Whenever I read advanced grammar articles I come across these two terms quite often : be and to be.

What is the difference between these two and how to identify the difference between these two? Please give some examples also.

Wikipedia about be : The English copular verb be has eight forms (more than any other English verb): be, am, is, are, being, was, were, been.

If this is be then what is to be. Please explain with examples. Is it possible to change 'be' in a sentence to 'to be'?

  • be is a verb. to be is an infinitive. And I can't provide elaborate information because I myself am always confused about which infinitive acts like what! (P.S. Infinitives can act like nouns, adjectives, or adverbs) Commented Oct 7, 2020 at 16:33
  • Be polite, or there will be consequences. be there is an imperative. to be follows something: For me to be nice, people have to be nice to me. Be it on Monday or Sunday, I always do the laundry on one of those two days. be+ "subjunctive" in English. It means: whether it is.
    – Lambie
    Commented Oct 7, 2020 at 16:42
  • Apart from a few "degenerate verbs" (must, shall, will,...), all English verbs can be preceded by the "infinitive marker" to in at least some contexts. In contexts like this one, that infinitive marker is optional. In other contexts it may be either required OR inappropriate - but there are too many details to set out in a single answer here, so I think you need to limit the scope of the question. Commented Oct 7, 2020 at 16:42
  • @Lambie Did you mean for me to be polite? But I didn't write any rude comments? Commented Oct 7, 2020 at 16:51
  • @DhanishthaGhosh Not at all. It was just difficult to come up with a sample. Don't be paranoid. :)
    – Lambie
    Commented Oct 7, 2020 at 16:52

1 Answer 1


Wikipedia about be: "The English copular verb be has eight forms (more than any other English verb): be, am, is, are, being, was, were, been."

If this is be, then what is to be?

In many languages, including English, the infinitive serves as the citation form of the verb, which is how the verb as a whole (encompassing all its forms) is referred to in discussions (the name of the verb).

In English, the infinitive has two forms, the bare infinitive (which is used as the dictionary headword) and the so-called full infinitive (which is preceded by the infinitive marker "to").

Some grammars refer to "the verb be" and others refer to "the verb to be". For example, if one book states that "the 3rd person singular of be is is" and another book states that "the 3rd person singular of to be is is", these two statements mean exactly the same thing. The verb be and the verb to be are the same verb - just two different ways of referring to it. So, Wikipedia could equally well have referred to "the English copular verb to be" and it would have been referring to the same verb.

Of course, in actual usage, the bare infinitive and the full infinitive are used in different contexts and are only very occasionally interchangeable.

Briefly, the full infinitive is used following a non-modal verb ("I want to go", "I'd love to see it") or as the subject of a sentence ("To err is human"). The bare infinitive is used after a modal verb ("I must go", "she should have it", "he will be there") or after the auxiliary "do" ("he doesn't know the answer"). The plain form of the verb (in this case "be") is used not only as the bare infinitive but also as an imperative ("Be quiet! Go away!") and as the subjunctive ("She demanded that he be arrested").

  • @rjpond...I read somewhere that change the verb form of 'be' to 'to be'. What does it mean then? Can you provide some examples in your answer to make it more clear. Commented Oct 7, 2020 at 17:28
  • I have added a final paragraph that summarises the main differences in usage. I hope this helps. However, a full account of everything is more than you can reasonably expect from an answer. You should read up on the differences yourself and, armed with that research, pose a specific question about anything you still don't understand afterwards.
    – rjpond
    Commented Oct 7, 2020 at 18:11

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