What Is a Verb of Being?

Jean-Louis Trintignant in Shakespeare's 'Hamlet', Paris, circa 1959.
Jean-Louis Trintignant in Shakespeare's 'Hamlet', Paris, circa 1959.

Keystone/Stringer/Getty Images 

In traditional grammar and pedagogical grammar, a verb that does not show action instead indicates a state of being. In other words, a state-of-being verb identifies who or what a noun is, was, or will be. Although in English most being verbs are forms of to be (am, are, is, was, were, will be, being, been), other verbs (such as become, seem, appear) can also function as verbs of being. They can be compared with stative verbs (verbs of thoughts, feelings, or sensations), and contrast them with verbs of doing (dynamic verbs), or action verbs.

Stylistic Advice: Avoid "Be" When You Can

Unfortunately, too many to be verbs can make writing dull. Action verbs are stronger than to be verbs because they allow the reader to envision activity. Action verbs also make for more impactful, shorter sentences. Replace being verbs where you can, as you edit a draft of your work. Not all being verbs or even passive voice can be avoided, of course, but where they can be replaced, your sentences will be livelier and punchier and will flow more quickly.

Improving Examples

Compare the following sentences and their improvements:

  • Jerry was working hard.
  • Jerry worked hard.
  • Mary is a big fan of Bach.
  • Mary adores Bach.

In the latter improvement, the verb was changed completely, to be more descriptive.

Removing Passive Voice

To get rid of passive voice, turn the sentence around and start with the doer of the action rather than the object of the action. See the difference between:

  • Their house was invaded by bugs.
  • Bugs invaded their house.
  • The package was sent by Bob.
  • Bob sent the package.

Passive voice has its place, such as when the result is more important than who did the action. For example, "The record low temperature was broken last night, after 104 years," or when the actor is unknown, as in, "It's recommended to have the furnace serviced once per year." Even in these cases, however, the passive voice is not required, and does increase the length and complexity of the sentence.

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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "What Is a Verb of Being?" ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, thoughtco.com/verb-of-being-1692485. Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 28). What Is a Verb of Being? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/verb-of-being-1692485 Nordquist, Richard. "What Is a Verb of Being?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/verb-of-being-1692485 (accessed March 24, 2023).

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