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I found this paragraph in one of my reading. Why did it use “to be standing” and how do I use this structure?

The crowd, I noticed, was mainly old ladies of the blue-haired type, the kind that play bingo and drink Bloody Marys at Sunday brunch, though I could see Eric sitting with all my friends near the back row. It was downright eerie, if you know what I mean, to be standing in front of them while everyone waited for me to say something.

Still, please explain why it used "to be standing" instead of using "to stand"?

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closed as off-topic by FumbleFingers, MετάEd, p.s.w.g, Kris, Hellion Jul 9 '13 at 15:53

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The phrase you want to focus on is "it was eerie to be standing in front of them..." - so it literally means they felt weird standing there, in front of that particular group of people. – Kristina Lopez Jul 9 '13 at 1:03
what I still wonder is why it is not "to stand" instead of using "to be standing"? – awesome7d Jul 9 '13 at 2:57
@awesome7d That is a critical element of what you want to know that is missing from your question. Please edit the question to state clearly what you are actually wondering about. – MετάEd Jul 9 '13 at 4:11
Belongs on ELL if not writersSE – Kris Jul 9 '13 at 5:30
up vote 0 down vote accepted

It is true that either would be grammatically acceptable ("It was eerie to be standing ..." or "It was eerie to stand ..."). I think you recognize that, and are asking about the difference.

I would say it is mostly a choice of style, in this case. The two statements could be read as exactly equivalent. So, the simple answer is that the author thinks "... to be standing ..." simply sounds better. This could be the entire answer.

To dig a little deeper, and probably confuse things in the process, 'eerie' describes the verb. In one case the verb is 'be'; 'standing' describes how he is being (in what state he exists), and 'eerie' describes his feeling about that (about 'being', and about the whole clause, 'being standing').

In the other case the verb would be 'stand'. So, a difference is that it is not specifically the act of standing that is eerie, it is the state of being. He would feel equally ill-at-ease sitting in front of them, with everyone waiting. It is the being in front of them, with them waiting, that is eerie - not what state he's in while he's there.

Another note is that 'standing' means 'being still' (like 'standing water'). 'Sitting' actually works for this, too (like a 'sitting duck'). (Although you can use them as opposed action verbs - "It is exhausting sitting down and standing back up all day" - in which case you are neither 'sitting still', nor 'standing still').

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To be standing is an ongoing situation. To stand may not be. So the author is using the former to explain that he was standing the whole time while they waited and not that he got up, stood, and walked off or sat down again while they waited.

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To be standing is an infinitive/participle phrase that is used as a noun in this case. What it means is

To be standing [noun/subject] was [verb] eeirie [predicate adjective referring to the subject] . . .

The construction you quote has the pronoun it as the subject, and the noun phrase appears later in the sentence as a reference to, and definition of, it.

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what I still wonder is why it is not "to stand" instead of using "to be standing"? – awesome7d Jul 9 '13 at 2:58
To be standing has a more passive tone than to stand. It suggest that this is something that has happened to you rather than something you have actively done. For example, if you are seated or called upon and you stand up to take your place, to stand would be more appropriate. When you are already standing and find your self in a situation, to be standing is more appropriate. The difference is connotative and subtle. – bib Jul 9 '13 at 12:14

I think you're getting confused by the "if you know what I mean". If you remove it, you have the following sentence:

It was downright eerie to be standing in front of them.

What was eerie? Standing in front of them.

Reply to Edited Question: to be standing describes a more ongoing situation than simply to stand. To stand is a simple action, with a finality, while to be standing is a state of being which stretches over an indeterminate amount of time. In this case, it certainly helps the reader better feel the anxiety that the author felt by using language which forces us to process it as something which did not end quickly.

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what I still wonder is why it is not "to stand" instead of using "to be standing"? – awesome7d Jul 9 '13 at 2:57
Surely what was errie was "to be standing in front of them while everyone waited for me to say something". It was not merely the standing that was errie: it was additionally them waiting for him, or him being expected to say something. – TrevorD Jul 9 '13 at 11:27

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