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Verb Be in the Present: Conjugation and Common Uses

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"To be" connects two ideas: A = B.

A can be a person, animal, thing, or idea.

B can be anything that is connected to A (for example, a noun, adjective, place, and so on).

In this lesson, let’s learn about “to be” in the present tense.

Conjugation in the Present Simple Tense

Singular subjects

I am

You are

He is

She is

It is

Plural subjects

We are

You are

They are

Contractions

Especially when you speak, you contract the different forms of be with the pronoun. That means the pronoun and the verb become one word. Contractions between the verb and “not” are also common when you speak.

Contractions with pronouns

Singular

I am    I’m

you are you’re

he is      he’s

she is    she’s

it is     it’s

Plural

we are we’re

you are   you’re

they are they’re

Example Sentences
I am hungry. I’m hungry.
He is from Egypt. He’s from Egypt.
You are a good friend. You’re a good friend.
It is 7:30 a.m. It’s 7:30 a.m.
We are late. We’re late.

Contractions with Nouns

Contractions between is and nouns are common when you speak and sometimes in very informal writing, not in formal writing.

Example Sentences
The dog is outside. The dog’s outside.
Kareem is from Egypt. Kareem’s from Egypt.
The coffee machine is new. The coffee machine’s new.
Your taxi is here. Your taxi’s here.
The students are late. (impossible)

Contractions with “Not”

When you contract is and not not, you get isn’t.

When you contract are and not, you get aren’t.

When you contract am and not, you get ain’t, but this word is not accepted in standard grammar. It is considered “bad English,” but many people use it depending on the variety of English they speak. You hear it in music and poetry, but it is not used in standard English.

Example Sentences
I’m not hungry. (no contraction with not)
He’s not from Egypt. He isn’t from Egypt.
You’re not a good friend. You aren’t a good friend.
It’s not 7:30 a.m. It isn’t 7:30 a.m.
We’re not late. We aren’t late.

Connecting Ideas

“To be” connects nouns and pronouns to nouns, adjectives, places, and amounts. For example, you can say the following:

  • John is a doctor. (noun + be + noun)
  • Giraffes are tall. (noun + be + adjective)
  • We are happy. (pronoun + be + adjective)
  • My family is in New York. (noun + be + place)

Click the boxes below to see more example.

Examples

  • China is a country.
  • Mary is a doctor.
  • Dogs are animals.
  • Those people are students.

Examples

  • I am an American.
  • She is a doctor.
  • It is a dog.
  • We are students.
  • They are Americans.

Examples

  • John is hungry.
  • Mary is intelligent.
  • These roses are not red.
  • Giraffes are animals.

Examples

  • I am hungry.
  • She is intelligent.
  • They are red.
  • They are animals.

My family is in New York today.

I’m not at work now. I’m at home.

Argentina isn’tin Central America. It’s in South America.

My sisters are on the beach this summer.

We’re on an airplane to California.

Amounts are measured in currency (dollars, pounds, euros, rupees, etc.), kilometers, miles, kilograms, pounds, etc.

Examples

  • The chocolate is 3 dollars.
  • The boxes are 100 kg.
  • John is 45.
  • Washington is 373 km from New York.
  • Washington is 4 hours from New York.

Note. Other verbs show amounts, too. For example, “The chocolate costs $3” or “The boxes weigh 10 kg.”

Impersonal “it” + be + adjective

In English, a verb always has a subject. Where there is no subject, you must use “it” (for example, when you talk about the weather).

Examples

  • It is cold today.
  • It is 3°C.
  • It is a beautiful day today.
  • It is cloudy today.

Impersonal “it” + be + noun

Sometimes “it” does not refer to a person or thing. “It” is there to conjugate the verb.

Examples

  • Who is there? — It is John.
  • It is rude to interrupt people.
  • It is a good idea to learn English if you are in business.

Impersonal “it” + be + prepositional phrase

Sometimes be is used with prepositional phrases. A prepositional phrase has a preposition and other words to form an expression.

Examples

  • This rose is for you.
  • The coffee machine is out of order.
  • My parents are in business.
  • My birthday is on December 10. That is next week.
  • We are out of milk. Let’s go to the supermarket.
  • I am into pop music.

You often use prepositional phrases with places, for example, “He is in New York today.” “In New York” is a prepositional phrase. (See “Noun/Pronoun + be + place” above).

That + be + adjective

We use “that” to refer to something that someone just said.

Examples

  • I got 100 points on the test. — That is nice.
  • Janet’s dog is sick. — Oh, no! That is so sad.
  • Sudan has 255 pyramids. — Wow! That is interesting.

You often use prepositional phrases with places, for example, “He is in New York today.” “In New York” is a prepositional phrase. (See “Noun/Pronoun + be + place” above).

Asking and Answering Questions with Be

To ask a question with “be,” put the verb before the subject. To answer a question, use the correct form of the verb.

Look at the following examples with questions and short answers.

  • Am I wrong? — No, you are not. You're correct.
  • Am I wrong? — No, you aren’t. You're correct.
  • Am I wrong? — Yes, you are. Sorry.
  • Are giraffes from Africa? — Yes, they are.
  • Are giraffes from Asia? — No, they are not. They are from Africa.
  • Are giraffes from Asia? — No, they aren't. They're from Africa.
  • Are you a doctor? — Yes, I am. I’m a cardiologist.
  • Is your name John or Joe? — It’s John.
  • Is your name John or Joe? — It is John.
  • Is your name John or Joe? — It’s John.

When You Cannot Use Contractions with Be

In the above examples, you see that some contractions with “be” are impossible.

Am and not do not contract. You can say isn’t (is not) and aren’t (are not), but there is no contraction for am not.

it is    it’s

you are   you’re

I am   (impossible)

Use no contraction with the pronoun when am, is, or are is at the end of the sentence.

For example, you can say,

It’s very nice today.

Are you John? No, I’m not.

Is it late? — It isn’t.

but you can only say,

Is it nice today? — Yes, it is.

Yes, I am. (no contraction)

Is it late? — It is!

Compare these answers to “Is John a doctor?”

Yes, he is. (no contraction)

Yes, he is a doctor.

Yes, he’s a doctor.

No, he is not.

No, he’s not.

No, he isn’t.

Practice

Practice the information on this page so you do not forget it.

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