Sunday, July 9, 2017

Verbs: Episode 6, BE!

This verb is complicated.  Native speakers even mess it up.  Have you ever heard someone say
If I was rich, I wouldn’t have these problems. (See Grammar Girl for a great explanation of why this should be were not was.)
I been busy this week.

Again, I’m very Chomskian about usage—if your meaning is clear, grammar only matters in school and job interviews.  Some people will always judge others based on their grammar skills, but if it wasn't grammar, they would judge on something else.

Back to the verb “be.”  This verb is the most important verb in the English language, and perhaps the most misunderstood.  I have heard fellow writers say that we need to cut all “be” verbs from our writing, omitting all usage of the verb “be.”

I find this humorous and misguided. 

Certainly, writers generally overuse the verb.  I do.  On the other hand, the verb is intrinsic in our language for many important reasons:
  1. This is the primary verb that means to exist, to become, to live, to occur, to happen, or, of course, to be.
  2. This is the verb we use to build much of our future tenses.  BE + going to verb = a common future usage (I am going to buy a new car next week; she is going to travel to Belize next month).
  3. This is the verb we use to form the progressive tense.  BE + an –ing verb = a progressive verb (I am chewing my pen).
  4. This is the verb we use to make passive tense.  BE + past participle = a passive verb (it can get way more complicated than this).
Of course, when writers talk about minimizing passive or inactive verbs and replacing them with active verbs this is ideal!

Please, please don’t talk about slashing “be” from your writing.  It is the most important verb in our language.  Learn to use it well--if minimally.

More on this next time….

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