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I came across the following test exercise on Gerunds and Infinitives.

The Oscar-winning actor avoids talking to his fans and refuses to give his autograph. <more context>. Doesn't he seem way too shy being/to be an actor?

I'm confused by the choice. In my option both options are fine; the latter is grammatically correct but the former conveys the meaning better.

  • Doesn't he seem way too shy being an actor?
    He is an actor and I'm surprised he is shy.

  • Doesn't he seem way too shy to be an actor?
    He is shy and I'm surprised he is an actor.

Does my understanding make sense?

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    It's not "following an adjective" that's involved. It's a special negative construction governed by too, which requires an infinitive clause. Using a gerund is ungrammatical. Gerunds can be used for other purposes, but that requires special intonation, which requires special punctuation in writing. Jan 22 at 14:54
  • Which is what @linguisticturn says in his answer. The infinitival complement clause is licensed by the "too" that modifies the adjective "shy".
    – BillJ
    Jan 22 at 15:06

3 Answers 3

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Your understanding does make sense. However, the sentence with the gerund requires a comma:

[1]  Doesn't he seem way too shy, being an actor?

The part after the comma is a supplement, not integrated into the syntactical structure of the sentence. The meaning is, 'Given that he is an actor, I would expect him to not be so shy'.

On the other hand, the sentence

[2]  Doesn't he seem way too shy to be an actor?

has the meaning 'Given that he is so shy, I am surprised that he is an actor'.

As best as I can tell, there are only a few adjectives that can enter into a construction of the form too + ADJ + being + PC (where PC stands for 'predicative complement') with no comma between the adjective and being. Shy is not one of them, but here are some that are:

He was too busy being successful/a lawyer.
He was too happy being drunk/a father.
He was too sad being [alone in their own home]/a refugee.
He was too comfortable being naked/a permanent guest.

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  • Perfect explanation! Thank you Jan 22 at 4:37
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    'too [adj] to be ...' means '[adj] to such an extent that one can not be ...'. With your other examples, there is usually an implied 'to be' or other to-infinitive: 'He was too busy being a lawyer to think of starting a family'. I suppose 'He was too sad being alone in their own home' is more realistically followed by say 'for him to stay there very long' (or perhaps 'to not be offered a new home living with his children'). Jan 22 at 11:59
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Doesn't he seem way too shy being an actor? He is an actor and I'm surprised he is shy.

Doesn't he seem way too shy to be an actor? He is shy and I'm surprised he is an actor.

Does my understanding make sense?

No, and it is incorrect.

The English verb has two major forms: the simple: "I go" and the continuous "I am going."

This is true of stative verbs, and participles and infinitives also. "I am stupid" = My over-all state can be described as "stupid" - I am being stupid = I am currently in a state of stupidity.

This also applies to all other "-ing" forms including the gerund and verbal noun.

Doesn't he seem way too shy being an actor? = Doesn't he seem way too shy while he is in the process of being an actor?

Doesn't he seem way too shy to be an actor? = Doesn't he seem way too shy in order to be an actor? = Doesn't he seem way too shy [in order] to carry out the complete job of an actor?

See also "they had renovated" vs "had been renovating"

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  • The last bit won't work. Clauses with "in order" are purpose adjuncts, but there's no sense in which we can say here that there is a purpose to his shyness.
    – BillJ
    Jan 22 at 14:50
  • @BillJ You may have misunderstood or too prescriptive. You can read it as "in order for him to be an actor" or "if he is an actor" or the archaic "[in order] that he be an actor"
    – Greybeard
    Jan 22 at 16:11
  • Perhaps it's an expression that is only found in some dialects. I can't say that I've ever used it with that meaning.
    – BillJ
    Jan 23 at 13:18
  • How about "for the purpose of his being an actor"?
    – Greybeard
    Jan 23 at 13:27
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"Doesn't he seem way too shy to be an actor?" means "Doesn't he seem to be more shy than is compatible with being an actor?" "Too X to Y" means "So much X that Y is not possible", e.g. "Too heavy to lift", "Too far to walk".

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