August 17 – The Meaning of “Is” Day

Posted on August 17, 2013

Well, this is an easy one. The meaning of “is” is—

Wait, don't use the word itself in the definition! That would be like saying, “The meaning of dance is to dance,” or “A miniature horse is a horse that is miniature.”

It's not all that easy to define “is,” and it is especially challenging to define it without using the word! Since it is the seventh most commonly used word in English, we often hardly notice that we are even saying it!

If we ARE allowed to use the word “is” in the definition, we could say that “is” is a form of the word “to be.” It means “exists,” and it refers to a state of being.

It is hard to explain. But it is easy to use in a sentence, for English speakers. See? I used it in both sentences at the beginning of this paragraph, without meaning to!

Two forms of “is”...

It think it is interesting to note that there are two different kinds of “is” and “to be” in the Spanish language. One (es, and ser) is usually used for permanent “states of being” – like “The doctor is a woman.” In this example, the doctor is always a woman, not just some of the time. The other form of “is” (está, and estar) is used for temporary or changed “states of being” – like “The doctor is tired.” In this example, the doctor wasn't tired before her shift, but she is tired right now; after a rest or a good night's sleep, she will be fine again.

I think it would be great to have two different forms of “is” in the English language, too—but since we don't have that, we have to really careful with the way we use our words.

Here's just one tiny example: If you thought your brother was being lazy one Saturday afternoon (but not usually), and you really wanted him to pick up after himself right then and there, which of these sentences would get your message across? And which would be more likely to feel like a general insult?
“Mom, he is so lazy! He should pick up his stuff!”
“Mom, he is being a lazybones today. I'd really like it if he would pick up his stuff!”

I read the the main verb used by Russians for existence (to be) has a past tense and a future tense, but no present tense. Instead of saying something like, “He is a student,” a Russian would say, “He student.”

Another Russian verb that talks about existence is pretty much a translation of “there is” or “there are.” This same verb means “to eat.” Interesting connection, huh? It reminds me of the saying, “You are what you eat.”

In Chinese, there is a verb “is” that is used when describing characteristics of someone or something (such as “she is smart”) and a verb “is” that is used when talking about the location of that person or thing (such as “she is at home”).

In the Japanese language, the different forms of “is” have to do with the subject of the sentence. If you are talking about a plant or an inanimate thing (something that isn't alive, such as a backpack or a pair of jeans), you use one word; if you are talking about an animal or a human, you use the other.

By the way...

The letters “IS” can be used to stand for InterState, Internal Security, Intermediate School, Immune System, or International Sign language. It is short for Isabel, island, and Isaiah (a book of the Bible). In the country code portion of a URL, “is” stands for Iceland. (You may wonder why, since Iceland has no “S”! In Icelandic, the name of the nation is “Island.”)
Speaking of Iceland, one of my favorite
Facebook pages is Made by Iceland

Also on this date:

Plan ahead:

Here are my Pinterest pages on August holidayshistorical anniversaries in August, and August birthdays.

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