• I am.
  • You/we/they are.
  • He is.
  • I/he was.
  • You/we/they were.
  • I had been.
  • ... to be.
  • ... being bad.
  • ...

Why are there so many forms for this verb, and why are they so dissimilar? If you go far enough back, was there a time where they were more similar? Did a couple of languages merge in the verb to be?


@AndrewLeach refers to a question that seems to give you the answer you are seeking.

I would like to point out that your question implies that other verbs do not have just as many parts to their conjugation. Every verb in English has exactly the same components in its conjugation, it is just that many of them are the same.

Contrast, to be with to run. For a really interesting one look at to hang; while it is more regular than to be it is one of the few English verbs which is explicitly tied to its subject - people are hanged, everything else is hung.

  • 1
    Not all English verbs have the same number of forms—defective verbs (such as modal auxiliaries), for example, generally only have finite forms. The distinction between ‘hanged’ and ‘hung’ isn’t necessarily one of human vs. non-human, either—rather, it is a distinction between ‘killed by hanging’ and ‘suspended from above with lower parts hanging free’. A cat can be hanged, though with some difficulty, while a human being can also be hung (both in the literal sense and in the more slangy sense, though the latter requires that the human being in question is a man). Aug 25 '13 at 23:32

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