In this dictionary, "dress" can have 2 meanings

-Dress [intransitive, transitive] to put clothes on yourself/somebody:

dress (in something) I dressed quickly.

dress somebody (in something) She dressed the children in their best clothes.

Get up and get dressed!

The children spend hours dressing and undressing their dolls.

-Dress [intransitive, transitive] to wear a particular type or style of clothes:

to dress well/badly/fashionably/comfortably:

dress for/in/as something You should dress for cold weather today. She always dressed entirely in black.

dress somebody (for/in/as something) He was dressed as a woman (= he was wearing women's clothes).

But this site says

-When talking about wearing a specific clothes

Though we can say "I dress in a black suit" ("dress" is an intransitive verb in this case). But, in spoken language, normally we do not say like that but say "I am dressed in a black suit"

-When talking about a particular type of clothes, we use "dress" as an intransitive verb

She's over 40, but she still dresses like a teenager

He needs to change the way he dresses.

"to dress for winter"

So, in spoken language, what are the differences between "You always dress in a black suit" and "You are always dressed in a black suit"?

So, does "You always dress in a black suit" emphasize that you wear a particular type of clothes?

Does "You are always dressed in a black suit" emphasize that you wear specific clothes?

  • There's not really a dime's worth of difference between them. For the most part, they're just different ways to say the same thing. Whatever nuances you fancy may exist are almost certainly not noticed in oral communication.
    – Robusto
    Commented Jul 16, 2017 at 1:18
  • Please read the usage note once again, carefully. "If you want to describe someone's clothes on a particular occasion..." doesn't (just) emphasize "wearing specific clothes", for example. Specific and particular are synonymous, by the way, and clothes is a plural noun.
    – user3395
    Commented Jul 16, 2017 at 1:21
  • There's no difference between "You always dress in a black suit" and "You're always dressed in a black suit". Note the contraction, which is the way it would actually be spoken. ("Clothes" is a plurale tantum. It has no singular form. It can never take the indefinite article, only the definite or zero article. We can never say "a clothes.") Commented Jul 16, 2017 at 1:31
  • Your citation from the Free Dictionary concerns the translation of one of the senses to dress as the Spanish vestir. Commented Jul 16, 2017 at 2:01
  • @P.E.Dant, then tell me why most people say "I am married" though "to marry" is either "transitive" or "intransitive". "I married" is not wrong
    – Tom
    Commented Jul 20, 2017 at 11:16

2 Answers 2


At first glance, You always dress in a black suit looks pretty equivalent to You are always dressed in a black suit, with the apparent meaning being "You always wear a black suit". A number of people commented that they are the same. In fact, both constructions are in common usage. You might even hear cases of the constructions being used interchangeably. However, they are actually different, and when used properly, they are used differently, and with a different nuance in meaning.

The main source of confusion is in viewing the difference between the sentences as relating to different tenses of the verb "dress". In fact, there is discussion in the comments that "are dressed" is simply passive construction. I'll explain how and why the sentences are different, and how the usage is different when speakers are not being sloppy with the language. [1]

The gist of the difference stems from this: you dress... describes a habit, you are dressed... describes a present example or observation of the habit.


Lets focus first on tense and consider a simplified example:

  • You were dressed in black explicitly describes something in the past.
  • You are dressed in black explicitly describes something in the present.
  • You will be dressed in black explicitly describes something in the future,
  • You dress in black is simple present, which is not anchored to the present time. "The principal use of the simple present is to refer to an action or event that takes place habitually." (See Wikipedia discussion)

You always dress in a black suit

Simple present "dress" is the verb, and this describes your habit. It would be said by someone familiar enough with your routine to know that it's what you always do. It could refer to what you're currently wearing, but it could also be said in a context that doesn't involve that person actually seeing you, and it could refer to any time frame.

For example, you could be having a telephone conversation with the person discussing what you should wear at an upcoming event.

You: "What should I wear?"
Other person: "You always dress in a black suit."

That's a comment about your habit. The meaning would depend on the context of the discussion and the intonation of the words. It could be a suggestion to wear what you usually wear, or it could be a suggestion to wear something other than what you usually wear.

Notice that this construction has no inherent positive or negative connotation. In addition to the positive and negative examples above, it can be used with no value connotation at all, simply a statement of fact.

You are always dressed in a black suit

As similar as this sentence seems, it is actually a different beast. I'll break it down. Consider this sentence:

You are tall.

"Tall" is an adjective describing "you". "Are" is the verb. Now replace "tall":

You are [dressed in a black suit].

In this construction, "dressed" is not the past tense of the verb "dress", it is an adjective, part of an adjective phrase that describes "you". By coincidence the Macmillan Dictionary definition of "dressed" as an adjective uses this as an example: "She was dressed in a black suit." What are the odds of that coincidence?

So "dressed" does not contribute a tense, it is not a past participle verb, and it is not part of an "are dressed" passive construction. The only verb in the sentence is "are", and as in the discussion under Tense, it explicitly describes something in the present. The present is one example, or an observation of one example, of the habit.

"Always" indicates that it is something recurring and routine, as in "You always say that". "Always" in combination with "are" refers to a recurring pattern or series of then-present events. These are examples or observations of the habit.

This is the perspective of an observer. The observer sees a collection of then-present examples, which for the observer, is a pattern of observations. This construction is a generic reference to the observations of the habit rather than the habit, itself.

It would most likely be said by someone observing you and commenting on your present attire. It would typically mean:

Every time I see you, you are wearing a black suit.

It is a reference to their observations of you rather than to what you wear when they don't see you.

This construction is different from simple present in terms of the usual positive/negative connotations of its use. It is rarely used with a positive connotation. It can be used in a neutral way, but it tends to be used with a negative (or sarcastic) connotation.

Going back to the telephone discussion of attire for a future event, this construction could also be used there, but in a slightly different context. It would also reflect the perspective of the observer more than your habit. The two constructions:

  1. You: "I think I'll wear a black suit."
    Other person: "You always dress in a black suit."
    This is a reference to your habit and a suggestion to change it for this event.

  2. You: "I think I'll wear a black suit."
    Other person: "You are always dressed in a black suit."
    The perspective of this comment is that a black suit is what other people always see you in and a suggestion to let them see you in something different.

[1] Many thanks to Ben Kovitz for identifying the language principles underlying the "why".

  • You are drawing a distinction without a difference. Any of those statements may be said in any context, and suggest any of the meanings. How is "your routine attire" different at all from "the practice [of dress] you follow"?
    – Robusto
    Commented Jul 18, 2017 at 0:36
  • @Robusto, I didn't understand your comment, or maybe I didn't write what I intended to say in the answer clearly. "your routine attire" and "the practice of dress you follow" wasn't something I was intending to distinguish. I see "you always dress..." as more describing the person's practices, and "you are always dressed..." as more the observation of it by the speaker. I'm not saying English language defines it that way, just that those perspectives would be more associated with how people typically use the constructions.
    – fixer1234
    Commented Jul 18, 2017 at 0:47
  • I agree either would be grammatically correct and there's nothing to preclude people from using either in either situation. Both sentences refer to "your routine attire", as mentioned in the first paragraph, so to that extent, they mean the same thing. The rest of the answer was distinguishing a nuance of perspective; the context in which each would more likely be used.
    – fixer1234
    Commented Jul 18, 2017 at 0:56
  • "You always dress in a black suit" and "You are always dressed in a black suit" differ only in that the latter is a passive construction. Otherwise they say exactly the same thing. I'm sorry you went to all this trouble to expound on supposed differences between the two in your answer, but I'm afraid those differences don't exist in the real world.
    – Robusto
    Commented Jul 18, 2017 at 2:28
  • @Robusto, they exist in my world, maybe I don't live in the real world. :-) I'd be curious to get feedback from others as to whether anyone else sees the same thing.
    – fixer1234
    Commented Jul 18, 2017 at 2:35

Both can mean rougly the same thing: Every time I see you, I notice that you wear a black suit. With some little differences, as explained in fixer1234's answer.

But "You are always dressed in a black suit" has another, totally different second meaning. It means "Wearing a black suit makes anybody look well-dressed". Or "One is always well-dressed when wearing a black suit". For example: "I should really look my best on Joe's wedding. What should I wear"? Answer: "You are always dressed in a black suit".

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