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In the phrase make <someone> {adjective}, it implies changing that person's emotion, but make <someone> be {adjective} implies forcing that person to comply.

Why does the word "be", which only has to do with a subject's state of being, make so much of an implication difference?

  • 2
    To be is the Swiss Army knife of English. Not sure how to get the job done? Whip it out and get to work. – Dan Bron Feb 28 '16 at 0:19
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    The more common a word is, the more likely it is to be irregular. – GEdgar Feb 28 '16 at 0:50
  • It is the fundamental verb of the English language, and hence is called upon to tie together many different sentence structures. (Remember, "is" and "are" are forms of the verb "be".) – Hot Licks Feb 28 '16 at 4:56
  • Aside. No one used to use the habitual form of "be" as much as they do now. It's irritating to hear it. "Don't be doing this or that" verses "Don't do that". – user116032 Feb 28 '16 at 16:26
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I see that there's already an excellent answer framed in linguistic analysis, so I'll come at this interesting question from another direction.

If we grab an online definition of make (from MW)

to cause to happen to or be experienced by someone

and another definition of be (from OD

Used to indicate something due to happen... to express obligation or necessity... to express possibility

we can begin to see the make...be combination as a kind of intensifier, implying an imperative/coercive/causative situation.

Furthermore, if we cling to the sense of make as a near synonym with cause, we might imagine a make...be sentence such as

With a wave of his wand, he made the children be quiet.

as a sort of ellipsis of the infinitive particle to - as if to say he made the children to be quiet.

Of course this does little to explain why "make" and "be" dance this particular grammatical gavotte, other than to demonstrate that, as the man said, "be" is the equivalent of duct tape and WD40 in the English language's toolbox.

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Interesting question.

I would say that it is because in the simple sentence "X is [adjective]" , 'is' is the copula: it is syntactic sugar, with no semantics of its own. So in "Y makes X [adjective]" the copula is not needed syntactically, and is omitted.

So if "be" is included in "Y makes X be [adjective], it is (usually) not just a copula, but a full verb, and "make" is a proper causative, causing X to perform the verb, just like "Y makes X sit down".

  • I have to say that I really like this answer for its economical precision and arcane grace. The only reason for not using it in my classroom is that I'd have to spend more time and energy explaining what is meant by "causitive" and why "copula" doesn't mean that. (On matters grammatical we often have to cast fake pearls before real swine...alas.) – Rob_Ster Feb 28 '16 at 1:18
  • Thank you @Rob_Ster. I have edited it to make it clearer (I was using angle brackets, which made my adjectives disappear) and correct the spelling of "causative". – Colin Fine Feb 28 '16 at 15:29

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