I know asleep and sleeping are interchangeable in many cases. But in these situations, I am not sure.

I read stories to my son after he went to bed. After reading the stories, I stayed for some time and tucked the quilt for him. When I came out of his room and met my wife, she asked "Is he asleep?" or "Has he fallen asleep?", or "Is he sleeping?"

In the morning, I woke my son up before he went to school. But later I found he did not get up. His eyes were closed. I asked, "Are you still asleep?" or "Are you still sleeping?"

Which is better in each situation?

  • One minor difference in meaning -- generally you only use asleep to mean actually unconscious. The word sleeping is sometimes used to refer to being in bed and going to sleep without concern for whether the person has actually fallen asleep yet. So if somebody called for someone, and I knew they were in bed, I'd be much more likely to say "they're sleeping" than "they're asleep". Apr 22, 2012 at 22:51

3 Answers 3


Asleep is an adjective in Are you asleep? while sleeping is a verb in Are you sleeping?

Use asleep if you want to emphasize the state and sleeping if you want to emphasize the action.

  • 10
    A cautionary note, though: sleeping can also be used as an adjective (e.g., "Go kiss the sleeping princess"), and asleep can also be used as an adverb. That said, I still like this answer, and I suppose it would apply to other similar word pairs, (e.g., the fire is ablaze; the fire is blazing).
    – J.R.
    Apr 10, 2012 at 16:48

A predicate adjective is one type of subject complement.

A few adjectives can be only predicate adjectives, never attributive adjectives (i.e. he is asleep).

Note that the 'is' that appears in the questions "Is he asleep?" and "Is he sleeping?" is very different in grammatical terms.

This difference, and the fact that asleep is predicate adjectives, help you to understand which is better in each situation you have described.


While the comment re the state vs the action make a lot of sense, and while a lengthy discussion of adjectival forms is both useful and educational, your original usages are both correct, in both examples.

The danger of making supposedly hard-and-fast rules for English is that it is constantly evolving, with no central defining authority, unlike French for example. Many verbs become adjectives over time, and vice versa, especially as various writers play with the language. (viz Shakespeare's "uncle me no uncles". I might be a'walking, but I've not heard anyone say, "I am awalk," yet. :

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