for eg:

English: He is ill (verb ‘be’ + adjective ‘ill’)

Greek: αρρωστάινει (arrowstainee) from the verb Αρρωστάινω

Can you think of similar examples in your language?

The verb ‘BE’ is also an extremely important auxiliary verb. You need to understand it very very well or you can’t work confidently with any other verb even in simple conversation.

It’s just the way it is! The most difficult problem in English is the one you need to learn first in a way that almost no child ever learns anything!

Try to follow this tutorial carefully, step-by-step. Don’t just pass over it quickly because you think you know this stuff! Each time you see a bullet point eg:


stop and think about what you have just read and practice the idea in your mind. Take your time. Make up sentences of your own as examples. There is nothing new here really but I am trying to help you see the problem clearly in a different way from what you have learnt before.

Our goal is not just to get you to do exercises without making mistakes but to try to get your brain to “think English” so that you automatically write and say your verbs correctly.

Do you think you know the verb “Be”? I bet you don’t!! Especially not the negative and question forms. You will find it useful to have this page that I made open as you are working on this. It shows all the tenses and forms of the verb “BE”. Take one tense at a time and compare it to other verbs:

Let’s get started

* If you don’t know the verb ‘Be” perfectly you are in a big mess with all other verbs. We don’t just use it as a verb by itself, it is also the most commonly used auxiliary verb used to make all continuous/progressive tenses and also the passive forms. Often the different parts of the verb are split up by other words like adverbs or clauses:

Jane, who recently passed her exams, will soon be 21.

You need to be very confident about this verb (as well as the other auxiliary verbs do and have and going to) so that you can easily see the difference between when it is being used as a main verb by itself and when it is working as an auxiliary to another verb.



With all the auxiliary verbs it is a very good idea to make a special job of writing out all the forms where they are acting as the main verb as well as the auxiliary. They are the most confusing and examiners love them!

This is a job where you need to sit down with a big pile of cheap copy paper and some nice coloured pens and write out the forms in large clear letters and bright colours. FORCE YOURSELF to concentrate. Say what you are writing out loud. You can have some music on when you do a job like this (in fact putting some headphones on might help you concentrate) but it should be instrumental music not songs with words in! If you are dyslexic or have problems remembering words it is probably better if you don’t have music as you need to listen to your own voice as you work. It can be fun to work with a friend on a job like this and make a game of it. Perhaps you think it is too boring or too simple a task to spend an afternoon on. It is not. Think of it this way. In an exam there may be 2 questions on the 3rd Conditional. If you get them wrong you will not fail. On the other hand, if you are a bit confused about the verb “Be” and the other auxiliary verbs it is entirely possible for you to lose 10-20 marks and FAIL! However, if you do this task properly you may well discover that your English has DRAMATICALLY IMPROVED! So………


I beg your pardon? No talking in class!!

You need to look carefully at the forms where the auxiliary verb is the same as the main verb:

1. For the verb BE look at the continuous forms:

I am being, I was being, I have/had been being, I will be being

2. For the verb Do look carefully at the question and negative forms of the Present and Past simple tenses:

Do I do it? I don’t do it, Did she do it? She didn’t do it

3. For the verb Havelook closely at the perfect tenses

I have had, Have I had? I haven’t had

I have been having, Have I been having? etc

I had had, Had I had? I hadn’t had

I had been having, Had I been having? I hadn’t been having.

In each case write out the full form and then choose some other verbs both regular and irregular and do the same for them and compare them with be, do and have.

Here’s an exercise on auxiliary verbs:

Watch out for “’s” – does it mean ‘is’ or ‘has’?


Back to the verb BE:

* The problem is not just that BE is very irregular in its basic forms but that the negative and question forms work COMPLETELY DIFFERENTLY from other verbs and this causes lots of confusion eg

Normal Verb Be

Do you drive? Are you?

She doesn’t work She isn’t/ She’s not

Did he speak? Was he?

We don’t play football We aren’t

* Normal verbs (regular and irregular) in simple forms use an auxiliary verb (do) which is inverted to make the question form and the main verb stays in its bare infinitive form eg.

Affirmative Question

She likes ice cream Does she like ice cream?

He came to the party Did he come to the party?

In contrast, the verb “Be” inverts ITSELF(turns the parts of the verb upside down eg:

He is > Is he?. (NOT “does she be?” or “did you be?”)

This is one of those things which I am sure you know but may never have thought about quite like this before. I hope this is helping!

* To make negative forms normal verbs use an auxiliary plus ‘not’. The verb “Be” just uses ‘not’ added on eg

They were > They were not/weren’t.

* “Be” also has many possible contractions (short forms) and in many cases there are two options eg: We aren’t/We’re not.

Here are some great exercises to practise with:

Here’s an exercise on Will or Would (not quite “BE” but it seems like a good place to put it!):


Another important issue with the verb “BE” and other auxiliary verbs is Question Tags

Here are some exercises:

Expressions with the verb ‘BE”

What to do now

English has many more tenses for this important verb than other languages. Every English student, however advanced, should make a big effort to learn the verb “Be” properly in all its forms so that you can form all the tenses and also move immediately into question and negative forms without having to think about it.

Please believe me that time you spend on this important basic issue will really improve your marks and give you the foundation to understand all other verbs much better whilst always keeping in mind that the Verb “Be” is THE MOST IRREGULAR VERB OF ALL!

For each tense and form you study make sure you have thought about how it contrasts to “normal” verbs in the same form. Choose one regular verb and one irregular for each form or each tense. Try writing them out beside eachother so that you really learn to recognise and use the different forms, It might sound like a lot of work (and a lot of pieces of paper)* but if you do this carefully you will find it helps you a lot and you will find the whole business of English verbs much easier in the future..

Once you have sorted out the verb BE you can easily make all the continuous/progressive tenses and the passive forms of other verbs.

* For an exercise like this use cheap A4 copy paper, one sheet for each tense form and a big bright marker pen. It will help you “photograph” the forms in your mind.


Another important issue with the verb “BE” and other auxiliary verbs is Question Tags

Here are some exercises:

Expressions with the verb ‘BE”


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