Helping verbs? ellipsis.

Rob Malouf malouf at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Thu Apr 17 21:32:59 UTC 1997

Unless I've missed something (and that's entirely possible), the whole
point of the recent discussion about "be" has been that at least in
some varieties of English there *is* a main verb "be", that means
something like "act" or "behave".  And, furthermore, in some varieties
this main verb "be" even inflects like a regular main verb ("he
bees...").  That's not to say that there's not also an auxiliary "be",
or that all varieties English have this main verb "be", or that there
aren't other "be"s that inflect regularly in other varieties of

As far as I know, a main verb "be" wouldn't really create problems for
any reasonale formal theory of grammar.  But, a purely formal analysis
of this would miss that fact that it's not just any of the many
meanings of "be" that's starting to show up as a main verb.  It's
specifically the one with that's most prototypically verb-like in
meaning (i.e., the one that's closest to a volitional action) that's
showing more prototypically verb-like morphosyntactic properties.

Rob Malouf
malouf at

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