Philosophers: How to distinguish "to be" from "to is"

In terms of the history of ideas, how can we differentiate the idea of “to be” from the idea of “to is” ?

To is or to isn’t – that be the question.

I have no idea what you are asking. Rephrase?

That depends on what the definition of “is” is.

Or, contrarily, what be the definition of “be”?

I’ve been wondering about the definition of “to am” for a while, myself - but I can’t seem to make any sense of it myself.

So, how about it, philosophers?

Just to throw out a whild guess, Broodha, are you asking how to differentiate the infinitive form of the verb, i.e. “to be” in its future (as in “to be determined”) and present (I’m guessing that’s what the “to is” is?) senses?

The answer: “to be”, by itself, has no tense. The inflection (part of the sentence containing tense) comes from something else.

You know how little kids, when they are first learning language, impose regular conjugations on irregular verbs? (“I runned home.”)

Well, in this way my kids discovered a new aspect of the verb to be that actually makes sense on its own. They conjugated be in the present active tense as “bees.”

“I don’t like it when she bees mean with me.”

Usually to be is classed as a “stative” verb, which involves no action. But the way my kids used it as an active verb, it implied a certain volition or intentionality that brought out a new way of understanding this verb’s potential. Deliberately being mean instead of just incidentally happening to be mean.

Unless the OP defines terms, I don’t think this thread is going to be anything worthwhile.

It bees undirected and odd. :smiley:

JM: I think that’s very interesting, and I wish the real English language had a word to express the concept bees' does. Having a specific word to denote deliberately-is’ as oppsed to accidentally-is' or just is’ would be useful.

One of the deficiencies of “standard” English is that it lacks a present continous tense for the verb “to be”. The sentence “I am ready” can, depending on the context, mean “I am ready now” or “I am always, or generally, ready”. This can lead to ambiguity or occasionally confusion.

Some variants of the English language remedy this. In Hiberno-English we use the construction “does be”, which can be illustrated in this exchange which I heard recently.

“Is John in his office?”

“I expect so; he does be there every day.”

I think that’s what your kids are doing here. To them, “he is mean” or “he is angry” means that he is mean or angry now. When they want to refer to a condition which exists, either contintually or intermittently, over a period, that doesn’t seem to them like the right construction to use, so they have coined another.

It’s non-standard, but I suspect you’ll find that they use it consistently and with a distinct meaning from the standard construction, and it eliminates ambiguity.

UDS, that’s fascinating. The same aspect using be is found in Black English. The linguist J. L. Dillard distinguished the temporal aspect of the Black English verb from the habitual aspect. The temporal aspect uses be as an aspect marker (since it isn’t needed as a copula).


“He working when the boss come in.” (habitual: he is a steady worker)

“He be working when the boss come in.” (temporal: he’s a slacker and just looks busy when the boss is around)

Broodha said:

You really need to define the parameter’s of your question just a little more for it to be worth a theoretical discussion.

As for the history of thought or as it were in the OP the history of ideas, humans have been forming complex ideas for millennia. The idea of to be has been a thought in humans mind since we first struck that first flint rock to form a arrow or spear head.
An idea of to is, most likely did not cross peoples minds until they tried to formulate their first ideas of who they as living animals were, and why they were in fact living, and walking around.

A favorite question of philosophers since Aristotle. Read this from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.