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In the King James version of the Bible there is a verse like this:

The Lord is my strength, and my fortress, and my song. And He is become my salvation.

Is it still feasible to use "is become" instead of "has become" and what is the semantic difference?

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This reminds me of Robert Oppenheimer's quote: We knew the world would not be the same. Few people laughed, few people cried, most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita. Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty and to impress him takes on his multi-armed form and says, "Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds." I suppose we all thought that, one way or another. – Antony Quinn Sep 24 '10 at 9:25
Also in Handel's Messiah: "The kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ: and He shall reign for ever and ever." – mmyers Sep 24 '10 at 16:32
That Messiah quote is lifted from the Book of Revelation (a.k.a. The Apocalypse of St John the Divine). That is, the KJV again. – TRiG Dec 6 '10 at 19:57

5 Answers 5

up vote 32 down vote accepted

The use of "is become" here relates to verbs of motion/transition; verbs of motion would take be while other verbs would take have. There is no such grammatical distinction in English perfect forms anymore.

English began with this distinction, as did sibling languages like German (as Cindi pointed out originally in a now-deleted answer).

Here is what happened after that. This is an excerpt from the OED's discussion of auxiliary have:

In early ME., [have extended its use to the verb to be, as in "have been", like French]. Verbs of motion and position long retained the earlier use of the auxiliary be; and "he is gone" is still used to express resulting state, while "he has gone" expresses action.

This is talking about English retaining the auxiliary be for motion verbs, like present-day German. Originally, the verb "to be" also used be as an auxiliary for the perfect, e.g. "it is been cold", but changed to have in early Middle English. (German still uses "ist gewesen", or "is been", today.) After this change, the other motion verbs still retained the be-auxiliary for perfect.

In Modern English, the motion distinction completely faded out, and be was replaced with have across the board, except in a very specific case. The OED describes this case:

in intr. vbs., forming perfect tenses, in which use it is now largely displaced by have after the pattern of transitive verbs: be being retained only with come, go, rise, set, fall, arrive, depart, grow, and the like, when we express the condition or state now attained, rather than the action of reaching it, as ‘the sun is set,’ ‘our guests are gone,’ ‘Babylon is fallen,’ ‘the children are all grown up.’

Keep in mind that become is not intransitive, so "is become" doesn't work anymore, with any meaning, in present-day English (— except, of course, in poetic use).

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In a couple places you say “past” when I think you maybe mean “perfect”, right? – nohat Sep 25 '10 at 0:17
Yes, thanks for mentioning it. – Kosmonaut Sep 25 '10 at 2:36

The use of 'be' rather than 'have' to form the perfect of some intransitive verbs ("I am come", "I am become" etc) is archaic in Modern English, and used only for special effects.

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So in other words theres nothing wrong with the usage, it's just archaic. – Anonymous Type Nov 28 '10 at 23:47

"Is become" is archaic. The "to be" and "to have" verbs used to follow the model of French verbs in the present perfect (passe compose in French) and the French still follow it. The etre (to be) and avoir (to have) are still used this way and for verbs such as "to come" and "to become", etre would be used in the perfect.

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I have come to this site because I just now used a "be" verb with "become", and I wondered how my usage fits with theory and practice as currently understood.

My sentence (put in an electronic letter/note):

(1) No wonder my missives are become so long.

As Kosmonaut prescribes, my usage is quasi-poetic (evidenced by my use of the archaic "missive" to describe my notes). But there may be more going on here than that:

As Heckschei observes, "become" is not necessarily a transitive verb. It is transitive in (2), intransitive in (3):

(2) I wondered how it would feel to be my brother for a day, so yesterday I put on his clothes and went to his job, and in effect I became him.

(3) The window opened, and I became cold.

That (2) is a transitive usage is attested by the objective case of the pronoun; we cannot say (2'):

(2') *I wondered how it would feel to be my brother for a day, so yesterday I put on his clothes and went to his job, and in effect I became he.

But there is clearly no object of "became" in (3), and so that must be an intransitive use.

So we ought to include "become" in the list of intransitive verbs indicating a transition of state that are (or at least might be) eligible for "be" usage in the perfective. But I'm not able just now to come up with any convincing instance of such a usage, i.e., one that doesn't feel archaic. The closest I can come is this:

(4) ?It is become common to use "have" with nearly all verbs in the perfective.

But I'm not convinced (4) is any less archaic-sounding than (1), and it is without the use of "missive" to justify a quasi-poetic usage.

So if "become" is now purely in the archaic/poetic usage for "be" in the perfective, why? There is no more proto-typical change-of-state intransitive verb than "become"; why should that not fit at the head of the class along with "go", "come", "grow", and so on?

Indeed, "come" usage with "be" is rather archaic; the only usage I can think of is Tolkien's:

(5) Ai! A Balrog is come!

That sounds right to my ear, but only because it's right for the elf Legolas to be speaking in archaic mode. It seems odd to me that "go" retains the "be" usage but "come" does not. Does anyone have a counterexample for "come"? If not, maybe there is a link here between "come" and "become". (And maybe "become" originally started precisely as "be" + "come"?)

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It's a wonder he could speak at all at this point. – Edwin Ashworth Jun 28 at 8:51

I do not believe "is become" is archaic, any more than "he is gone", "I am come" and "He is risen". Since when has "become" turned into a transitive verb only? Can it be legitimately argued that "become" is an intransitive verb only? Some verbs in English may be used transitively and intransitively and, of course some are only intransitive and some only transitive. When I say that "so and so goes home each evening," the word "home" is not the object of "goes". The verb "Go" is intransitive, whereas, when I say "he pushes the cart", clearly the cart is the object of "he pushes".

Likewise, "he is gone" has quite a different meaning than "he has gone", although, admittedly, when used colloquially, both expressions are used interchangeably and normally warrant no great expenditure of time to show in what sense are they different. Moreover the words "has" and "is" are often contracted as in "he's gone" where you cannot tell whether the speaker meant "has" or "is". Besides, who would care?

However, caring is not the determinant of a proper English form of language. "He is gone" means "he was here and now he is not", implying motion, whereas "he has gone" is a mere statement of fact. As another person answering this question on this page pointed out, "is become" implies motion or at least transition. See "But, Madam, where is Warwick then become?" (attributed to Shakespeare by Webster 4th impress.), i.e. where did Warwick come from and where did he go? Conversely, "has become" would have been static.

The expression "is becoming" is called archaic by some only because the passive voice, when applied today to other verbs formerly using the auxiliary "to be" as the auxiliary verb in the passive voice, has gone out of style (the active voice being modernly preferred to the passive) and, therefore, in the eyes of some, can now, with impunity, be accused of being archaic or on its way to being.

If "come, go, rise, set, fall, arrive, depart, grow and the like" (as stated in one of the foregoing responses, using "and the like," rather mysteriously) may be used in the passive voice "when we express the condition or state now attained, rather than the action of reaching it,", then surely "become", which shares with "come" the same OHG root "quemam" (according to Webster 4th impress.), should benefit from the same permissive use, when the intention is one of transition.

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This is drivel. is become, is come and is risen are all archaic. (It is not clear to me whether or not he is gone is current, because in normal speech it becomes he's gone, and is indistinguishable from he has gone.) Transitivity doesn't enter into it. – Colin Fine Nov 25 '13 at 23:43
In "he is gone", "gone" is an adjective, as in "he is tired" or "he is hungry". Since "become" cannot be an adjective, "he is become" is archaic. – Peter Shor Feb 1 at 1:14

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