Beon and Wesan

One of the most commonly used verbs in any language is the verb for 'to be'. In Old English, 'to be' is what's called a suppletive verb, and uses forms from at least three different roots. There were two distinct present stems, for which both 'wesan' and 'beon' are infinitive forms. They have slightly different uses.

The verb 'wesan' is generally used to express the present form of 'to be', and is the most commonly used form of the verb. However, 'beon' tends to be used to express permanent truths, sometimes referred to as 'gnomic' truths, such as 'wyrd biþ ful aræd - fate is fully inexorable' or 'fugolas beoþ cafe - birds are fast'. For example, examine 'he is wiga - he is a warrior' and 'wiga biþ strang - a warrior is strong'.

He
Pronoun
is
Verb
wiga
Direct Object

Wiga
Pronoun
biþ
Verb
strang
Direct Object

While there is technically no future tense in Old English, the verb 'beon' is also often used to express the future tense, for example 'ic beo gearo sona - I will be ready soon'.

Ic
Pronoun
beo
Verb
gearo
Adjective
sona
Adverb

You'll notice in the table below that both 'beon' and 'wesan' share the same past tense forms, which differs significantly from the present forms.

To Be
Beon Wesan Past
1st Person Singular beo eom wæs
2nd Person Singular bist eart wære
3rd Person Singular biþ is wæs
Plural beoþ sind wæron

Getting used to identifying the habitual present and current present can be hard, as it is not distinguished to the same degree in modern English. You can practice the various forms of 'to be' below.

Return to Introduction to Irregular Verbs Continue to Don and Gan

Test Your Conjugations!

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