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Am, Is, Are, Was, Were, Be, Being, Been

What are the above words called? I think someone called them auxiliary verbs.

Edit: When I learned them, my curriculum called them "State of Being verbs" or just "Being verbs".

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And why does everyone always learn them in that order? Except the weird ones who do "be, been, being". – mmyers Aug 19 '10 at 15:38
For the record, some of us weird ones learned "Am, Are, Is, Was, Were, Be, Being, Been." – kitukwfyer Aug 19 '10 at 20:41
Who knows...... – Arlen Beiler Aug 20 '10 at 17:20
Some of these answers are so metaphysical; we should probably have some Heidegger expert weigh in on this – mfg Aug 20 '10 at 19:07
I learned them in the same order as the OP, but kitukwfyer's order makes grammatical sense: 1st person, 2nd person, etc. – moioci Aug 21 '10 at 3:43
up vote 15 down vote accepted

The words you cited are all forms of the verb “be”, which is also known as a copula or linking verb.

The term auxiliary verb applies to verbs, such as forms of be, have, and do, that conjoin with another verb to add syntantic or semantic information, such as grammatical aspects like the progressive aspect or perfective aspect:

  • progressive aspect: be + present participle (e.g. am walking)
  • perfective aspect: have + past participle (e.g. have walked)

Verbs such as will and shall combine to indicate future tense or conditional tense.

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Note, it's not always the copula, and be isn't the only copula in English. – Charlie Aug 25 '10 at 4:53

And, to add to the terminology conundrum:

"to be" is either

  • a copula verb: it asserts a property

    John is a teacher

    Peter is nice

  • an auxiliary verb: it is required to encode, e.g., tense or voice

    Max has been beaten up by members of this gang

  • a full-blown main verb: roughly meaning "to exist"

    To be or not to be: that is the question

These distinctions can become quite fuzzy. Consider:

There is a unicorn in the garden

Is this the "exist"-reading of the verb, or is it copula use? I currently have no definite answer for this.

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my guess is that its like this... noun+prepositional phrase. copula usage when referring to the who, what, where; main verb as in existence only when used as a declarative of noun+verb ie 'A unicorn is' (and disregarding the prep. phrase). – mfg Aug 20 '10 at 19:05

Those are just forms of the verb to be. To be is just one of the auxiliary verbs in English (and it's not always an auxiliary). Others are:

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To be is an auxiliary verb; am, is, are, was, were, being, been are different tenses of the verb.

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protected by Daniel Jan 22 '12 at 1:51

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