"Be" Verbs

There are really no "be" verbs. There’s only one—the verb "to be." But any of its forms will do the job: am, are, is, was, were, been, being, be, I’m, he’s, we’re, you’re, it’s, isn’t, aren’t, ain’t, etc. (etc. isn’t one, in case you were wondering. And I’m not really sure about "ain’t" either).

Here’s all you have to remember about be verbs:


The idea of "being," of existence, is very abstract. It also describes a stationary state. Something that simply "is" is not necessarily doing anything. What you get, then, if you use lots of be verbs, is a stationary abstraction.

Sounds like a pretty picky point, doesn’t it? Sure, but when you read something with 25 be verbs on one page, you’ll become a believer. It’ll put you to sleep. If you get your paper back with drool marks all over your be verbs, you’ll know what happened. As a matter of fact, if you’ve got more than 7 be verbs or so on one page, you ought to try to trade a few in.

And what could you trade for be verbs? (Sort of reminds you of the guy who walked into the auto parts store and said, "Can I get a windshield wiper for my Yugo?" and the salesguy said, "Sounds like a fair trade to me.")

You can trade them for Action Verbs!! You may have to rearrange your sentence a little, but it usually works. One of the easiest ways to do it is to find a new subject (be verbs are often used for the passive voice, which means there is no subject—easy to write, but boring to read). It’s tough at first, too, but you get a knack for it after a while. Just be careful not to trade your be verb for another be verb somewhere else in your sentence.

Try trading verbs on these sentences. Double-check your revisions:

Some of you are now thinking, "Hey! You’ve got a lot of be verbs in your writing here." And it’s true. Sorry. At least I try to use lots of short sentences and concrete details here and there to keep you awake.


Verb Trades


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