Forms of be: am, is, are, was, were, been, being.
Some “be” verbs combine with “helping” verbs to indicate time, possibility, obligation, or necessity: can run, was sleeping, had been working.
Some common helping verbs are: be able to, could, have to, may, might, must, ought to, shall, should, will, would.
Leaving out a helping verb often leaves a sentence fragment and doesn’t make sense. For example: Many have been fortunate (not Many been fortunate…) or Some could be real-life Superman (not Some be…).
Sometimes “to be” verbs are used as linking verbs (linking the noun with the adjective or adverb: He was happy, They were careful, Our trip to Glacier Park was fabulous.
They can be used to describe actions already in progress at the moment "in focus" within the sentence, as in “I was doing my homework when my brother broke into my room, crying.” or “I will be graduating from college about the same time you enter high school.”
However: Most often “to be” verbs are often called weak or passive construction, and authors are encouraged to find stronger action verbs to take their place. For example, “He was walking” can be written simpler and more to the point as “He walked.” Even stronger is “He strode,” “He stomped” “He ambled,” etc. These strong verbs show his mood and attitude.
In the above linking verb examples, we could write stronger by describing actions and emotions. He was happy. How does happy look or feel? Our trip was fabulous—how?
“To be” verbs are often necessary, but be careful how you use them.
Can you think of other examples when we should or should not use “to be” verbs?
A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in Northwest Washington. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreams, is based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, has recently been released. Heidi has a degree in journalism, a certificate in fiction writing, and is a member of Northwest Independent Editors Guild. She teaches writing and edits, blogs, and is working on the next books in her “Dare to Dream” series.