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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 be as a main verb.

Usually we do not use main verb be with continuous tenses. For example, we say:

Sometimes, however, we can use main verb be with a continuous tense. This is when the real sense of be is "act" or "behave". Also, the action is temporary. Compare the examples in the table below:

be as main verb
simple tense continuous tense
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":

Here is main verb be conjugated in the Present Continuous tense:
I am being
You are being
He, she, it is being
We are being
They are being