E 0075        (TO) BE , BEEN

The words " to be " and "been " are of Germanic origin .

H 0295            ן ו ב , ן י ב

Concept of root : using brains, being

Hebrew word


English meanings

ן ו ב , ן י ב

bin, bon

to understand, use brains

Related English words

to be, been

Comparison between European words and Hebrew




English meanings

Similarity in roots


ן ו ב , ן י ב

bin, bon

to use brains, understand

b y n < b w n


to be, been

to be, been

b . n


(ich) bin;

(du) bist



(I) am; (you) are

b(i) . n


(ik) ben;

(jij) bent



(I) am;

(you) are

b . n

Dutch dialect

(ze) bennen


(they) are

b . n






I have been;

you have been

f . u



Proto-Semitic *BIN < *BON --- *Bĕ-N *BŎ-N Proto-Germanic < *BŪ- Indo-European



Cogito ergo sum. I am thinking, therefore I exist. That is what Descartes said . The Latin word "sum" is the first person singular in the present of the verb "esse", that stands for "to be". As we see, "sum" and "esse" do not have the same root. And English "to be" , though Indo-European as well, is again of different origin. Other forms of the same message of "to be" we see in English "was" and "were" and in Latin "fui". One asks if those different Indo-European roots all had right from the start the precise meaning of "to be". Or if perhaps one might have developed its message out of another one, from something else? Entry number E 0487 (Hebrew 1068) refers to the origin of "is" and "was".



  • U O W V. This group of sounds is important as such in the development of both Semitic and Indo-European languages. For good reasons Latin uses one letter " V " to express both "V" and "U" and in fact also "W". And also for good reasons Hebrew uses one letter ( often called mater lectionis), the "Waw",ו, W to express the various sounds of this group, and even, at the end of a word for "F", as in Russian is the case with a final В, W, that from "W" becomes a kind of "F".


    People do not pronounce letters, but letters express pronunciation. Within this group "O U W V" people change the sound according to the position in a word of the basic sound. Thus the Latin "V" generally represents a consonant "V" before vowels and a vowel "U" before consonants.


    In Old Indian we see clearly the difference between three words on basis of the same root, in which the sound the speakers have chosen from the group "O U W V" vary as follows: "bháVati", "bhUVat" , "bhŪtá". Just as in Hebrew, if the sound chosen from the group is just a consonant, a vowel has to be added for pronunciation, in this case a vowel "A" in "bhá".


  • Hebrew. The Hebrew root of this entry comprises a number of functions of the human brain, of which the most central one seems to be that of "to understand". It travels from being aware via taking notion of and giving attention to , continues with observing, examining and understanding. In complex forms it stands for the ability to discern, and to have its completion it says being judicious and even expert, having a sound mind and wisdom and being brought to teaching others.


    These qualities together shape what is that "cogito" of the human mind which Descartes has so wisely pointed out as the essence of "being". This brings us to the idea that this Hebrew root may well be related to the Germanic one of "to be", and of which no etymology is known.


  • Proto-Semitic. Among the various Semitic languages we see in Aramaic and Syriac "ב י ן , bayyen = to make understand". This is the intensive form of the verb, often used to express a causative meaning. South Arabian has a "Waw" between the B and N and in Ge'ze Ethiopian "bayyana = he perceived" a Yod is used as a consonant. Hebrew has an older form "bon" besides "bin". The Waw or "O" usually is older than the Yod or "I". Therefore one may suppose that Proto-Semitic had a development similar to that still seen in Hebrew. Ugaritic uses this root to say "to understand" and Sabean "ב י ן" says "to understand". Our root is also seen in Akkadian. Probably Proto-Semitic had "*ב ו ן , B W N " and perhaps also already "*ב י ן ", B Y N".


  • Proto-Germanic. There have been efforts to find an explanation for "to be" in a common root with words for "to build", such as German "bauen". If that would be so, Hebrew "banā" would even be nearer. The German word for Latin "sum" and English "am" is "bin". In Dutch "ben". This is very near the Hebrew word of this entry, but also nearer to Hebrew "banā (to build") than to German "bauen". Also an in between but not quite defined root for "to grow" has been supposed. German "bauen" says "to build" as well as "to (make) grow".


    In older Germanic languages there are often forms that end with "M", besides those ending with "N". Examples are Old High German "bim, bin", Old Saxon "bium, biun, bion", Old Frisian "bim, bin, bem, ben"; Middle Dutch "bim, bin, bem, ben" and Old English "bēom". It is possible that the final "M" that competes with the final "N" is due to other influences, as also Latin "sum" and especially English "am" have that final "M", which corresponds with Greek "ε ι μ ι, from older "*ε σ μ ι esmi, in which "mi" indicates the first person singular. This "M" is in particular present in English "me" and its numerous Germanic sisters. But this is far from certain. It is also possibe that the final "M" appeared where a final "N" already existed, just to disappear again later, as it anyhow has done. If we look at Dutch, we find in the conjugation :" ik ben, jij bent, ben jij ( I am, you are, are you)" and popular "zij bennen( they are)", just like the verb "hebben ( to have)" has "ik heb, jij hebt, heb jij, zij hebben". The respective roots effectively are "BEN" and "HEB".


    Old English is particularly interesting in its use of different roots for the concept of "to be ".


    Infinitive : wesan sin bēon


    First singular : eom bēo


    Second singular : eart bist


    Third singular : is bið


    Plural : sind(on) bēoð


    Subj, present sing. : sĭ, sy bēo


    idem plural : sĭn bēon


    Pret. singular : wæs wæron


    Pret. plural : wære wæren



    Proto-Germanic probably already had the brief root "*B E" that is seen in Old English. It remains quite probable that it also had a basis with final "N" :"*B E N -". Taking into consideration though that in some older words the vowel "E" has been preceded by one among "IU, IO, I", the usual and correct opinion is that Proto-Germanic started out with a root having a vowel derived from the group "O _ U_ W _ V : ", for example "*B O-" or "*B U-" as well as "*B O N- besides "*B E N -".


  • Latin. The F is considered to be a variant of the B that is found in Germanic languages, and there are indications also in Greek that this is the case. But the choice which verbal forms to use from which of the available roots is different in the various interested Italic tongues. Latin "erit" corresponds to Umbrian "futu", and there are many more examples. Latin , just as Germanic and modern Latin languages, uses the root of "fui" not for the full range of "to be", that is shared with the roots of "est, esse"and "sum, sumus. There are in older Latin forms that have a vowel " I " instead of " U ". This may have been a temporary development. "Ū" in many cases and in many languages tends to change into "Uuml", "Y" ( pronounced between "Uuml" and "Ī") or "Ī".


  • Slavic. Taking Russian as example, a first important fact is that for the concept of "to be" as a verb, the present tense is not used in Russian, exactly like in Hebrew. There is just a remaining word, based on the same root found in English "is" and Latin "esse", that is "е с т ь , yčstj = there is, there are" and that has its cognate in Hebrew. See entry E 0487 (Hebrew 1068).


    Russian uses further verbal forms based on the same root as English "to be, been" and Latin "fui". Examples are "буду, budu = I will be", "быть, bŭtj = to be" , and "был, bŭl = was". The vowel " Ŭ" is a reduced "Ū" that should have been the original one in a Slavic "B Ū -". The "D" as in "budu" has been a later addition.



  • Indo-European. Greek. Many words have been taken into consideration as related to "to be". An example is Greek "phüomai", medio-passive of "phüo", the active form that has as its basic meaning indicated "to produce, generate", but that indeed is also used by the great classic playwrights as "to be". Intransitive it also says "to be born, grow". These are also the meanings of the medio-passive, that further expresses "to become". As root is seen "PH Ü", but the verbal form "pephüka" in the present perfect tense points at a "P Ü-.


    Old Indian , in a tendency not unsimilar to Semitic, combines the concepts of "to be" and " to become" in words like "bhávati" and "bhūta", as well as many nouns and verbal forms that show after the initial consonant "BH" alternatively "AV" , "ŪV" and "Ū" according to the tenses. The verb would be considered "strong". The basic indication is "BH (A) V-".


    Avestan has " bavaiti = becomes, comes into being, will be", and interestingly Old Persian "baviyiy = becomes" and New Persian "būdan = to be". In some verbal forms the "AV" is changed into "Ū" without the use of a vowel "A". This recalls , as in Semitic, the role of the vowel not as part of the root, that just remains B . V.


    Slavic. As seen in the Note above, Slavic probably had "B Ū", with the vowel in some forms being reduced, resulting in "ы": "B Ŭ-".


    Baltic. Old Lituanian had "būk = be!". Old Latvian "buvu = I was". There are Lithuanian "buti", Latvian "bût" and interestingly Old Prussian "bousai; be = (that) he be, was" partially "precedes" a West Germanic development towards a vowel "E". Baltic probably was like Slavic : B Ū-.


    Celtic. Old Irish has "bīu = am" and buith = to be ".Breton "bout = to be", like Cymric "bod". It is not certain if Celtic already used a vowel "O" or else "OU", but very probably the long " Ū " was present in "*B Ū - .


    Indo-European, when considering also Latin, and Germanic, probably had the original form "B Ū-". Verbal forms with a final " N " may have existed already.


    We note that the initial "BH" as seen in Old Indian is not representative for Indo-European as origin. "BH" is a way of pronouncing a "B" not present in the vast majority of tongues. Therefore Indo-European most probably was "*BU-", not "*BHU-".





Created: Tuesday 6 November 2007 at 22.30.54 Updated: 24/12/2012 at 10.10.06