‎Do native speakers put stress on "are, is, am, was, were" when you want to emphasize them?

As in

He WAS the man who stole my necklace!

Then, for what reason, do you emphasize "WAS"? Is it just because to emphasize "the past time"?

If my example isn't appropriate, could you answer my question with some better examples?


You are right.

This stress is called EMPHATIC.

Here are some more examples of the emphatic stress:

DO come in!

You HAVE heard of me, I dare say!

Have Ann and John arrived? - ANN has!

As about your example with "WAS", the emphasis is made on the obvious evidence of the crime he committed, but not on the past time.


Where is John? -

I have no idea! He WAS here a minute ago! -

But he IS'NT.

  • Sorry, your answer is off topic. I'm dealing with be-verbs (am,is,are,was,were) – GKK Apr 11 '19 at 13:05
  • The stress is of similar nature! – user307254 Apr 11 '19 at 13:11

in your example,

He was the man who stole my necklace!

I can think of only one reason why I might emphasize "was": there had been uncertainty about whether John was the thief, but that uncertainty is now resolved. That is, he was the man who stole my necklace, even though he said he wasn't!

if the example sentence had instead involved a state of being rather than an action, then the emphasis might instead draw attention to the state having ended.

Is Jack asleep?

He was asleep, but not anymore.

  • To sum up, you agree with my opinion that if "was" is emphasised, it's used for emphasising the past? – GKK Apr 11 '19 at 13:22

Answer: Yes, native speakers emphasize the be verb when they want to emphasize them.

When the verbs are action verbs, one would stress the auxiliary: - But he did do it. - In fact, she does know them.

When the verb is be, the verb can be stressed, yes:

  • But in fact he was there. I saw him.
  • Sure, they were playing football.

Why would these be stressed? Because there are implied ideas:

  • But in fact he was there. [Another speaker had been saying he was not there]

  • Sure, they were playing football. [Another speaker said, they are playing it now.]

These are emphatic uses. With action verbs, the emphasis is from the auxiliary. With the verb be, it can only be heard, not seen. Therefore, in writing, to signal it, one must use italics.

  • But in fact, he was there.

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