be /biː/


I. verb

1. (usu. there is/are) exist

there are no easy answers
there once was a man
there must be something wrong
I think, therefore I am.
2. be present

there were no curtains around the showers
are there any castles in this area?
3. [with adverbial] occur; take place

the exhibition will be in November
the opening event is on October 16
that was before the war.
4. occupy a position in space

Salvation Street was on his left
she was not at the window.
5. stay in the same place or condition

he’s a tough customer— let him be.
6. attend

I’m at school doing A levels.
7. come; go; visit

he’s from Missouri
I have just been to Thailand
the doctor’s been twice today.
8. [as copular verb] having the state, quality, identity, nature, role, etc., specified

Amy was 91
the floor was uneven
I want to be a teacher
father was not well
it will be Christmas soon
‘Be careful,’ Mr Carter said.
9. cost

the tickets were £25.
10. amount to

one and one is two.
11. represent

let A be a square matrix of order n.
12. signify

we were everything to each other.
13. consist of; constitute

the monastery was several three-storey buildings.
‹informal› say

last time I saw her she was all ‘You need to quit smoking!’.
II. auxiliary verb

1. used with a present participle to form continuous tenses

they are coming
he had been reading
she will be waiting.
2. used with a past participle to form the passive voice

it was done
it is said
his book will be published.
3. [with infinitive] used to indicate something that is due or destined to happen

construction is to begin next summer
his mum was never to see him win.
4. used to express obligation or necessity

you are to follow these orders
they said I was to remain on board.
5. used to express possibility

these snakes are to be found in North America
she was nowhere to be seen.
6. used to hypothesize about something that might happen

if I were to lose

if I was to tell you, you’d think I was mad.
‹archaic› used with the past participle of intransitive verbs to form perfect tenses

I am returned.
III. phrases

1. as/that was
as someone or something was previously called

former Sex Pistol John Lydon (Rotten, as was).
2. the be-all and end-all

‹informal› a feature of an activity or a way of life that is of greater importance than any other.

is food and comfort the be-all and end-all?
3. be at

‹informal› be doing or trying to do

what are you at there?
4. be away

‹dialect› leave or set out at once

I’m away to my work.
5. be off
[often in imperative] go away; leave

be off with you!

6. be oneself
act naturally, according to one’s character and instincts.

I want him to have the confidence to be himself.
7. been (or been and gone) and——

‹informal› used to express surprise or annoyance at someone’s actions

they’ve been and carted Mum off to hospital.
8. been there, done that
see there.
9. be that as it may
see may1.
10. not be oneself
not feel in one’s usual physical or mental state.

I’m not myself this morning.
11. -to-be
[in combination] of the future

my bride-to-be.
– origin Old English bēon, an irregular and defective verb, whose full conjugation derives from several originally distinct verbs. The forms am and is are from an Indo-European root shared by Latin sum and est. The forms was and were are from an Indo-European root meaning ‘remain’. The forms be and been are from an Indo-European root shared by Latin fui ‘I was’, fio ‘I become’, and Greek phuein ‘bring forth, cause to grow’. The origin of are is uncertain. / usage: For a discussion of whether it is correct to say that must be he at the door and it is I rather than that must be him at the door and it is me, see usage at personal pronoun.

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