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I have come across the sentence below from this site.

Now, it is difficult, perhaps impossible, to bring forward one case of the hybrid offspring of two animals clearly distinct being themselves perfectly fertile.

Is the word "being" used to represent the present progressive tense? Or how can I understand it grammatically?

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Here 'being' is being used as an adjective.

The clause 'being themselves perfectly fertile' is describing the hybrid offspring.

When we use a verb as an adjective we use the participle of the verb, usually these end with '-ing' (present tense) or '-en' (past tense).

There's more information available with some examples at this site.

  • So if "being" is an adjective, does "being" modify "themselves" because an adjective can modify a noun or pronoun? – Nori Sep 26 at 9:38
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    In this context 'themselves' is optional. The pronoun 'themselves' refers to the hybrid offspring, and so the adjective (being perfectly fertile) refers to both of them as they refer to the same thing. Remember this text was written more than 100 years ago and use of English today tends to have a different style. – Lifelong Learner Sep 26 at 9:43
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You have missed something very important from your quote:

Now, it is difficult, perhaps impossible, to bring forward one case of the hybrid offspring of two animals clearly distinct being themselves perfectly fertile.

The words "clearly distinct" appear, on the website you linked to, and in Darwin's text which appears in an image on the page, in italics. Italics can be used in place of quotation marks; they can also be considered to denote parenthetical text.

Consider it written this way:

Now, it is difficult, perhaps impossible, to bring forward one case of the hybrid offspring of two animals, clearly distinct, being themselves perfectly fertile.

Darwin is saying that it is impossible to give an example of a hybrid animal which fits two criteria:

  1. that its two parent animals are "clearly distinct" - different species from one another
  2. that the offspring itself "is fertile" - capable of sexual reproduction.

"Being themselves" in this context is perfectly idiomatic. It means that the hypothetical hybrid animal to which he refers exists in a particular state. In this case, that state means capable of reproduction. The use of the word themselves is to set them in contrast to the other two hypothetical animals which are tacitly referred to - the parents of the hybrid, which of course were capable of producing offspring.

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    Good explanation, but the 'clearly dstinct' phrase relates to the parents not the offspring. Darwin is stressing that the the parents are different specieis so 'clearly distinct'. This means that your 1st point should be "The parents of the hybrid are distinct species". – Lifelong Learner Sep 26 at 9:45
  • @RobLambden Thanks, I think you are right. – Astralbee Sep 26 at 10:10

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