The Story of Be: A Verb's-Eye View of the English Language

David Crystal (Author)
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It's the most simple, unassuming, innocent-looking verb: to be. Yet it is jam-packed with more different meanings, forms, and uses than any other English word. As he reveals be's multiple incarnations, David Crystal takes us to the heart of our flexible and changing language. He tells the intriguing story in 26 chapters, each linked to a particular usage. We meet circumstantial be ("how are you?"), numerical be ("two and two is four"), quotative be ("so I was like, 'wow'"), and ludic be ("oh no he isn't!"), and a whole swarm of other meanings. Bringing the ideas to life are a host of examples from sources as varied as Beowulf, Jane Austen, pantomime, Hamlet (of course), and Star Wars, with cartoons from Ed McLachlan and Punch peppered throughout. Full of fascinating nuggets of information, it is a book to delight any lover of words and language.

Product Details

Oxford University Press, USA
Publish Date
June 01, 2017
5.3 X 0.8 X 7.8 inches | 0.7 pounds
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About the Author

David Crystal is known throughout the world as a writer, editor, lecturer, and broadcaster on language. He has published extensively on the history and development of English, including The Stories of English (2004), Evolving English (2010), Begat: The King James Bible and the English Language (2010), The Story of English in 100 Words (2011), Spell It Out: The Singular Story of English Spelling (2012), Wordsmiths and Warriors: The English-Language Tourist's Guide to Britain (with Hilary Crystal, 2013), and The Oxford Dictionary of Original Shakespearean Pronunciation (2016).


"A brief, illuminating disquisition on the history and varied tasks of the verb 'to be'... Language lessons from a master delivered masterfully."--Kirkus

"Crystal is the rock star of English linguistics studies, a writer and editor of more than 100 books targeted to both academics and civilians... Lucky for us, he writes with wit and charm, and is at home contextualizing language in the time of the Greeks as well as in the era of texting."--Journal of Magazine Media