Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I am arguing with friends about this question.

According to what I learned in school, there are some adjectives that cannot be used in the progressive form. I think this one is ungrammatical because angry describes an emotion, which is a temporary state on its own. Therefore, it is redundant to use it in the progressive form.

Am I correct?

share|improve this question
    
Think about, " I was angry with him for a few years" or "jack is angry with his friend". They suggest continuous phaze of time right? –  camelbrush Apr 23 '13 at 11:07
    
@camelbrush Yes, they do. Are you a native speaker of English? If so, how does the sentence "I'm being angry" sound to you? A bit weird or absolutely weird? –  cp_noname Apr 23 '13 at 11:14
    
Forget about "angry" for a moment. How about the following? I'm just being curious here, but I'd like to know what kind of shampoo you use... Do you find "being curious" as shocking as "being angry"? –  Jubobs Apr 23 '13 at 12:44
    
I am not sure about curious. But I feel that is not as shocking as "I am being angry" What is the answer then, @Jubobs ? –  cp_noname Apr 23 '13 at 13:24

2 Answers 2

up vote 2 down vote accepted

Yes, “am being ADJECTIVE sounds quite odd to a native speaker. It is not impossible, but it is very uncommon and seldom what you want.

You would virtually never say “I am being ready” or “I am being happy” instead of “I am ready” or “I am happy”.

If you really, really want a progressive aspect, then it works better with verbs like getting or becoming, depending on the adjective involved and whether these is already an existing idiom.

  • I am becoming happy.
  • I’m getting happy/happier.
  • I’m getting ready.
  • I’m getting tired.

Sometimes an adverb is enough:

  • I am still happy.
share|improve this answer
    
What about Jubobs example of "I'm just being curious here"? That sounds perfectly fine to me (but "I'm being curious." somehow does not. –  Mitch Apr 23 '13 at 14:21
    
@tchrist, thanks for your answer. And what do you think about the example Jubobs gave? –  cp_noname Apr 23 '13 at 14:38
    
I do not agree. The following does not sound odd to me at all: He's being facetious; don't pay him any attention. –  Jubobs Apr 23 '13 at 14:38
1  
@Jubobs, why don't you explain your idea first, instead of asking the same question with a new example? –  cp_noname Apr 23 '13 at 15:16

I wouldn't be so sure that anger is a "temporary state on its own". Some people seem to be angry all the time!

I am being [adjective] can be used to mean that you are only displaying a certain behaviour for a limited period of time.

Contrary to @tchrist, that construction does not strike me as odd at all. In fact, it can convey nuances that the present tense simply cannot. Examples:


He's being facetious; don't pay him any attention.

Here, it's implied that his facetious behaviour, however common, will eventually come to an end. Compare that to:

He's facetious; don't pay him any attention.

The present tense here means that facetiousness is in his nature: in other words, he's always facetious.


I know I'm being overly curious here, but could you be more specific?

(meaning: I'm not usually that curious, but I find that what you said requires elaboration). Compare that to:

I know I'm curious, but could you be more specific?

(meaning: excuse me for always being curious, but I'd like to hear more about that.)


I'll concede that "I am being angry" may sound a bit odd in some contexts. However, I find the following perfectly acceptable:

While you were being angry at the kid for breaking the vase, I attempted to glue the pieces back together.

(meaning: while you were telling the kid off, ...)

share|improve this answer
    
I guess we could explain it this way: Angry describes an emotional state that won't last over a long time and will eventually disappear. Therefore, adjectives of this kind cannot be used in the progressive form as temporariness is already inherent in their meanings. On the contrary, curious and facetious are traits or characteristics of a person so they are rather permanent over time. When we want to emphasise that this is "not" how the person being talked about usually is, we can use the progressive form to contrast or highlight the unusualness. –  cp_noname Apr 23 '13 at 16:49
1  
I disagree about anger being temporary, though. It's not uncommon to hear: he's an angry man (meaning: he's very bitter, all the time). –  Jubobs Apr 23 '13 at 16:52
    
Wouldn't the word "grumpy" convey the meaning better in your example "he's an angry man"? –  cp_noname Apr 23 '13 at 16:53
1  
Well, we can argue about which word is preferable, but "he's an angry man" can definitely be said/written. –  Jubobs Apr 23 '13 at 16:55
1  
But I have already accepted tchrist's answer. Both of you did equally well in the argument. –  cp_noname Apr 23 '13 at 17:02

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.