I recently received a question about the gerund being, as one of many uses of the -ing form to be. This is an interesting study of how one form of a verb can have many different uses and entirely different grammatical functions. In this case, being may be part of a verb phrase, an adverb or a noun. Here’s some examples how:
Being as a Present Participle
Being is the present participle (-ing) form of the verb to be, used with the verb to be to form the continuous tenses:
- [Subject] + [to be] + being + [Complement].
Usually, continuous tenses demonstrate a process in progress (i.e. incomplete at the time discussed) or a temporarily repeated activity. With the verb to be, however, we usually refer to states, conditions and feelings in the simple form when we would use continuous for other tenses. This makes the continuous use of to be usually limited to specifically emphasising a temporary condition – often one that is unusual or surprising.
- He was being very helpful on Sunday, for some reason.
- She is being strangely quiet this morning.
This use is more unusual in the future, where the future simple can already emphasise a state, and we’re less to likely to discuss surprising/unexpected information.
Being in the Passive Voice
Being can be used in the the passive continuous forms to show a process in progress (as above, an incomplete or repeated activity). For the passive voice, this is combined with the past participle:
- [Subject] + [to be] + being + [Past participle]
This structure is used to emphasise the doing of the process, rather than the subject (the actor), either because the result is more important than the cause or because the actor is unknown.
- The cliff was being eroded (by the sea).
- Our phone signal is being blocked by something.
Being as a Gerund
The gerund being is a word form that uses the -ing form as a noun. It is used to describe the substance of being, which could be used as a subject or object, with a few different meanings:
- A life-form, e.g. He claimed to have seen abeing from space.
This use is common when it is ambiguous or unimportant to specify exactly what the life-form is, so we can refer to uncategorised or new living things as ‘beings’. We can also group wider lifeforms as beings without subgroups, such as living being (or the way we generally refer to human beings).
- To refer to someone in terms of their life essence/wholeness, e.g. She loved art and believed it made up her whole
This use is a little like existence, but generally relates it particularly to an individual. You might see it referring to other nouns like animals and objects, but typically a thing’s being has some connection to sense of purpose/life meaning, so it’s often useful for discussing people and their nature.
- To refer to a state of existence, e.g. The idea came intobeing after hours of brainstorming.
This use would usually be found in rather formal settings, discussing something coming into being in a somewhat academic sense.
Being as an Adverb
Being can be used as a conjunction or as part of an adverbial phrase. Here, it roughly means because or since, and is often connected to a subordinate clause with that, as or as how:
- Wendy missed the train, being that she was late.
It can also be used for the same meaning without a complete clause, to give an adverbial complement:
- Wendy missed the train, being late.
(Or with the subject/verb to follow as an afterthought: Wendy missed the train, being late as she was.)
Being as part of a Noun Phrase
Being can also be used in combination with a complement to form a noun phrase from a state or condition, in order, for example, to refer to it in terms of cause and effect.
- His being tall was the main reason they hired him.
This use will often be applied in similar situations to the adverbial use; the above example could also be said as Because he was tall, they hired him. Or Being tall, he got the job. (In its most standard structure: They hired him because he was tall.)
I hope these explanations and examples give some insight into how we use being in different ways – a lot of these ideas translate to different verbs in the present participle form.