English suffers from a terrible infermity. So does Spanish and sadly Italian too. The wound has festered for millennia. In the US only some African Americans have saved their tongue from the ailment. I speak of course of the copula verb. The so-called copular. Unlike many other healthier more civilized languages like Turkish, Mandarin Chinese and Russian, many Western tongues have this little verb particle thing in the present tense. You may know it as “be” other know it as “es” while others know it as “ist.” Whatever the strain of this toxic Indo-European malaise it has likely pervaded your tongue. Some adult learners of these languages, for example English, struggle at first knowing what to do with it.

You, of course, the all-aware language educator know that the question to be asked isn’t what does “be” mean, but how is it used to convey what meanings. The grammarian inside of you knows that it connects adjectives and nouns in equations like: red is the new black. Or I am Sam. Or Sam I am. But this is the one use people seem not to find confusing.

I leave it to you to teach that the “be” and its deplorable variants that help us mark the following meanings:

  • Something is passive
  • Something is intransitive
  • Something is somewhere
  • Something is currently happening + ing
  • Something at that moment was happening + ing
  • Something exists

Well, you are the teacher person. So I will leave you to not explicitly teach these cause, well, you are running a culture class, not a linguistics class. However let me leave you with this song. And it’s lyrics. Use them to teach so much about “Be” and modal helping verbs. Modal verbs, the other white meat.  This song is one little cultural item which you can use to teach good stuff in a fun way (as long as you and your students have good taste in music).

Lyrics and video below 

NIKE DRAKE – ONE OF THE FIRST THINGS

http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/nickdrake/oneofthesethingsfirst.html

NICK DRAKE LYRICS

Play “One Of These Things…”

“One Of These Things First”

I could have been a sailor, could have been a cook

A real live lover, could have been a book.

I could have been a signpost, could have been a clock

As simple as a kettle, steady as a rock.

I could be

Here and now

I would be, I should be

But how?

I could have been

One of these things first

I could have been

One of these things first.

I could have been your pillar, could have been your door

I could have stayed beside you, could have stayed for more.

Could have been your statue, could have been your friend,

A whole long lifetime could have been the end.

I could be yours so true

I would be, I should be through and through

I could have been

One of these things first

I could have been

One of these things first.

I could have been a whistle, could have been a flute

A real live giver, could have been a boot.

I could have been a signpost, could have been a clock

As simple as a kettle, steady as a rock.

I could be even here

I would be, I should be so near

I could have been

One of these things first

I could have been

One of these things first.