BE + not

In English, we often use forms of the verb “BE” combined with “NOT” to create negative statements. These forms are essential for expressing negation in various tenses and contexts. Let’s explore the most common “BE + NOT” forms, their usage, and frequency based on the iWeb corpus data.

The various forms of BE + NOT

are listed in order of frequency that they appear in the iWeb corpus, found by searching for: _VB _XX.  For each combination, we take the most common N-gram/cluster of words found and then explain the sentence.

1 IS NOT 6205936

That is not true.

listen to the pronunciation

This sentence is a straightforward statement used to deny or contradict a previously mentioned assertion or belief. It means that the speaker believes the information or statement being referred to is incorrect or false.

2 ARE NOT 3209365


we are not going to

be able to get that boat back.


The phrase “are not” is used to form a negative statement, indicating something that will not happen or is not the case. Here, “are not” is used with “going to” to express a future action that will not take place. In this context, it means that the speaker and others involved will not be able to retrieve or recover the boat.

3 ISN’T 1917031

This isn’t funny anymore.


This is often said when someone initially finds a situation or behavior amusing, but over time, due to repetition, escalation, or a change in circumstances, they no longer find it humorous. It can also indicate frustration, annoyance, or concern about the ongoing situation or behavior.

4 ‘S NOT 1711237 (contraction of is not)

it’s, she’s, he’s, John’s + not (possession or ‘has’ can also be signified here)

It‘s not gonna work out, is it?


This is typically used to express doubt or uncertainty about the success or feasibility of a situation, plan, or relationship. The speaker is likely seeking confirmation or reassurance from the listener, although they may already suspect that the outcome will not be favorable.

5 WAS NOT 1479633

I was not in the mood to listen to this thing now.


It means that the speaker was not emotionally or mentally prepared or willing to hear or deal with a certain topic or issue at that particular moment. The “thing” could refer to a variety of situations, such as news, a story, a complaint, etc. The speaker might be feeling tired, overwhelmed, annoyed, or simply uninterested, which is why they’re expressing their unwillingness to engage with it at that time.

6 WASN’T 1225689

How could you have lost because of me

 if I wasn’t even there?


This is probably a rhetorical question used to challenge or dispute someone’s claim that the speaker is responsible for their failure or loss. The speaker is arguing that they couldn’t have caused the person’s loss because they were not present at the time. This could be used in a variety of contexts, such as a game, a business deal, or any situation where success or failure is possible.

7 I’M NOT 918408

I‘m not really sure what that means.
Hopefully nothing.


This indicates that the speaker is uncertain about the meaning or implications of a certain situation, statement, or event. They are expressing hope that it does not have any significant or negative consequences.

8 AREN’T 912023

You know, 

most people aren’t really scared of heights.


 This is a general statement suggesting that the majority of individuals do not have a fear of heights. This could be used in a conversation to reassure someone who is nervous about a high place or to challenge a common assumption about acrophobia (fear of heights). However, it’s important to note that fear of heights can vary greatly among individuals, and this statement might not hold true for everyone.

9 WERE NOT 647840

They were not the orders under which we operated.


This suggests that the speaker and their team or group were operating under a different set of instructions or guidelines than the ones being referred to as “they”. The second speaker is affirming or emphasizing this fact with the use of “Indeed” at the end. This could be used in a variety of contexts, such as military operations, business strategies, or any situation where orders or instructions are given.

10 ‘RE NOT 600875

contracted: they’re, we’re, you’re

They are short forms of “they are”, “we are”, and “you are” respectively. These contractions are commonly used in informal speech and writing.

We‘re not going anywhere 

until we find what we‘re looking for.


This means that the speaker and their group are determined to stay in their current location until they find a specific item, person, or piece of information. They are expressing a strong commitment to their search and a refusal to give up or move on until their goal is achieved. This could be used in a variety of contexts, such as a physical search for a lost item, a research project, or a quest for truth or understanding.

11 AM NOT 518158

Just because I am not a murderer,

 doesn’t make me a good guy.


This expresses the idea that simply avoiding extremely negative actions (like murder) does not automatically make someone a good person. The speaker is suggesting that being a “good guy” requires more than just refraining from harmful actions; it also involves actively doing positive things and treating others well. This statement could be used to challenge simplistic notions of morality or to argue for a more nuanced understanding of what it means to be a good person.

12 WEREN’T 315174

I thought we weren’t supposed to talk about Florida.


This suggests that the speaker believed there was an agreement or understanding not to discuss a certain topic related to Florida. This could be a specific event, person, or situation associated with Florida. The context in which this phrase is used can greatly influence its exact meaning. It often implies that the topic is sensitive, controversial, or potentially upsetting.

The infinitive, continuous, and past participle + NOT

are much rarer and quite odd exceptions that might be considered to signal C2 ability:

13 BE NOT 46743

No. I used to be scared 

but I‘m getting to be not so scared anymore.


The phrase “getting to be not” is used to express a gradual change in the speaker’s state or condition. In this case, it means that the speaker is slowly becoming less scared. The use of “getting to be not” emphasizes the ongoing nature of this change, suggesting that it is a process that is still happening.

14 S NOT 42584
15 BEING NOT 6254

He is saying something about being not seen.


The negative passive gerund phrase “being not seen” refers to the state or condition of not being noticed or observed. It suggests that the person is talking about a situation or experience where they felt invisible, overlooked, or ignored.

16 BEEN NOT 3635

Can you imagine how hard it must have been not to cry?


“it must have been not to cry” refers to a past situation where it was difficult to refrain from crying. The speaker is asking the listener to empathize with the difficulty of suppressing tears in that situation.

Notice that some of the forms of BE, such as “were” are more frequent in the iWeb corpus than the present forms.  Also, notice that “is not” is much more common than “I am.”  Having said all this, remember these are only two slot Ngrams which means there may be other grammar forms connected with them.  For example “is not” might be “is not going to be” or “is not done.” that means we cannot say that this frequency is of present simple only.  What we do know is that practising these two words together is extremely common and therefore useful for learners to practise often.

The most common “is not” collocates (4 spaces on either side) most frequently with the 10 following words on the COCA corpus:

1 CLEAR 3198
2 EASY 2231
5 MERELY 915

“is not clear” collocates (4 spaces either side) on the iWeb corpus:

1 IT 22368
2 WHETHER 4675
3 HOW 3327
4 WHY 1448
7 EXTENT 179

“It is not clear whether” collocates (4 spaces to the right) on the iWeb:

1 THESE 201
3 TRUMP 18

In conclusion, the use of “BE + NOT” forms in English is a fundamental aspect of expressing negation. These forms, which include “is not”, “are not”, “isn’t”, “’s not”, “was not”, “wasn’t”, “I’m not”, “aren’t”, and “were not”, are used in various contexts and tenses to convey negative statements. Understanding their usage and frequency can greatly enhance one’s proficiency in English. Remember, the context in which these forms are used can greatly influence their exact meaning. Keep practicing and exploring these forms in different sentences to gain a deeper understanding of their usage.

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