4

Is the verb "be" in this sentence:

"I am".

copular with an implicit predicate "here" or "now" or non-copular, as the predicate of the sentence?

  • 3
    It could be depending on the context, e.g. A: "Are you tired"? B: "I am" (copula be") / "Are you going to the party"? B: "I am". (progressive auxiliary). Note that "be" is virtually always an auxiliary verb, even when it is the only verb in the clause. Copula "be" refers to its function as a syntactic link relating PC to S – BillJ Dec 9 '17 at 17:31
  • Note that any answers to this question apply only to various theories of English grammar; there is no "be" in other languages that is exactly like English "be". – jlawler Dec 10 '17 at 18:50
10

"Be" can sometimes be a predicate

The verb "be" has several different meanings. The most prominent one is just as a copula, but it can also mean "to exist", as in Descartes' famous "I think, therefore I am". In this sense, it can be a predicate: try replacing it with "exist", which clearly isn't a copula, and the structure and meaning of the sentence will remain exactly the same.

The sentence in your question might be using this meaning, or might be a copula with an implicit predicate. It depends on context. (If it were preceded by "Hey, are you coming to the meeting?" for example, "I am" would be followed by an implied "...coming to the meeting". In this case, it's just an auxiliary verb.)

  • 2
    That's pretty much an artificial construction. Nobody but philosophers and theologians use English be that way; it never occurs in questions, for instance: *Is God? Mostly English speakers would use exist or be with some complement like be real. My experience in English grammar has been that it's always wiser to treat be as an auxiliary, even when there's nothing else there. Oh, and Decartes didn't use be; he was writing French. – jlawler Dec 10 '17 at 19:13
  • 1
    @jlawler It definitely feels artificial in English, but people understand it just fine. It's more common in other languages, such as the Latin Descartes originally wrote in, but since native speakers understand it I'd still consider it valid English. – Draconis Dec 11 '17 at 0:39
  • Thanks. I forgot it was Latin; in that case the verb esse would be quite different from English be, since there was plenty of inflection for it to carry, and subjects were frequently omitted. – jlawler Dec 11 '17 at 0:43

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