Recently, I have received a number of questions about the word is. Is is a verb? Is it a preposition? Is it a noun? What exactly is its function in a sentence?
In this post, I will cover everything you need to know about this word and its function in the English sentence. After reading this article, you won’t ever again wonder to yourself, “Is the word is a verb?”
To see the various kinds of verbs in English, see here.
The State of Being Verbs
Is is a verb? Is is what is known as a state of being verb. State of being verbs do not express any specific activity or action but instead describe existence. The most common state of being verb is to be, along with its conjugations (is, am, are, was, were, being, been).
As we can see, is is a conjugation of the verb be. It takes the third person singular present form.
- I am. First person singular present.
- You are. Second person singular present.
- He is. Third person singular present.
It can take a bit of practice to spot state of being verbs because they aren’t action oriented and they are wildly irregular in their conjugations. By comparison, look at the verb hit.
- I hit the ball.
- You hit the ball.
- He hit the ball.
Look at how much easier that is than the verb be.
- I am.
- You are.
- He is.
Despite the confusing nature of the verb to be, it is incredibly important to understand how it works with all of its conjugations because it is probably the most common verb in the English language.
Think about how many times you say, I am hungry, I am happy, We are ready to go, etc. To be is a very popular verb that is used all of the time.
Don’t Verbs Describe Action?
Now, you might be thinking to yourself, “I thought verbs described action.”
- John hit the ball.
- Suzy drives the car.
- She ran across the finish line.
These are all words that describe an action; they describe something that a person can do. I can drive the car. I can hit the ball.
So, how can is be a verb? What action is taking place?
Verbs describe more than just action: While it’s true that verbs can describe action, they can also describe existence or occurrence, where there might not be any action taking place.
As I said above, verbs can describe a state of being, or mere existence. There is no overt or positive action taking place when you say I am or He is.
These verbs are describing your mere existence, but they are verbs nonetheless.
Is as a Helping Verb
Is is a helping verb? The verb be and its conjugations, is, am, are, etc., are primary helping verbs. This means that they can stand alone in a statement, and they can be used as a helping verb. For example,
- He is.
This statement has a subject and a verb and expresses a complete thought. In this example, is is the main verb.
But, if we look at another sentence, we can see that is can also be a helping verb.
- He is running a marathon.
- The All England Club also announced Tuesday that it is increasing spending to fight match-fixing and doping, although it provided no figures. –The New York Times
In this example, is is paired with the verb running and is working as a helping verb.
Is can be paired with all kinds of verbs to act as a helping verb.
- Is running.
- Is singing.
- Is laughing.
- Is writing.
For more information on helping verbs, see our full helping verbs page.
Summary: Is is a verb?
Is is a verb or a noun? Is it a preposition? In this post, we have learned that the word is a verb and functions solely as a verb to describe a state of being or existence.
- Is is a verb.
- Is can also be a helping verb.