There be

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Revision as of 05:49, 21 October 2019 by Duncan (talk | contribs) (Pronunciation)

There be is an English verb form, which combines existential there with the verb be as existential be.


The construction is unusual in English[1] because the primary verbs (be or have) show object agreement rather than the usual subject agreement. For example, we say "there is a pen" (singular object), and "there are four pens" (plural object). Additionally, the verb must agree with the first direct object, ignoring any conjunctions; so we use the singular forms to cover a plurality of objects if the first object is singular. For example, we say "there is a house and a garden" rather than *"there are a house and a garden." There is some logic to the latter form even though it is erroneous, and students may attempt it.

The basic forms are in the following table:

Form Singular Plural
To-infinitive (simple) there to be
To-infinitive (perfect) there to have been
Bare infinitive (simple) there be
Gerund there being
Present simple there is there are
Present perfect there has been there have been
Past simple there was there were
Past perfect there had been

Note that while the perfect aspect can apply, the progressive aspect can't be applied; we don't say *"there are being".

In addition, "there be" can take modal verbs, both full modal verbs and semi-modal verbs:

Verb Simple Perfect
can there can be ?there can have been
could there could be there could have been
will there will be there will have been
would there would be there would have been
May there may be there may have been
might there might be there might have been
shall there shall be there shall have been
should there should be there should have been
must there must be there must have been
ought to there ought to be there ought to have been
need to there needs to be there needs to have been
have to there have to be there have/has to have been
used to there used to be -


Note a linking /r/ is often desirable in "there are", especially to distinguish it from "they are", which has a linking /j/.

Anticipate difficulties

Chinese students will often try to say "there has", or "there have", or just "have" (without a subject). This is because in similar situations in Chinese, they use 有 (Pinyin: yòu). This frequently develops into a fossilised error.

  1. perhaps unique?