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I would need to understand the difference here:

He was being beaten.
He was getting beaten.

I know "get" + ppt can be either passive voice or a change of state. What is that in this example? I guess this is the passive voice. But what about this:

He is getting ready.
He is being ready - obviously wrong but I cannot say why.

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2 Answers 2

Get is a very busy verb in English.

It's mostly an auxiliary verb, and it almost always is Inchoative in meaning -- i.e, it refers to a change of state, by referring to a state that is beginning.

Inchoative predicates (verbs and adjectives) often occur in sets of Stative, Inchoative, and Causative, which are often the same word, but sometimes not:

  1. Stative predicate:
    The gate is open (wide)/(wide) open.
    The gate is closed (tight).
    The dog is dead.
    The dog is tired (out).
    He is (located) at X.
    They have (= possess) the book.
  2. Inchoative predicate:
    The gate opened (wide).
    The gate closed (tight).
    The dog died.
    The dog tired. ~ The dog got tired (out).
    He came/went to X.
    They got (= received) the book.
  3. Causative predicate:
    We opened the gate (wide).
    We closed the gate (tight).
    We killed the dog.
    We tired the dog (out).
    We brought/took him to X.
    They got (= acquired) the book.

Get is so busy because it's the inchoative of both the auxiliary verb be and the auxiliary verb have. And these auxiliary verbs participate in an awful lot of constructions. Therefore, so does get.

  • Some examples of Inchoative uses of get (many idiomatic):

    • He was tired. ~ He got tired. (get = 'come to be')
    • He is moving. ~ He got moving.
    • He is married. ~ He got married.
    • He is being married. ~ He is getting married.
    • He is tired. ~ He got tired.
    • He has a cold. ~ He got a cold. (get = 'come to have')
    • He had it done. ~ He got it done.
    • He has the job. ~ He got the job.
    • He has to retire. ~ He's got to retire.

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For your second sentence, the ‘Longman Student Grammar of Spoken and Written English’ (and, I suspect, others) uses the term ‘get-passive’, commenting that it

. . . is rare in all registers, but is occasionally used in conversation. Only five verbs have a notable frequency with the get-passive . . . Many of these verbs have a different emphasis when used with the get-passive rather than the be-passive. With be, they express a state, such as the state of 'being married' or 'being involved.' With get, they are more dynamic, describing the processing of getting into that state . . . Get-passives are typical only in conversation. The written registers usually use become instead.

Get ready is a phrasal verb and, as such, has a progressive form as in your example. Be ready is not a phrasal verb. It is the verb be + the adjective ready. The progressive form of be is not used to describe a state, and that is why ‘He is being ready’ is ungrammatical. The progressive form of be can, however, be used to describe an activity. ‘He is stupid’ describes a continuing state, but ‘He is being stupid’ describes something he is doing now.

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Become married, Barrie? –  Edwin Ashworth Feb 12 '13 at 15:58
    
@Edwin Ashworth. The LSGSWE does say 'usually'. –  Barrie England Feb 12 '13 at 16:20
    
I've just done a trawl for "get-passive" and found several where the get-passive is semantically different from the be-passive, but become can be substituted: involved, frightened, tired. There are some where the become substitution doesn't work, but where the verb alone can be used: get changed / change; get married / marry. There are others where it's difficult to replace the informal register: get engaged, broken, caught (in a thornbush etc). Got killed / shot / was killed / shot are synonymous, as are got / was caught (by the police etc). –  Edwin Ashworth Feb 12 '13 at 16:40
    
Really, there should be a different analysis for structures where get is being used as a delexical verb (get washed, get involved, get going, get married) as opposed to 'receiving action from an outside agency' usages, such as get shot, get killed, get caught. I think OP suggests this. There are indeterminate cases (get / be frightened). –  Edwin Ashworth Feb 12 '13 at 16:49
    
Not sure how the grammatical "being readied" fits in here. –  horatio Feb 12 '13 at 17:25

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