The English verb to be is one of the most important verbs for learners to know. It has many different uses, including as a helping verb, and its conjugation is very irregular. There's a lot for English learners to know!

Here's a complete guide to using the verb to be in English.


In this post:

Meaning of the verb to be
Conjugations of the verb to be

Auxiliary verb to be
Questions with to be


What is the purpose of the verb to be?

In English, to be is used for a lot of different meanings, such as:

  • Describing: Lily is serious. My shirt is blue.
  • Locating: Eddy is at home. Your phone is on the table.
  • Identifying: Junior is Eddy's son. My name is Bea.
  • and many more!

What are the conjugations of the verb to be?

To be is challenging because it’s an irregular verb, which means you will need to memorize the different conjugations. Luckily, there are some tips and tricks to make it easier to study! 

Simple present

The simple present forms of to be are the first forms you need to know. As you can see in the table, the forms for I and he/she/it are unique, and all the other forms have are the same:

SIMPLE PRESENT EXAMPLES
I am I am happy.
you (singular) are You are my brother.
he/she/it is It is Monday today.
we are We are at school right now.
you (plural) are You are my friends.
they are They are on the floor.

When a sentence uses one of these present tense forms, it is common to combine the pronoun and the verb to form a contraction. This happens a lot in speaking, too!

SIMPLE PRESENT CONTRACTIONS EXAMPLES
I am I'm I'm happy.
you are you're You're my brother.
he/she/it is he's/she's/it's It's Monday today.
we are we're We're at school right now.
you are you're You're my friends.
they are they're They're on the floor.

Simple past

To be in the simple past looks different than present tense, but it actually follows a similar pattern! The forms for I and he/she/it are both was, and all the other forms are the same:

SIMPLE PAST EXAMPLES
I was I was in Paris yesterday.
you (singular) were You were hungry before breakfast.
he/she/it was It was a cold day.
we were We were at the store.
you (plural) were You were all bored.
they were They were asleep at midnight.
💡
MEMORY TIP: The third person singular (he/she/it) conjugations end in -s for both present and past: is and was. This is similar to regular verbs, like he walks and it says.

Negation of simple present and simple past

To make a negative simple present or simple past sentence with to be, use the word not after the form of to be:

Affirmative Negative
She was in a play last year. She was not in a play last year.
They are professional dancers. They are not professional dancers.
I am a student. I am not a stuent.
You were hungry. You were not hungry.

Simple future

The simple future in English is formed with the modal verb will followed by the infinitive to be. Since modals don’t ever change based on the subject of the sentence, the simple future of to be is the same for all subjects: will be!

SIMPLE FUTURE EXAMPLES
I will be I will be home tomorrow.
you (singular) will be You will be on vacation next week.
he/she/it will be She will be here soon.
we will be We will be tired after the race.
you (plural) will be You will be the winners.
they will be They will be busy this weekend.

Conditional

To form conditional verbs in English, use would + the bare form of the verb. So the conditional of to be is always would be! 🎉

CONDITIONAL EXAMPLES
I would be I would be the best dog owner ever!
you (singular) would be You would be so happy with a million dollars.
he/she/it would be He would be scared of that movie.
we would be We would be cold in Antarctica.
you (plural) would be You would be in a band.
they would be They would be tourists.

Present perfect

The present perfect is created by using a present tense form of to have + the past participle been. Since been is the past participle for all conjugations, you just need to make to have agree with the subject. The third person singular (he/she/it) form of to have is has, and all other subjects use have.

PRESENT PERFECT EXAMPLES
I have been I have been to London twice.
you (singular) have been You have been here since lunch.
he/she/it has been He has been awake for three hours.
we have been We have been on a trip all week.
you (plural) have been You have been married for a month.
they have been They have been gone since yesterday.
💡
MEMORY TIP: The third person singular (he/she/it) form has ends in -s, just like is, was, and regular verbs, like he walks and it says.

Past perfect

The English past perfect is formed from the past tense of to have (which is always had) + the past participle been. That means you need just one form for all subjects: had been!

PAST PERFECT EXAMPLES
I had been I had been busy.
you (singular) had been You had been to China already.
he/she/it had been She had been gone all morning.
we had been We had been at work.
you (plural) had been You had been on vacation.
they had been They had been on a walk.

Future perfect

The future perfect is another tense where every form of to be is the same. 🙌 This tense is made of the modal verb will + the bare form have + the past participle been.

FUTURE PERFECT EXAMPLES
I will have been I will have been a professor for a year.
you (singular) will have been You will have been to the beach every week.
he/she/it will have been It will have been windy all day.
we will have been We will have been partners for a week.
you (plural) will have been You will have been here for two hours.
they will have been They will have been students for 10 years.

Conditional perfect

The conditional perfect in English also uses the same form for all subjects: the modal verb would + the bare form have + past participle been.

CONDITIONAL PERFECT EXAMPLES
I would have been I would have been so sad.
you (singular) would have been You would have been a doctor.
he/she/it would have been She would have been famous.
we would have been We would have been more excited.
you (plural) would have been You would have been richer.
they would have been They would have been bored.

Negation of simple future, conditional, and perfect tenses

For the tenses that are made from multiple words, put the not after the first word to make the sentence negative.

Affirmative Negative
She has been in the living room. She has not been in the living room.
They will have been here for a year. They will not have been here for a year.
I had been to India. I had not been to India.
We would have been bored. We would not have been bored.
You will be interested in this book. You will not be interested in this book.

Auxiliary verb to be

All of the previous examples showed to be as a main verb of the sentence, where the word be has a specific meaning. 

To be is also used as an auxiliary verb that helps form other tenses. Here are some examples:

Progressive: [form of be] + present participle

Subject Form of be Present participle
I am studying
You have been studying
They would have been studying

Passive: [form of be] + past participle

Subject Form of be Past participle
She had been hired
You will have been hired
They were hired

Questions with to be

If you know the conjugations of to be, you can also use them to ask questions! Here are the most common types of questions and resources to study them more:

Yes/no Questions

Q: Are you brothers?
A: Yes, we are brothers.

Q: Have you been here before?
A: No, I have not been here before.

Wh- Questions

Q: Where will she have been by the end of your trip?
A: She will have been to England and France.

Q: Who was your favorite teacher?
A: My favorite teacher was Oscar.

Tag questions

They are astronauts, aren’t they?
She was not tall, was she?

Be confident using to be!

Learning the meanings and forms of to be will help you understand and use English more effectively. Practice these verbs a little at a time, and you'll soon *BE* a be-verb rockstar!