I have searched normal internet sites, and have not found data that show what percent of any given written English language sample (not dictionary) is comprised of the verb “to be?” I am seeking either actual statistics, or a program that can scan a sample and identify the verb "to be" in all its forms.

I intended to include both lexical and auxiliary forms. However, given that this may be too broad, I would just like to see any statistics at all on percentage of use of the verb to be

The same goes for different types of written English: I would like samples from varied sources, including time, but will settle for what I uncover. Any piece of this puzzle will be appreciated.

  • Forms of the verb to be are both lexical (i.e., they mean something to do with existence, equivalence, and stative ideas) and auxiliary (i.e., they help form the tense and voice for other verbs). Which are you talking about? Bear in mind that there are many different types of written English, crossing boundaries of register, class, culture, geography, and time. You might want to narrow the focus of your question. – deadrat Nov 7 '16 at 19:18
  • Around 3%. See Ngram. You can see that whether or not you count contractions doesn't make much difference. – Peter Shor Nov 7 '16 at 21:35
  • also: every time you use an adjectival phrase, there is an implicit 'be' (equivalent to a relative phrase). 'the fat cat' = 'the cat that is fat'; 'the cat in the bed' = 'the cat that is in the bed'; 'the tired cat' = 'the cat that is tired'; etc. The brain handles all of these as forms of 'to be'. – AmI Nov 7 '16 at 22:50
  • @PeterShor aren't you getting matches for possessives that way? – Helmar Nov 8 '16 at 9:23
  • @Helmar: Yes. But if you check my Ngram, I did it with and without possessives, and the difference was less than 0.1%. So the conclusion "around 3%" holds either way. – Peter Shor Nov 8 '16 at 12:09

Some of the links in the following Language Log post may be helpful: How "whopping" is 78 percent monosyllables? The analysis in the following post (ONLY 20 WORDS FOR A THIRD OF WHAT THEY SAY: A REPLICATION) found forms of "be" made up about 4% of a BBC article. I don't know if this is representative of anything or not.

Also, here is a relevant question on Linguistics SE: Where to find frequency list of English words from newspapers, books and magazines?

In general word frequency follows "Zipf's Law", mentioned in the answer to the following question: Frequency of word use vs number of words

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  • These links and references to posts are indeed helpful. Especially, I had never heard of Zipf's law, which may give me the empirical basis for analysis that I am seeking. Thanks! – Vekzhivi Nov 7 '16 at 20:56

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