Here I provide the excerpt I took from Advanced Grammar In Use:

Before a noun we include to be when the noun tells us what the subject is, but often leave it out when we give our opinion of the person or thing in the subject. We leave out to be in formal English. Compare:

  • He walked into what seemed to be a cave. (not … what seemed a cave.) and

  • She seems (to be) a very efficient salesperson.

If my understanding is correct, does that mean all linking verbs (excluding the exceptions or special cases as one of them stated above) with to be should be avoided in formal writing, or did I just misunderstand, or does it only apply with the linking verb seem?

1 Answer 1


You may omit "to be" in formal writing when giving an opinion:

He appears happy.

However you may include it. The effect isn't casual:

He appears to be happy.

You don't omit "to be" in formal or informal language when stating a fact.

He appears to be a child.

There are plenty of other contexts where "to be" is used and can't be omitted

I want to be happy.

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