For example:

Does he be a hero?

instead of

Is he a hero?


He doesn't be good as you thought

instead of

he isn't good as you thought.


The memories don't be real

instead of

The memories aren't real.

You use do in all questions in simple present and simple past, but why don't you use it for the word 'be'?


1 Answer 1


The rule is that in "transforming" a declarative sentence into a question (or a negation), the subject inverts with the auxiliary verb.

He is acting like a hero. → Is he acting like a hero?
He has acted like a hero. → Has he acted like a hero?

If there is no auxiliary verb present in the declarative form, the appropriate form of DO is brought in as a 'dummy' auxiliary.

He acts like a hero. → Does he act like a hero?, not *Acts he like a hero?
He acted like a hero. → Did he act like a hero?, not *Acted he like a hero?

But BE is always treated like an auxiliary verb, even when it is the only verb present in the declarative form.

He is a hero. → Is he a hero?, not *Does he be a hero?
He was a hero. → Was he a hero?, not *Did he be a hero?

Note that until quite recently HAVE could be treated the same way as BE—even today you find speakers inverting non-auxiliary HAVE with the subject, though it is becoming rare.

Have you any kumquats today? is acceptable, although Do you have any kumquats today? is more usual.

The same considerations apply with negations.

  • 1
    Well, Do be quiet! is certainly a natural imperative construction. And although I wouldn't like to stake my life on it, I doubt there are any syntactic errors in something like Does he be quiet when he's told to shut up? (but there might be a rule saying why Yes, he certainly does be quiet! isn't an acceptable response). Dec 23, 2016 at 17:03
  • @FumbleFingers, "be quiet" might be enough of a set phrase to have to be treated as a unit rather than as individual words when transforming it like this.
    – The Photon
    Dec 23, 2016 at 18:12
  • 1
    @The Photon: So, do be a darling, won't you? Are you going to say that one doesn't count either, because be a darling is also a set phrase? Dec 23, 2016 at 18:19
  • @FumbleFingers, I was talking about the "Does he be quiet when..." example. That seems acceptable to me, but "Does he be a darling when..." does not.
    – The Photon
    Dec 23, 2016 at 18:26
  • @The Photon: I can't find any credible instances at all of does he be in Google Books, but I must admit that if I had to accept either of our versions here, I'd be much happier with quiet than a darling. It's not really something that should concern learners (all they need to know is Avoid such usages like the plague!), but I might be minded to raise it on ELU. Dec 23, 2016 at 18:33

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