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Helping Verbs: To Be

Be stands alone as a verb, and its presence changes other verbs from (for example) “I read” to “I am reading.” You are reading this entry, since you’ve been wanting to know more about grammar, and you still need help! We all do. Even verbs can need help; that’s why to be — the most common verb in English — is one of the helping verbs.


  • They winning at cards all evening.
  • I be sitting next to the fire, just like a pirate. ARRR!
  • You are drink cider again; I hope it’s good.


Native speakers of English usually combine a subject (a noun such as a person, place, or thing), a verb (some variant of to be), and a present participle (going, doing, dancing, etc.) to create sentences such as “They are drinking cider.” In some parts of the United States, people leave out the “to be” part, so rather than “They are winning,” they would say “They winning.” The correct form needs that helping verb!


Irregular verbs are old. To be has to be one of the oldest, as it deals with our very existence; it definitely predates Shakespeare’s Hamlet (“to be or not to be?”) from about 1600. When we use to be with an –ing or present participle form of another verb, as in “I am dancing like a disco queen,” we are indicating continuous action; it’s called the progressive tense.

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