Be and Continuous Tenses
The verb be can be an auxiliary verb (Marie is learning English) or a main verb (Marie is French). On this page we look at the verb be as a main verb.
Usually we use simple tenses with the verb be as a main verb. For example, we say:
- London is the capital of the UK.
(not London is being the capital of the UK.)
- Is she beautiful?
(not Is she being beautiful?)
- Were you late?
(not Were you being late?)
Sometimes, however, we can use the verb be with a continuous tense. This is when the real sense of the verb be is "act" or "behave". Also, of course, the action is temporary. Compare the examples in the table below:
|Mary is a careful person. (Mary is always careful - it's her nature.)
||John is being careful. (John is acting carefully now, but maybe he is not always careful - we don't know.)
|Is he always so stupid? (Is that his personality?)
||They were being really stupid. (They were behaving really stupidly at that moment.)
|Andrew is not usually selfish. (It is not Andrew's character to be selfish.)
||Why is he being so selfish? (Why is he acting so selfishly at the moment?)
Notice that we also make a difference between "to be sick" and "to be being sick":
- She is sick (= she is not well)
- She is being sick (= she is vomiting)
Here is the structure of the verb be in the continuous present tense:
I am being
You are being
He, she, it is being
We are being
They are being
Now check your understanding »