The two be's of English


Senior Linguistics Consultant, SIL International, USA


This  qualitative  study  investigates  the  uses  of  be  in  Contemporary  English.  Based  on  this  study,
one  easy  claim  and  one  more  difficult  claim  are  proposed.  The  easy  claim  is  that  the  traditional
distinction between be as a lexical verb and be as an auxiliary is faulty. In particular, 'copular-be',
traditionally considered to be a lexical verb, is in fact a prototypical auxiliary. The harder claim is
that  there  is  a  syntactic  distinction  between  lexical-be  and  auxiliary-be,  but  that  distinction  does
not  coincide  with  the  copular  vs.  non-copular  usages.  Rather,  the  syntactic  distinction  between
lexical and auxiliary be has an entirely different, semantic motivation based on stativity vs. activi-ty. In the process of providing evidence for these claims, the paper challenges a major assumption
of traditional grammar – namely that every English sentence requires a lexical verb. This assump-tion is replaced by the notion that every English sentence requires Inflection. The proposals in this
paper bridge the gap between theoretical and applied linguistics and have the potential to simplify
significantly the conceptualization, teaching and learning of English grammar.


Main Subjects

Standard  approaches  to  English  grammar
usually identify two 'be verbs' – one a lexical
or  copular  verb  and  the  other  an  auxiliary
(see  Celce-Murcia  &  Larsen-Freeman,  1999,
p.  53;  Greenbaum  &  Quirk,  1990,  p.  36;
Berk, 1999, p. 151; Azar, 2002: A6; Teschner
&  Evans,  2007,  p.  51;   Börjars  &  Burridge,
2001, pp. 166–167, to name a few). Common
textbook  examples  of  these  two  uses  of  be
are given in (1a, b) respectively:
She is a doctor.   
They are hilarious.
Malcolm was the leader.
This is for you.
We're in the kitchen.
There were three children in the yard.
She is waiting.   
The vase was broken by the workers.
We were devastated by the tragedy.
In this paper I would like to make two claims
– an easy claim and a more difficult one. The
easy claim is that the distinction illustrated in
(1) is spurious. All the examples of be in (1)
are  prototypical  auxiliaries.  As  described  by
Huddleston  and  Pullum  (2002,  p.    92),  these
are  CORE  AUXILIARIES.  The  more  difficult
claim is that indeed there is a morphosyntac-tic  difference  between  be  as  a  lexical  main
verb  and  be  as  an  auxiliary,  but  that  differ-ence is not the standard one illustrated above.
The syntactic distinction between lexical and
auxiliary be is more insightfully motivated by
the  semantic  distinction  between  ACTIVE  BE
and  STATIVE  BE.  Both  of  these  claims  have
profound  consequences  for  theoretical  ap-
proaches  to  the  basic  clause  structure  of
Modern  English,  and  to  English  language
pedagogy.  The  net  result  of  taking  this  ap-proach  is  to  significantly  simplify  the  con-ceptualization, teaching  and learning of Eng-lish grammar.
The easy claim
It  is  very  easy  to  show  that  syntactically  all
the examples of be in 1 are auxiliaries. In fact
this  has  often  been  noted  or  assumed  in  the
literature,  without  much  ado  (see,  e.g.,  Hud-dleston & Pullum, 2002, p. 114 and the refer-ences  cited  therein),  so  I  am  not  claiming  to
have discovered anything 'new' about English
grammar in this section.
 Rather I would like
simply  to  put  all  the  facts  before  the  readers
of this journal in a clear fashion, and explore
how  they  potentially  affect  the  teaching  and
learning of English.  
The lexical verb vs. auxiliary distinction
Though terminology varies widely, most dis-cussions  of  the  lexicon  of  any  language  de-scribe a distinction between  LEXICAL VOCAB-ULARY  and  GRAMMATICAL  FUNCTORS  (see,
e.g.,  Givon,  2001,  pp.  187–237;  Huddleston
&  Pullum,  2002).  In  this  characterization  of
the  lexicon,  lexical  verbs  form  an  open  class
of  words  that  have  certain  syntactic  features
and  tend  to  express  complex  semantic  con-tent.  Examples  of  lexical  verbs  in  English
include eat, advertise, read, dichotomize, and
a very large number of others. Auxiliaries, on
the other hand, form a relatively small, closed
set  of  grammatical  functors.  In  English  there
are modal auxiliaries (would, could, will, can,
etc.), aspectual auxiliaries (have and be), and
a  'dummy'  auxiliary,  do.  Some  approaches
consider  auxiliaries  to  be  a  subset  of  verbs,
because they either take verbal inflection, or,
in  the  case  of  modals,  themselves  constitute
the required verbal inflection for a clause.  In
any  case, it  is the distinction between lexical
vocabulary  and  grammatical  functors  that
underlies  the  traditional  determination  that
there  are  two  be's  in  English  –  copular-be
(1a)  is  a  considered  to  be  a  member  of  the
class  of  lexical  vocabulary,  while  auxiliary-be (1b) is a member of the class of grammati-cal  functors.  In  the  following  subsections  I
will briefly describe a few of the morphosyn-tactic  tests  for  distinguishing  lexical  verbs
from auxiliaries.  
Since  full  verbs  are  lexical  vocabulary,  they
are  not  amenable  to  contraction.  Auxiliaries,
on  the  other  hand,  being  grammatical  func-tors,  tend  to  be  phonologically  reduced,  and
often  do  not  take  ordinary  word  stress.  For
this  reason  some  auxiliaries,  including  most
forms of be, may cliticize to (contract with) a
preceding word:
(2)  WITH SUBJECT:     
She would listen to you. →  
  She'd listen to you.
Cleo had listened to me. →  
  Cleo'd listened to me.
The teacher is smiling. →  
  The teacher's smiling.
The man in the suit is devastated by
the news. →  
  The man in the suit's devastated by
the news.
Around the bend will come the train.  
  → Around the bend'll come the    
On the wall are hanging three
  portaits.→  On the wall're  
  hanging three portraits.
Here have fallen many fine soldiers.   
  → Here've fallen many fine  
This  contraction  does  not  occur  with  any
main lexical verbs:

(3)    She owed me a dollar. →  
  *She'd me a dollar.
Cleo had fourteen cats. →  
  *Cleo'd fourteen cats.
The teacher has a Jaguar. →  
  *The teacher's a Jaguar.
I will her my estate. →  
  *I'll her my estate.
The  following  examples  show  that  this  con-traction  also  occurs  with  copular-be.  This,
then,  is  the  first  structural  feature  that  unites
it  with  auxiliaries  and  distinguishes  it  from
main lexical verbs:
She is a doctor. →  
  She's a doctor.
They are in the kitchen. →  
  They're in the kitchen.
The news about Australia is
  The news about Australia's  
Here are two children. →  
  Here're two children.
In the kitchen is a sink. →  
  In the kitchen's a sink.
These contraction facts illustrate that copular-be  exhibits  at  least  one  morphophonemic
characteristic  of  auxiliaries  –  a  characteristic
not shared with full lexical verbs.
Auxiliaries have the NICE properties; lexical
main verbs do not
All  of  the  forms  of  be  in  (1)  have  several
properties  of  prototypical  auxiliaries,  includ-ing  those  identified  by  Huddleston  and  Pul-lum (2002, pp. 92–112) as the 'NICE' proper-ties  (Negation,  Inversion,  Code  and  Empha-sis).
  In the following sections, I will quickly
run  through  these  properties,  first  showing
that they hold for auxiliaries, and not for lex-ical  verbs.  Then  I  will  show  that  the  same
properties  hold  for  be  in  copular  construc-tions  such  as  those  in  (1a).  Taken  together,
this evidence clearly shows that copular-be is
a syntactic auxiliary.
Negation:  In  negative  clauses,  the  negative
particle  not  follows  an  auxiliary  (the  first,  if
there are more than one):
(5)  AFFIRMATIVE:     
She should eat more chelow kebab.
She is eating chelow kebab.
The vase was broken by the workers.
We have lived in Isfahan.
She should not eat more chelow
She is not eating chelow kebab.
The vase was not broken by the
We have not lived in Isfahan.
In Modern English, lexical main verbs do not
allow the negative particle to follow them:
(6)    *She eats not chelow kebab.
*The workers broke not the vase.
*We live not in Isfahan.
Rather,  if  there  is  no  auxiliary  in  the  corre-sponding  affirmative  clause,  the  'dummy'
auxiliary do is inserted, and the negative fol-lows it:
(7)    She eats chelow kebab.  →   
  She does not eat chelow kebab.  
The workers broke the vase.  →   
  The workers did not break the vase.  
We live in Isfahan.  →   
  We do not live in Isfahan.
Inversion: In certain questions the first auxil-iary  and  the  subject  must  invert  (exchange
She should eat more chelow kebab.
She is eating chelow kebab.
The vase was broken by the workers.
We have lived in Isfahan.
Should she eat more chelow kebab?
Is she eating chelow kebab?
Was the vase broken by the workers?
Have we lived in Isfahan?     
What should she eat more of?
What is she eating?
Who was the vase broken by?
Where have we lived?
If there is no auxiliary in the declarative, the
dummy  auxiliary  do  is  inserted  before  the
Does she eat chelow kebab?
Did the workers break the vase?  
Do we live in Isfahan?
What does she eat?
What did the workers break?
Where do we live?
Again,  lexical  main  verbs  do  not  exhibit  this
(10)   *Eats she chelow kebab?
*Broke the workers the vase?
*What broke the workers? (trying to
mean 'What did the workers break?')
*Where live we?
Code:  In  constructions  that  'stand  for'  or
'code'  a  previously  mentioned  verb  phrase,
the  first  auxiliary  is  repeated  (and  inverted
with  the  subject).  The  ungrammatical  exam-ples illustrate the fact that lexical main verbs
do not have this property:
She should not eat kebabs, should
*She should not eat kebabs, eat she?
*She eats kebabs, eats not she?
    The vase was broken by the workers,
wasn't it?
*The vase was broken by the workers,
(was) not broken it?
I should see the doctor, and so should
*I should see the doctor, and so
(should) see she.
    Who should eat chelow kebab?  She  
  should. *She (should) eat.
    We were eating kebabs, and so was
*We were eating kebabs, and so (was)  
  eating she.
If  there  is  no  auxiliary  in  the  original  verb
phrase, the dummy auxiliary do occurs in the
coded phrase:  
She likes kebabs, doesn't she?
*She likes kebabs, likes not she?
The workers didn't break the vase, did
*The workers didn't break the vase,
broke they?
I saw the doctor, and so did she.
*I saw the doctor, and so saw she.
Who ate the kebabs?  She did. She
Emphasis: In constructions in which the truth
of  the  proposition  is  emphasized,  the  first
auxiliary  receives  emphatic  stress  (indicated
by  all  caps  in  these  examples).  Again,  the
infelicitous  examples  show  that  lexical  main
verbs do not possess this property:
(13)   She should eat more chelow. Yes she
SHOULD. Yes she should EAT.
The vase was broken by the workers.
Yes it WAS. Yes it was BROKEN.
We have lived in Isfahan. Yes we
HAVE. Yes we have LIVED.
If there is no auxiliary in the original clause,
the  dummy  auxiliary  do  occurs  and  receives
the emphatic stress:
(14)   She eats a lot of chelow. Yes she
DOES. Yes she EATS.
The workers broke the vase. Yes they
DID. Yes they BROKE.
We live in Isfahan. Yes we DO.
Yes we LIVE.
Copular-be has the NICE properties
The  above  examples  all  illustrate  the  well
known and established syntactic tests for dis-tinguishing  auxiliaries  from  main  verbs  –
auxiliaries  have  the  NICE  properties,  while
lexical  verbs  do  not.  It  is  also  well  known
and  easily  demonstrated  that  the  so-called
'lexical'  use  of  be  in  predicate  nominals,  ad-jectives, locatives and other copular construc-tions illustrated in (1a) has the NICE proper-ties.
Negation:  Like  auxiliaries,  copular-be  pre-cedes  the  negative  particle,  and  does  not  re-quire  or  allow  (in  prototypical  cases,  but  see
below for the 'exceptions') do-support:  
(15)   She is not a doctor.       
*She does not be a doctor.
They are not hilarious.
*They do not be hilarious.
Malcolm was not the leader.
*Malcolm did not be the leader.
They are not in the kitchen.   
*They do not be in the kitchen.
This is not for you.
*This does not be for you.
Inversion: Like auxiliaries, copular-be inverts
with  the  subject  in  certain  questions.  Unlike
lexical verbs, it does not require do-support:  
(16)   Is she a doctor?     
*Does she be a doctor?
Are they hilarious?   
*Do they be hilarious?
Is this for me?     
*Does this be for me?
What is she?     
*What does she be?
Who is this for?
*Who does this be for?
Where are we?
*Where do we be?
Code:  Like auxiliaries, copular-be codes pre-viously mentioned verb phrases. Unlike lexi-cal verbs, it does not rely on a dummy DO:  
(17)   She's a doctor, isn't she?
  *She's a doctor, doesn't she?
I am a doctor, and so is she.
  *I am a doctor, and so does she.
22      The two be's of English
Emphasis:  Like  auxiliaries,  copular-be  re-ceives  emphatic  stress  when  the  truth  of  the
proposition  is  emphasized.  Unlike  lexical
verbs, it does not need DO:  
(18)   She's a doctor.   Yes, she IS.  
    Yes, she DOES.
We were in Isfahan. Yes we WERE.
    Yes, we DID.
Notice  that  other  copular  (or  'linking')  verbs
that take subject complements, such as seem,
become  or  resemble,  do  not  have  the  NICE
properties, and do require the presence of  do
in  NICE  constructions.  Therefore  they  are
lexical  main  verbs,  and  as  such  are  syntacti-cally distinct from copular-be:
(19) N: They don't seem hilarious.
  *They seem not hilarious.
    She didn't become a doctor.
  *She became not a doctor.
  I:  Does she resemble her mother?
  *Resembles she her mother?
    What did she become?   
  *What became she?
  C: She became a doctor, and so did he.
  *She became a doctor, and so
became he.
    The situation turned ugly, didn’t it?
  *The situation turned ugly, turned
not it?
  E: They seem happy. Yes they DO.
  *Yes they SEEM.
Among  copular  verbs,  then,  only  be  has  the
NICE  properties  otherwise  only  attributed  to
auxiliaries. We can conclude, then, that copu-lar  be  belongs  to  the  same  syntactic  class  as
There  is  one  syntactic  property  of  be  in  pro-gressive  aspect  constructions  that  seems  to
contradict  the  claim  that  auxiliary-be  and
copular-be  are  one  and  the  same  syntactic
entity.  This  is  the  fact  that  wh-extraction  of
the  complement  of  be  in  progressive  aspect
constructions  requires  a  pro-form,  doing,
while  extraction  of  the  complement  of  be  in
copular  constructions  is  very  possible  and
common  with  no  recapitulating  pro-form.
Though  this  appears  to  counterexemplify  the
easy claim made in this paper, I believe there
is  a  good  explanation  for  this  phenomenon
that  does  not  require  that  auxiliary-be  and
copular-be be treated as distinct syntactic en-tities.  This  explanation  is  presented  briefly
below, after the apparent counterexamples.
The complement of be in a copular construc-tion  can  be  the  target  of  wh  extraction,  leav-ing no visible remnant in situ:
(20) a.  What is that?  It is a birthday cake.
     It is baking.
       b.  What are you?   I am a linguist.
     I am singing.
These  are  wh  questions  in  which  the  com-plement  of  be  is  the  target  of  the  wh  word.
The wh word may not target the complement
of  progressive  aspect  be.  This  is  shown  by
the  incoherence  of  progressive  aspect  an-swers to these questions. Instead, if the com-plement of be in a progressive construction is
extracted, the pro-form doing must remain in
(21) a.  What is that doing?
It is rolling down the hill.
        b. What are you doing?   
I am singing.
This non-extractability of the complement of
be  in  a  progressive  construction  holds  for
other auxiliaries as well, though of course the
form of the in situ pro-form varies according
to the particular complement type:
(22) He should eat chelow. →  
  What should he do?  
  *What should he?     
They have eaten chelow. →  
  What have they done?  
  *What have they?
They eat chelow. →  
  What do they do?
  *What do they?
Non-extractability  of  the  complements  of
auxiliaries  has  consequences  in  all  the  'clas-sic'  wh-extraction  constructions,  such  as
headless  relative  clauses,  illustrated  here  in
cleft constructions:
(23) a.  *What she should is sing the national
         b.  What she should do is sing the
national song.
(24) a.  *What she has is sung the national
  b.  What she has done is sung the
national song.
(25) a.  *What I'm not is singing the national
  b.  What I'm not doing is singing the
national song.
(26) a.  *What she is is singing the national
  b.  What she is doing is singing the
national song.
These kinds of clefts are perfectly acceptable
without a pro-form recapitulating the extract-ed complement of copular be:
(27) a.  What I'm not is organized.
  b.  What she is is a doctor.
  c.  Where I am is at home.
  d  Why I'm here is a mystery.
This  one  syntactic  property  seems  to  differ-entiate the auxiliary use of be from the copu-lar  use,  and  hence  to  constitute  counter  evi-dence  to  the  'easy  claim'  made  in  this  paper.
However,  there  are  at  least  three  reasons  not
to consider this property as definitive counter
First, this feature does not hold for be in pas-sive  constructions.  In  most  cases,  the  com-plement of 'passive be' can be extracted with
no pro-form left in situ:
(28) a.  What she was is devastated by the
  b.  What we are is frightened by the
severity of your reaction.  
In  fact,  a  pro-form  is  not  possible  in  these
contexts,  just  as  it  is  not  possible  with  the
copular use of be (29c, d):
(29) a.  *What she was done is devastated by
the tragedy.
  b.  *What we are done is frightened by
the severity of your reaction.
  c.  *What she is one is a doctor.
  d.  *Where I am there is at home.
The  fact  that  Wh-extraction  does  not  distin-guish  passive  auxiliary-be  from  copular-be
indicates  that,  if  anything,  progressive-be  is
the  odd  one  out  in  this  typology.  So-called
copular-be still has all the properties of proto-typical  auxiliaries,  including  passive-be.
Since the class of auxiliaries is itself a mixed
bag, e.g., the modals exhibit a slightly differ-ent  cluster  of  syntactic  properties  than  the
other  auxiliaries  and  even  from  one  to  the
other,  it  is  not  particularly  telling  that  pro-gressive-be has one apparently unique feature
that distinguishes it from all the rest.  
Second, there are unique features of some of
the  copular  uses  of  be  as  well,  yet  these  do
not  compel  English  grammar  books  to  call
each  one  a  syntactically  distinct  copula.  For
example,  only  predicate  adjectives  can  occur
in  various  kinds  of  comparative  construc-tions,  as  illustrated  in  (20)  (examples  from
Davies  2004  –  the  BYU-BNC:  The  British
National Corpus):
(30) a.  however complicated the key
sequence is, a self-indexing function
can be found . . .
  b.  The more fleeting the moment, the
more poignant the emotion.
  c.  Depressed as he was, he managed to
ruin the mood.
These  constructions  are  not  semantically
compatible with predicate nominals and some
predicate locatives:
(31) a.  *However a teacher she was, she
couldn't get a job.
  b.  *The more the father he was, the less
he could get done.
  c.  *A teacher as he was, he had to look
  d.  *However in the house he was, she
couldn't get him to cook a meal.
  e.  *On top of the mountain as we were,
we couldn't breathe.
While  they  do  seem  to  be  acceptable  with
passive constructions:
(32) a.  However frustrated by events we
were, we never gave up.
  b.  The more frightened by the severity
of your reaction she is, the less likely
she is to open up.
  c.  Shocked by the tragedy as we were,
we couldn't bear to attend the party.
However, clearly these comparative construc-tions cannot occur with progressive be:
(33) a.  *However smiling at her I was, I
couldn't get her attention.
  b.  *The more singing in the rain they
were, the more they got wet.
  c.  *Smiling at her as I was, I couldn't get
her attention.
This  particular  syntactic  property  follows
from  the  semantic  character  of  the  comple-ment of be – only forms that describe grada-ble  attributes  can  be  compared.    One  can  be
more or less happy, more or less complicated,
more  or  less  frustrated  by  events,  frightened
by  a  reaction  or  shocked  by  a  tragedy.  It  is
harder  to  interpret  someone  as  being  smiling
at someone, singing in the rain, a teacher, the
father or in the house to greater or lesser de-grees. These are either/or notions. In fact, it is
only  to  the  extent  that  such  phrases  can  be
interpreted  as  gradable  attributes  that  they
can occur in these comparative constructions:
(34)   The more to the left of and above the
dashed straight line a curve is, the
more potential exists for improvement.
Since  something  can  be  more  or  less  to  the
left of something else, and more or less above
something else, these particular prepositional
phrases can be compared with the same kind
of comparative construction as gradable mod-ifiers can. 
Finally,  one  could  interpret  the  requirement
that a pro-form be left in situ when the com-plement  of  progressive  be  is  extracted  as
simply the result of the fact that English pos-sesses no wh- word that corresponds to a pre-sent  participle  verb  form.  The  same  is  true
when  prepositional  phrases  other  than  loca-tives  are  extracted.  For  example,  there  is  no
wh- word in English that corresponds directly
to  a  benefactive  element.  Instead  the  com-plex,  for  who(m)  must  be  used.  In  this  case,
the preposition must be left in situ:
(35)   Whom this is for is you.
*Whom this is is for you.
This is true of other non-locative preposition-al phrase complements of copular be:
(36) a.  Whom she was with is your mother.
*Whom she was is with your mother.
  b. Where this traveller is from is Vulcan.
*Where this traveller is is from
  c.  What this road is toward is your new
*What this road is is toward your  
new house.
Modern English simply lacks wh- words that
correspond  to  the  relations  expressed  by
these  prepositional  phrases,  just  as  it  lacks  a
wh- word that corresponds to a present parti-ciple.  
Notice,  however,  that  the  somewhat  archaic
English  words,  whence,  and  whither  corre-spond  to  the  modern  from  where  and  to
where  (toward)  respectively.  For  speakers
who  still  use  these  wh-  words,  the  following
are possible:
(37) a.  Whence is that knocking? (BNC)
  b.  Whence that knocking is is the front
  c.  The final chapter –; on whither the
wedding cake –; . . .
  d.  'Whither are we bound, my lord?'  
Thus  we  see  that  extractability  is  at  least
somewhat  dependent  on  the  semantic  rela-tions expressed by the available inventory of  
wh-  words.  Imagine  for  a  moment  that  the
wh- word *whating existed in English. In that
case  perhaps  present  participles  could  be  ex-tracted  with  no  clarifying  pro-form  left  in
(38)   *Whating is he? (meaning 'what is he
*Whating he is is cleaning the
refrigerator. (meaning 'what he is
doing is cleaning the refrigerator.')
It just so happens that such a potentially use-ful  wh-  word  does  not  exist,  therefore,  the
composite  form  doing  what  must  suffice.
This  can  be  considered  parallel  to  the  cases
of  with  what,  for  what  and  modern  from
where,  which  also  requires  the  preposed  ele-ment to remain in situ when the complement
is extracted.
In  summary,  the  fact  that  the  complement  of
be  in  a  progressive  aspect  construction  can-not  be  the  target  of  wh-extraction  without  a
resumptive  pro-form  left  in  situ  does  not  en-tail  that  progressive  be  is  a  different  kind  of
syntactic entity than copular be.  Many of the
uses of be that are all considered copular also
engender distinct clusters of syntactic proper-ties.  These  properties  can  often,  if  not  al-ways, be attributed to the semantic characters
of  the  complements,  and  not  to  the  syntactic
category of the copula/auxiliary. The wh- ex-traction  characteristics  of  present  participles
in  progressive  aspect  clauses  may  simply  be
due  to  the  fact  that  the  inventory  of  wh-
words  of  English  does  not  include  one  that
corresponds  to  a  present  participle.  There-fore, wh- extraction does not constitute coun-

terevidence  to  the  'easy  claim'  made  in  this
The myth of 'lexical verb' be
Since  copular  be  is  so  clearly  a  member  of
the  syntactic  category  of  auxiliaries,  why
have pedagogical and more linguistically ori-ented  works  on  English  grammar  insisted  on
calling  it  a  lexical  main  verb?  I  believe  that
this  strange  phenomenon  can  largely  be  ex-plained by a myth of traditional grammar that
has  been  perpetuated  by  generations  of  Eng-lish teachers. This myth is expressed in (39):
(39)   Every clause in English must have a
lexical verb.
Starting from this assumption, all the instanc-es  of  be  in  (1a)  must  be  lexical  verbs,  since
the  only  other  element  in  the  predicate  is
non-verbal.  I would like  to claim that  (39) is
an  unnecessary  and  ungrounded  assumption.
The more insightful generalization, I contend,
is the following:
(40)   Every clause in English must have
tense, aspect and/or mode Inflection.  
There  are  other  reasons  for  replacing  (39)
with  (40),  in  addition  to  resolving  the  status
of  copular  be.  First,  several  theoretical  ap-proaches  to  English  grammar,  including  re-cent versions of Generative Grammar, affirm
the  assertion  in  (40).  For  example,  in  the
minimalist  paradigm  (represented  by  Rad-ford,  1997),  the  'Sentence'  is  no  longer  the
highest  node  in  a  syntactic  tree.  Rather  'In-flectional  Phrase'  is  the  highest  node.  This
reflects  the  fact  that  the  category  that  is  the
syntactic 'head' of a sentence is its 'I-node', or
Inflection. In other words, the properties of a
sentence are projected from its Inflection – if
there  is  no  Inflection,  there  is  no  sentence.
The  actual  arguments  for  this  determination
are  quite  compelling,  if  rather  complex.
Readers  are  referred  to  Radford  (1997,  pp.
61- ff.) for the details.   
Second,  the  special  forms  traditionally
termed  present  and  past  participles  that  fol-low  be  in  progressive  aspect  and  passive
voice  constructions  are  deverbal  in  that  they
have lost most of their syntactic properties of
verbs; in particular, they cannot be inflected.
Therefore,  like  other  non-verbal  categories
(nouns, adjectives and prepositional phrases),
participial forms must rely on some other el-ement  (a  core  auxiliary)  to  express  the  im-portant inflectional information when the par-ticiple  itself  constitutes  the  main  semantic
content of a predicate.  
Lets  look  at  some  examples  that  may  help
illustrate  this  fact.  Basic  passive  construc-tions  are  very  similar  to  copular  predicate
adjective constructions in which the adjective
happens to be a past participle:
(41) a.  The vase was broken when the
workers moved the piano.
  b.  The vase was beautiful when the
artisan finished painting it.
  c.  As soon as I walked into the room, I
noticed that the vase was broken.
Many  grammar  books  would  say  that  was  in
(41a) is an auxiliary because the construction
is a passive. On the other hand, was in (41b)
and  (41c)  is  a  lexical  verb  because  the  con-structions  are  predicate  adjectives.  However
the  three  predicates  are  syntactically  identi-cal.  Clearly  there  is  a  difference  in  meaning
between the passive and attributive senses of
the complements of be in these sentences, but
that difference can be attributed to the nature
of  the  complements,  not  necessarily  to  any
syntactic  categorial  difference  between  the
two uses of be.
Similarly,  consider  the  following  two  exam-ples:
(42) a.  That person is annoying me.
*That person is very annoying me.
  b.  That person is annoying.
That person is very annoying.
Again,  many  grammar  books  and  linguists
would  say  that  be  in  (42a)  is  an  auxiliary,
while in (42b) it is a lexical verb. Of course,
the meaning difference between the senses of
annoying in these two examples is important,
and does affect the collocational possibilities
(or  selectional  constraints)  of  the  two  con-structions.  That  (42a)  is  progressive  and
(42b)  is  attributive  is  demonstrated,  for  ex-ample,  by  the  fact  that  the  adverb  very  can
only  be  inserted  in  (42b)  (see  Wasow,  1977
for  further  selectional  arguments  for  the  dif-ference between passive and attributive parti-ciples).  Nevertheless,  if  the  distinction  be-tween auxiliary and main lexical verb is sup-posed to be a distinction between two syntac-tic classes of items, there should be syntactic
correlates  to  the  semantic  distinction.  Other-wise, there is no reason to posit anything oth-er  than  garden  variety  polysemy.  Clearly
be+complement  constructions  may  be  poly-semous  in  a  number  of  ways,  including  pro-gressive  vs.  attributive.  However,  in  every
case  the  polysemy  stems  from  the  syntactic
or discourse context (41a, c):  
  a. That person is tall.  ATTRIBUTIVE
  b. That person is a teacher. EQUATIVE
  c. That person is in the kitchen.
  d. There is a rat in the kitchen.
  e. This is for you.  BENEFACTIVE
  g. This is mine.  POSSESSIVE
  a. That person is eating a banana.
  b. That banana was eaten by someone.  
Looking first at the examples in (43), we see
that the semantic  relations expressed are sig-nificantly different from one another, yet tra-ditional  and  pedagogical  grammars  typically
find  no  reason  to  posit  syntactically  distinct
'copulas'  for  each  relationship.
 Similarly,  in
(44)  two  quite  distinct  meanings  are  ex-pressed, both of which depend on the seman-tic properties of the complements, rather than
on  any  syntactic  category  difference  among
the  forms  of  be  –  the  present  participle  form
of a verb expresses an ongoing activity, while
a  past  participle  refers  to  a  resultant  state.
The  auxiliary  in  all  these  examples  is  func-tioning in exactly the same way – to  express
the Inflectional information required of every
English clause.
In  summary,  insisting  that  there  is  a  funda-mental  syntactic  difference  between  copular
be  and  auxiliary  be  introduces  a  number  of
unnecessary  conceptual  and  pedagogical
complexities.  Adopting  the  alternative  asser-tion,  suggested  in  (40),  resolves  these  com-plexities.  From  this  point  of  view,  every  in-dependent  clause  must  contain  an  element
that is 'Inflectable' with whatever Inflectional
information  is  appropriate  for  that  clause's
syntactic  function  (e.g.,  as  an  independent
assertion, a question, a relative clause, an ad-verbial clause, a clausal object, etc.). One job
of  the  first  auxiliary  in  an  Inflected  verb
phrase  is  to  carry  the  necessary  Inflectional
information.  Most  auxiliaries  participate  in
expressing various aspectual and modal cate-gories as well, but be basically just serves as
a  'platform'  for  Inflection  when  the  lexically
rich  element  –  the  one  responsible  for  most
of  the  semantic  content  of  the  predicate  –  is
de-verbal or non-verbal, and therefore cannot
express  the  Inflectional  information  directly.
This function unites the uses of be in copular
as  well  as  progressive  aspect  and  passive
The harder claim
In the previous section, I have shown that the
distinction  between  copular-be,  and  auxilia-ry-be is spurious. The only arguments against
this  claim  are  based  on  different  interpreta-tions  and  selectional  properties  that  arise  be-cause  of  different  semantics  of  the  comple-ments  that  follow  be.  But,  as  I  have  shown,
many  similar  semantic  differences  may  arise
between  be  and  its  complement  that  tradi-tional  grammars  do  not  attribute  to  a  syntac-tic  category  difference  between  types  of  be.
Given the overwhelming  fact that  copular-be
and  auxiliary-be  have  exactly  the  same  syn-tactic properties, there is no reason to suggest
that the different uses of be are due to a cate-gorial distinction between two lexemes.
The  more  difficult  assertion  I  would  like  to
make is that in fact there are two syntactical-ly distinct be verbs in English, and that one is
a lexical main verb and the other is an auxil-iary.  Furthermore,  I  will  claim  that  the  syn-tactic  distinctiveness  of  these  two  be's    (evi-denced  by  syntactic  properties)  is  motivated
by the semantic difference between stative be
and active be. The reasons that this assertion
is  more  difficult  are  1)  the  argument  may
give the impression that  the harder claim ac-tually  contradicts  the  easier  claim.  In  fact  it
does  not.  2)  Corroborative  evidence  for  the
harder  claim  is  based  on  data  from  'non-standard'  forms  of  English.  Some  examples
given below would definitely be 'ungrammat-ical' to most English teachers, and should not
be  used  as  examples  in  ESL  classrooms.
However, such examples are attested in natu-ral discourse, and are logically coherent. This
fact  lends  additional  support  for  the  hard
claim, though it does not constitute the major
evidential basis.  
Semantic Stativity vs. Activity
The  semantic  distinction  between  STATES
and  ACTIVITIES  is  mostly  determined  by
volitionality  and  change.  Situations  that  are
presented  as  involving  change,  and  normally
initiated and controlled by some entity acting
with  volition  (on  purpose)  are  ACTIVITIES.
Situations  that  do  not  involve  change,  and
have no controlling entity are STATES. This
is  a  very  general  characterization.  As  with
any  semantic  distinction,  there  is  in  fact  a
continuum  between  prototypical  states  and
prototypical  activities  –  there  are  very  good
examples  of  states  and  very  good  examples
of activities, but a large number of situations
fall  somewhere  in  between  (see  Vendler,
1967;  Chafe,  1970;  Comrie,  1989  for  fuller
characterizations).  However,  the  grammar  of
English  tends  to  discretize  (make  into  dis-crete  categories)  the  semantic  difference  be-tween  stativity  and  activity  in  a  number  of
ways.  In  this  section  I  will  describe  two  of
the 'tests' for whether a situation is being pre-sented as a 'state' or an 'activity.' These I will
refer  to  as  the  habitual  test  and  the  progres-sive test.
The  habitual  test:  When  an  independent
clause  occurs  in  the  so-called  'present'  tense
form,  the  temporal  reference  may  be  inter-preted as habitual aspect or as a 'true present,'
i.e.  a  situation  that  is  in  effect  at  the  time  of
utterance. Activities are normally understood
as  habitual  (45),  while  states  are  normally
understood as true present (46):
(45) HABITUAL:    
They sometimes build their eyries on
inland lava pinnacles.
You exercise to look good.
In the senses intended in the naturally occur-ring  examples  given  in  (44),  build  and  exer-cise  describe  ACTIVITIES  in  that  they  refer
to  situations  that  involve  intentionality,  voli-tion  and  change.  When  occurring  in  the
'present  tense,'  as  in  these  examples,  these
verbs do not assert that the activities are tak-ing  place  'now,'  i.e.,  at  the  time  of  speaking
(though they incidentally may be), but rather
that they occur from time-to-time over a long
period that includes the time of speaking. No
particular  finite  event  of  building  or  exercis-ing is referenced.  
On the other hand, the verbs see, love and be
in  (46),  below,  express  STATES,  in  that  no
movement  or  change  is  asserted.  In  the  pre-sent tense, these examples assert that the state
holds 'now,' i.e., at the time of utterance. The
specific  current  instance  of  the  state  is  being
referenced, rather than the possibility that the
state  holds  true  from  time-to-time  (all  exam-ples from the BNC):
I see you are troubled at something.  
I love you.         
The room is red now.
Thus  'present  tense'  for  activities  expresses
'habitual  aspect,'  while  'present  tense'  for
states  expresses  a  true  present.  In  order  to
express  the  idea  that  an  activity  is  taking
place  'now',  progressive  aspect  must  be  em-ployed.  This  constitutes  the  next  test  for
whether  a  situation  is  being  presented  as  a
state or an activity.
The  progressive  test:  There  is  an  apparent
semantic  anomaly  between  stative  situations
and  progressive  aspect.  This  is  because  the
progressive  aspect  construction  evokes  an
image  that  involves  'progression,'  i.e.,  pro-gressive  change  and/or  movement.  A  state,
by  definition,  does  not  involve  movement  or
change, therefore prototypically stative situa-tions  are  not  semantically  amenable  to  ex-pression in the progressive aspect:
(47)   I see the airplane.     
  ?I'm seeing the airplane.
She likes ice-cream.   
  ?She is liking ice cream.
We know the answer.   
  ?We are knowing the answer.
The room is red.    
  ??The room is being red.
However,  the  question-marked  examples  of
(47)  are  not  'ungrammatical.'  Rather,  they
constitute  less-than  prototypical  expressions
of  the  stative  concepts  of  seeing,  liking,
knowing  and  being  red.  In  fact,  stative  con-cepts  can  occur  in  the  progressive,  but  when
they  do,  a  different,  non-stative,  sense  is  ex-pressed.  Because  of  the  cognitive  schema
evoked  by  the  progressive  aspect  construc-tion, the construction itself evokes  the notion
of  activity.  The  examples  in  (48)  through
(50), from the BNC, illustrate the same verbs
as in (46) above, but this time in the progres-sive  aspect.  The  active  interpretations  of
these situations, as made clear by the context,
are given in caps following each example:
(48)   We're seeing already, that Health
Authorities haven't got the money . . .  
Yes they were seeing how much
more they could eat and take home.  
I was seeing them one after the other.  
(49)   Football is a game of chance and I am
loving every minute of it.
(50)   They 're being rude up that end.  
they're being silly. ACTING SILLY
I'm being honest. SPEAKING  
I thought I'd persuaded him that he
was being foolish. ACTING  
Another piece of evidence that be in the pro-gressive  aspect  is  active  is  the  fact  that  it
doesn't  seem  to  work  with  subjects  that  are
incapable of acting with volition:
(51) a.  The children are being quiet.
  b.  *The river is being quiet.
Thus  we  see  that,  like  other  stative  verbs,
when  be  appears  in  the  progressive  aspect  it
takes  on  an  active,  volitional  meaning.  But
wait – isn't this a syntactic property of lexical
verbs that distinguishes be from auxiliaries? I
don't think any other  auxiliaries can occur in
the progressive aspect:
(52)   *They are shoulding eat more chelow.
*They are having eaten more chelow.  
*They are doing eat more chelow.
Furthermore,  active  be  can  occur  with  do
support, as in the following:
(53)   Careful! No don't be silly Amy.
Don't be stupid Stuart! DON'T DO
My dear, do be quiet –; he may be
listening now!  CEASE MAKING
Do be careful, love . . .ACT
This  is  another  property  that  be  does  not
share with other auxiliaries.  
(54)   *They do should eat more chelow.  
*They do have eaten more chelow.
*They do do eat more chelow.
Finally,  compare  the  examples  in  (53)  above
to  the  following  stative  situations  expressed
with  the  same  lexical  items,  but  without  do-support or progressive aspect (examples from
the BNC):
(55)   They're silly buggers though aren't
They are stupid that lot!  
Toads are quiet and harmless and
Usually she is careful,  
While it may be a stretch to think of states as
being  'habitual,'  it  should  be  clear  that  these
clauses  in  the  present  tense  make  assertions
about  the  general  character  of  their  subjects,
rather than to any particular instance of their
being  silly,  stupid,  quiet,  etc.  that  is  asserted
to be true at the moment of speaking.
These  examples  show  that  indeed  there  is
something  strange  about  be.  It  has  all  the
properties  of  auxiliaries,  but  it  can  occur  in
the  progressive  aspect  and  it  can  occur  with
'do-support.' It just so happens that whenever
be  occurs  in  the  progressive  aspect,  or  takes
do-support,  it  expresses  an  activity  rather
than a state.
Stative be vs. Active be
In  the  above  section  we  have  seen  that  be  in
copular  constructions  that  express  STATES
has all the properties of auxiliaries. However,
be  may  have  properties  of  lexical  verbs  ex-actly in those situations that express ACTIV-ITIES  –  acting  quiet,  acting  silly  or  acting
stupid,  etc.  It  passes  the  syntactic  tests  for
lexical  verbs  exactly  and  only  when  the  se-mantics  involves  an  ACTIVITY,  usually  ini-tiated and controlled by  an agent  acting with
volition.  This  is  the  basis  of  the  hard  claim
made in this paper: that  in fact there  are two
syntactically distinct be's in English, one sta-tive/auxiliary  be  and  another  active/lexical
In  addition  to  the  evidence  presented  so  far,
is there any independent evidence of the dis-tinction  between  the  two  be's?  Consider  the
following  naturally-occurring  example  from
one  of  my  daughters  when  she  was  12  years

old.  The  context  was  the  behavior  of  one  of
her friends who attended a birthday party:
(56)   He's not silly; he just be's silly when
he's around girls.
The  form  be's  (pronounced  bees),  though  ut-terly  non-standard,  is  logically  coherent  in
this context. It shows that this native speaker
has two be's in her lexicon. The stative  be is
the  irregular  one  that  is  really  an  auxiliary
whenever  it  occurs  (as  demonstrated  in  the
first part of this paper). The active be, on the
other hand, is morphologically regular, taking
the regular third person singular present tense
–s  ending.  Thus  active  be  and  stative  be  are
formally,  as  well  as  semantically,  quite  dis-tinct.  This  example  is  particularly  telling  in
that  it  explicitly  contrasts  stative  be  –  He's
not  silly  –  with  active  be  –  he  just  be's  silly,
thus  showing  that  the  speaker  had  internal-ized  both  be's  in  her  lexicon,  and  considered
them to describe distinct states of affairs, one
of  which  she  presented  as  true  and  the  other
Example  (56)  is  so  sensible  in  this  context
that  I  was  curious  to  determine  how  wide-spread  this  usage  was.  Unfortunately,  the
BNC provides no clear examples of the 'regu-lar'  active  be  illustrated  in  (56).  So,  I  turned
to an even larger corpus – the internet. There
I found much more fertile ground. Below are
a few of the several hundred examples of the
morphologically regular, active be. Examples
(57) through (59) are a few of the results of a
Google  search  for  'he  just  be's'  (845  total
(57)   Sometimes he just be's like that.  
(58)   he dosent really dress up he just be's
himself and wears bermuda shorts,
headband, sandles and plain shirts
sometimes sleeveless  
(59)   He doesn't hold one side or the other,
he just be's himself and I admire that.
The following is from a Google search for
'she just be's' (428 total hits):
(60)   If she just be's herself...people will
stay add her!
Clearly X just be's Xself  is a relatively com-mon collocation. Other examples of morpho-logically  regular  be  used  in  an  active  sense
are  also  attested  on  the  internet.  However,
they  are  eclipsed  by  many  instances  of  the
regularization  of  auxiliary  be  in  AAVE  (Af-rican American Vernacular English) – though
many  varieties  of  AAVE  generally  exclude
the  -s  ending  in  3rd  person  present  tense.
While  the  regularization  of  active  be  may  or
may  not  have  originated  with  AAVE,  it  is  a
totally  reasonable  formation  based  solely  on
the  internal  syntactic  character  of  so-called
Standard English. Consider the following ex-ample:
(61)   If she just be's herself, she'll do fine
in the debate.  
The  'standard'  way  of  expressing  this  would
(62)   If she just is herself, she'll do fine in
the debate.
According to my native speaker intuition, this
doesn't  capture  the  sense  of  volitionality  and
activity  that  is  nicely  expressed  in  (61).  This
distinction  is  reminiscent  of  the  distinction
between  other  pairs  contrasting  stative  and
active be (constructed examples):
(63) a.  Why aren't you the leader?  
  b.  Why don't you be the leader?  
In example (63a) the speaker just questions a
state  of  affairs,  while  (63b)  is  a  suggestion
that the addressee act in some volitional way
to  take  a  leadership  position.  Again,  this  il-lustrates  that  auxiliary  be  (63a)  is  stative,
while lexical be (63b) is active.  
Example  (64)  is  one  last  example  of  regular
active  be,  this  time  occurring  in  the  major-class past tense with -ed:
(64)   I gave the monitor to her while she
‘beed the doctor’ using the monitor to
poke around my feet.
This  is  an  example  of  an  adult  quoting  a
child,  and  so  may  be  dismissed  as  simple
overgeneralization.  Nevertheless,  it  is  inter-esting  to  me  that  this  usage  clearly  implies
the  child  was  actively  acting  like  a  doctor.
The regular form, she was the doctor, simply
would not have expressed the same sense.
Consequences for pedagogy
The  consequences  for  English  grammar  ped-agogy  of  spuriously  uniting  copular  be  with
the  lexical  copular  verbs,  and  distinguishing
it from auxiliaries are manifold. In particular,
every  discussion  of  the  NICE  constructions
must  be  qualified  in  a  disjoint  way:  Auxilia-ries  and  be  work  one  way;  lexical  verbs  ex-cept  be  work  the  other  way.  If  ESL/EFL
teachers  and  grammar  books  would  consider
stative  be  to  be  an  auxiliary,  the  number  of
special  cases  that  students  would  have  to
learn and assimilate would be reduced by al-most  half.  After  all,  a  significant  number  of
rather  complex  constructions  are  sensitive  to
the auxiliary/lexical verb distinction as mani-fested by the NICE properties, namely:
  Clausal negation
  Yes/no questions
  Non-subject Wh-questions
  Emphatic constructions
  Do-so (recapitulated verb-phrase
And perhaps others.
Another  consequence  of  calling  copular  be  a
lexical verb is that it renders the basic clause
structure  of  English  mystifying  to  many
SLLs. My contention and my experience as a
TESOL and EFL teacher is that the assertion
given in (40) (repeated and slightly modified
here  for  convenience)  goes  a  long  way  in
helping  students  conceptualize  and  internal-ize basic English clause structure:
(65)   Every clause in English must have
one expression of tense, aspect
and/or mode Inflection.
There  are  several  reasons  for  this  fact.  First,
many languages do not employ auxiliaries to
the  extent  that  English  does.  Such  languages
(Russian,  Burmese,  Tagalog,  Indonesian,  to
name a few) require no lexical verbal element
in  copular  constructions  (predicate  nominal,
predicate adjectival, locational and existential
constructions, etc.). Typologically, the clause
structure  of  English  (and  many  other  Indo-European  languages)  is  rendered  quite  'exot-ic'  by  the  supposition  that  a  lexical  verb  is
used  in  such  constructions.  This  is  a  major
and  unnecessary  conceptual  hurdle  for  many
Second,  be  is  so  common  in  English  that
many  students  become  confused  as  to  when
to  include  be  and  when  not  to,  as  well  as
when  to  inflect  it  and  when  not  to.    For  ex-ample,  the  use  of  spurious  be  is  common,  as
well  as  double  inflection  constructions  such
as  the  following  (actual  examples  from  ad-vanced Korean SLLs of English):
(66)   Did you brought the forms?
She is went to the store.
They already were came.
I  believe  that  a  strong  emphasis  on  the  im-portance of the INFL (Inflection) slot in Eng-lish goes a long way toward helping students
overcome such difficulties. In many ways the
initial  position  in  the  predicate  phrase  is  the
pivot  for  English  syntax.  Part  of  mastering
the 'character' of English syntax, and thereby
developing  fluency,  is  capturing  a  sense  of
how  central  the  INFL  position  is.  Of  course,
it  is  not  necessary  to  emphasize  the  unity  of
copular-be  and  auxiliary-be  in  order  to  help
students  assimilate  this  important  fact  about
English.  However,  I  believe  that  keeping  the
two  distinct  actually  introduces  unnecessary
confusion  which  makes  understanding  of  the
overall  clause  structure  of  English  much
more difficult.
Finally,  this  approach  underscores  the  pro-found  importance  of  the  distinction  between
activities  and  states  for  English  grammar.
While  this  is  a  semantic  distinction  that  can
undoubtedly be expressed in every language,
not every language pays quite so much atten-tion  to  it  grammatically  as  does  English.  In
this paper we have seen how the activity/state
distinction  helps  explain  the  different  usages
of  the  'present  tense'  and  'progressive  aspect'
forms. In addition to this well-known feature
of  English  grammar,  activity  vs.  stativity
helps  to  explain  the  use  of  perfect  aspect
forms  in  discourse.  In  particular,  the  distinc-tion  between  simple  past  and  present  perfect
is  one  that  many  SLLs  find  perplexing.  This
distinction can largely be understood in terms
of the difference between an active event and
a resultant state – the simple past tends to ex-press  an  active  event,  while  the  perfect  ex-presses  a  state  that  results  from  an  earlier
event. A full exposition of this manifestation
of  the  state/activity  distinction  in  English  is
the  subject  matter  for  a  different  paper.  Suf-fice to say that, again, part of assimilating the
general  'character'  of  English  grammar  is  in-corporating  the  state/activity  distinction  into
one's  unconscious  cognitive  framework  for
speaking English.
This paper underscores what I consider to be
an important and often overlooked considera-tion  in  second  language  learning  –  namely
that  each  language  has  its  own  typological
'character',  or  profile,  that  students  must  in-corporate  into  their  subconscious  model  of
the  language  in  order  to  feel  comfortable
speaking  it,  and  to  develop  a  'natural'  or  'na-tive-like'  written  and  conversational  style.
Sometimes  ways  of  conceptualizing  and  dis-cussing  grammar  that  arise  within  traditions
of  first  language  education  ('grammar
schools' in the traditional sense) are not intui-tive for second language learners.  In particu-lar,  many  second  language  learners  of  Eng-lish  in  the  present  century  come  from  first
language  backgrounds  that  are  typologically
very  different  from  that  of  English.  In  such
situations it is very important, in my opinion,
to  focus  on  the  features  of  English  that  are
particularly  perplexing  and  which  seem,  on
the surface, to be very different from those of
the students' first language. Second language
learners often perceive English as quite exot-ic,  not  necessarily  because  it  really  is  so  dif-ferent  or  strange,  but  mostly  because  of  the
way  it  is  presented  in  second  language  clas-ses.  I  believe  that  a  typologically  informed
approach  to  English  grammar  will  go  a  long

way toward helping students comprehend the
essential  character  of  English  syntax,  and
thereby  enjoy  the  rewards  of  becoming  con-fident second language speakers.  
In conclusion, I have shown that the assump-tion that every English clause requires a lexi-cal  verb  is  unfounded.  Like  most  languages
of the world, the main predicating element in
copular constructions is not a verb at all, but
a  de-verbal  or  non-verbal  complement.  The
be that occurs in such constructions functions
mostly  as  a  'platform'  for  expression  of  the
all-important  Inflectional  information.  As
such, it has all the syntactic properties of core
auxiliaries,  and  none  of  the  properties  that
distinguish  lexically  rich  verbs.  Thus,  copu-lar,  passive  and  progressive  aspect  construc-tions are unified in requiring an auxiliary be.  
The  second  claim  is  that  there  is,  in  fact,  a
lexical verb that, in its base form is identical
to  auxiliary  be.  Semantically,  it  has  lexical
content  in  that  it  expresses  activity;  in  most
cases  it  may  be  paraphrased  with  the  lexical
verb  act  or  act  like.  However,  for  some
speakers  this  lexical  verb  belongs  to  the  ma-jor inflectional class, taking the present tense
form  be's  and  the  past  tense  form  beed.  This
lexical  verb  does  have  the  syntactic  charac-teristics  of  lexical  verbs  in  general,  and  as
such is united with copular verbs such as be-come,  seem  and  resemble.  This  non-traditional, but syntactically and semantically
highly motivated approach to the basic clause
structure  of  English  significantly  simplifies
the conceptualization and teaching of English
1.  Several  parts  of  this  proposal  have
been  previously  considered  in  the  lit-erature.  Lyons  (1977)  notes  the  syn-tactic  commonality  between  copular
and  auxiliary  be.  Bach  (1967)  as-sumes  that  English  copular  be  is
transformationally inserted, i.e. that it
is not a lexical verb. Williams (1984)
suggests that the copula be is inserted
in  INFL;  in  other  words  it  does  no
more  than  express  the  Inflection  of
the clause.  
2.  Grammatical  functors  may  take  em-phatic  or  contrastive  stress,  e.g.,  'I
AM going.' In which case contraction
is precluded. However, in the absense
of  special  pragmatic  features,  gram-matical  functors  are  usually  un-stressed,  and  therefore  tend  to  bind
phonologically to a local host.
3.  The  'semi-auxiliaries'  ought  to,  have
to and used to do not have all of these
properties,  but  that  is  a  topic  for  an-other  paper.  So  called  copular  be  is  a
core  auxiliary  in  that  it  has  all  the
properties  of  the  best  examples  of
auxiliaries  in  the  language.  When  I
use  the  term  auxiliary  in  this  paper,  I
mean  core  auxiliary,  as  described  in
Huddleston and Pullum (2002, p. 92).
4.  The  'frowny  face'  symbol  ()  indi-cates  the  following  utterance  is  infe-licitous  in  the  context  provided,
though  not  strictly  speaking
5.  Expressions  in  which  the  verb  phrase
alone is emphasized do allow emphat-ic  stress:  Yes  she  should  EAT  more
chelow  kebab  (rather  than  MAKE
more  chelow  kebab).  The  property  in
question  here  is  verum  focus,  when
the  truth  of  the  whole  proposition  is
being  emphasized.  Only  in  this  case
may  the  complement  of  the  empha-sized  element  be  ellipted,  as  illustrat-ed in the examples in 0.  
6.  In  most  of  the  examples  of  whence
referencing  an  ablative  (from  X)  rela-tion  in  a  copular  construction  in  the
British National Corpus, the copula is
omitted,  e.g.,  Whence  this  insolence?  
.  .  .  whence  the  name  --;  Aubeterre,
etc.  However,  there  are  a  few  exam-ples,  such  as  0a,  in  which  the  copula
is retained.
7.  Some languages actually do have dis-tinct  copulas  that  are  used  to  express
portions of the range of semantics ex-pressed  by  English  be.  Mandarin,  for
example, uses the form shì for attribu-tive and equative clauses, zài for loca-tional  clauses,  and  yŏu  for  existential
and  possessive  clauses.  Spanish  uses
estar for temporary attribution, all lo-cational  clauses  and  progressive  as-pect, haber for existential clauses, and
ser  for  permanent  attribution,  equa-tive and passive clauses.

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