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Changjie Yang
what's your opinion about the auxiliary verb "be"
This be is a interesting feature of Indo-European language such as English, Deutsch, Sanskrit. Its meaning has invited tons of debating.

Some scholars think it means "to exist", for instance, she is beautiful means she exists with the attribute of beauty; this, exactly, is intelligible as old-fashioned English use be to convey the sense of existence.

But if concerning the famous sentence by Shakespeare "to be or not to be", it's definitely more than just "to exist or not to exist. Here "be" seems to consist of the meaning of to do or to become.

what do you think of it?
29 เม.ย. 2020 เวลา 1:44
Comments · 4
Alright Changjie, I'll respond with my thoughts and hopefully not trip down the rabbit hole.

What if I changed the equation? Instead of x=y, we could say x has the qualities of y. Now we aren't saying an attribute is equal to a substance; rather, the substance has the given attributes.

In the "to be or not to be" context, we are talking about "to exist" (as you previously mentioned).

As far as connecting be with living and dying, I would argue that this be (the one meaning "to exist") is just that important. In fact, and now I'm purely speculating, I would argue that there are three bes in the English lexicon: one being the copula, another the "to exist," and another the auxiliary (which is purely functional). Therefore, despite their phonological alikeness, they are in fact three different words. So, there's no problem with one being more serious (the "to exist" one) since all three are actually different words.
29 เมษายน 2020
@Chase Dontanville
very much appreciated for your opinion.

Sorry I didn't make it clear, in the case of the example, it's linking verb, as you stated. If here "is" means equal, then another problem occurs: how can a attribute, namely beauty, be equal to a substance, namely she? I wonder, an attribute can only be attached to a substance, isn't?

In the case of Hamlet, generally, translator tends to translat the "be" here as live or die into many languages. I definitely agree with your interpretation. The point is, however, how can the be here convey such meaning even with the context? For instance, if I'm talking about whether go or not, "to be or not to be" seems to make no sense.

Why are living and dying so special that we can connect them with "be"?

29 เมษายน 2020
Hello Changjie,

To be clear, in your example "she is beautiful" be is not an auxiliary. It is a copula and semantically functions as an equals sign (she=beautiful). This type of be is actually absent in other languages. For example, you could say "she beautiful" and trust the syntax to take care of the meaning.

Here is an example of be acting as an auxiliary: "I am driving to work."

Regarding the example from Hamlet, it's been years since I've read it, but the whole "to be or not to be" question is more about living or dying. Is life worth the suffering or is suicide the appropriate solution? That's my interpretation anyway.

Interesting post; I'm eager to see what other people think.

Take care,

29 เมษายน 2020
I needed some time to get my tongue to say:她很漂亮 instead of: 她是很漂亮. Funnily enough, I only later "remembered" that Arabic also works the same way as Chinese – it doesn't require the verb "to be" with adjectives.
29 เมษายน 2020
Changjie Yang
Language Skills
Chinese (Mandarin), English, Other
Learning Language
English, Other