English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

Is there any significant difference between saying

I am/was being adj. (careless, busy, etc)...

[treating "am/was" as an auxiliary verb]


I am/was adj. (careless, busy, etc)...

Personally, I consider adding the word being a bit fussy but is there actually an effect of doing so?

share|improve this question
up vote 5 down vote accepted

The use of "being" implies a reference to a specific event or context.

In my youth, I was careless.

The above makes sense, but the following does not:

In my youth, I was being careless.

The same applies to your second example. "I am being careless" implies carelessness in reference to a specific situation or act, whereas "I am careless" implies a more general observation, perhaps to ones character.

share|improve this answer
Great answer!! I don't find the second expression senseless though. There is a slight humor in it. – user19341 Jun 8 '12 at 13:01
If I were to attempt to use the latter phrase, I would probably clarify it with a specific event. – Polynomial Jun 8 '12 at 13:10

Being in this case means behaving, which could be translated to behaving carelessly. Your second example describes a more like a habitual action.

He is being selfish. This means that he is behaving selfishly at this period of time.

He is selfish. This means that he is a selfish person.

share|improve this answer
  • I am careless means it your habit to be careless.

  • I am being careless means you are being careless with whatever you are doing right now (e.g., carrying a cup full of coffee, handling a case - police case, etc.). It doesn't guarantee that you are always careless.

  • I was careless means your were careless with something (or everything; it's ambiguous) in the past.

  • I was being careless means you were being careless with something (or everything; it's ambiguous) in the past.

share|improve this answer
I'd argue that "I am being busy" is valid in certain ways, e.g. in the context of avoiding someone: "I am being busy on purpose, so that he doesn't bother me." – Polynomial Jun 8 '12 at 12:49
@Polynomial Missed that one in haste. Edit made. – user20934 Jun 8 '12 at 12:52

You're right in saying that the Stative Verb "Be" is not often used in "V+ing" form.

But in this case, it's particularly important to use it this way because "Be + being" means "acting or behaving in a particular way."

There would be a very big difference between: "He was stupid." (generally) and: "He was being stupid" (only at the moment, he isn't usually like that).

So, if you say "I was being careless," you are emphasizing the fact that you aren't always like that.

(Although I'd also prefer to say something like: "That was me being careless.")

share|improve this answer
I have to add that "Be Being" isn't always possible. Ex. I was being tired/ busy = X – Cool Elf Jun 8 '12 at 12:51
"Being busy" is valid. See my comment on rudra's answer. I can't see how "being tired" is valid, though, since it's an involuntary state. – Polynomial Jun 8 '12 at 12:54
I get what you mean by "being busy." But I took into account ArchJ's exposure to the concept of "Be Verb in V+ing form," and decided to leave it for another lesson. Thanks for the comment – Cool Elf Jun 8 '12 at 13:05

Your Answer


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