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What is the difference between 'she is busy' and 'she is being busy' (is the second sentence correct?)

  • "is" active voice. "is being" is passive. The first one is a sentence by itself. S/V/O. She is busy. 2nd, passive voice makes statement subordinate and requires more information to become a sentence; ie., She is being busy today buying flowers, having a haircut, and going to the movies. – user90322 Feb 26 at 11:47
  • @SteveB053: Curiously, although it's true that syntactically "is" is active voice and "is being" is passive, semantically it's effectively quite the opposite. In most contexts, She is being busy would barely be considered a "valid" construction anyway - but to the extent that it could ever be deliberately used by a competent native speaker, I suggest the only credible interpretation would be She is [actively] making herself [appear to be] busy. – FumbleFingers Feb 26 at 15:12
  • Correct! Stating "she is being busy" ques the listener to expect there's something more coming...as what's coming next shifts attention away from the subject, like "She is being busy, as I told you, cleaning her room, putting her things away, and leaving for school in five minutes." The subject [she] is subordinate, or at least placed equal, but the listener hears the rest of the info as really more important. Always a pleasure to read your posts. – user90322 Feb 26 at 15:22
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The answer in terms of grammar is that the first is present simple, and the second is present progressive. With an adjective as the object of to be, this would mean that "she is busy" is describing either her current state, or her habitual state, while "she is being busy" suggests that she is doing something that causes the adjective busy to apply.

However, the present progressive of to be, especially with an adjective, often requires some special handling. It depends on the adjective. After all, what can cause an adjective to apply? For example:

She is being naughty.

That means she is doing something that makes her naughty - or put another way, that she is doing something naughty.

She is being clever.

This again suggests doing something that indicates cleverness, but if you just wanted to say she was clever, you wouldn't say that. This suggests that she's doing something for the purpose of being or seeming clever. You'll hear this about children talking back to adults - if what they say is deliberately misinterpreting the adult's words, or pointing out a contradiction, or so on.

She is being funny.

This one is particularly complex. It might mean someone trying to be funny, even if they're failing. It might mean someone acting strangely, as that's another meaning of funny. It might just mean that they are being genuinely amusing, even if they don't mean to be.

She is being busy.

This one is also complex. It might mean she is making a show of being busy, but it might also be a tart response to the question "what is she doing?".

If you just want to say someone is busy, the safest bet is "she is busy".

  • Thank you! I really appreciate your answer! – Karolina Feb 26 at 12:04
  • I can't really go along with it might also be a tart response to the question "what is she doing?". The only possible interpretation I can put on the unlikely construction She is being busy is the first one you gave. You correctly (and relevantly) identify the difference between She's clever and She's being clever - exactly the same would apply if people actually used this form with busy (but ordinarily they don't, which is why we would expect to consider the speaker's intentions very carefully if we actually did encounter it from a competent native speaker). – FumbleFingers Feb 26 at 15:19
  • @FumbleFingers: Oh, I've actually come across it before. Roughly like "I'm afraid she can't see you at the moment." "Oh, really, what's she doing?" "Being busy!" A tart, non-answer answer. – SamBC Feb 26 at 15:23
  • But effectively that's exactly the same distinction that applies when people say She's being clever / funny / whatever (actively trying to be, or to appear to be, X). – FumbleFingers Feb 26 at 16:07
  • No no, sorry for being unclear, I mean it's used to be snippy - like, "she's busy, and you're not entitled to any more detail than that" – SamBC Feb 26 at 16:14
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The first sentence "she is busy" is natural and correct but can mean two different things:

  • She has a lot of jobs to do
  • She cannot see anyone (but might not be busy at all)

The second sentence is correct but reads, to me, as though she is making an act of being busy, perhaps

  • she wants to avoid being talked to
  • she is trying to prove she is a busy person

In the second case, "she is being busy" could be taken as a facetious remark.

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