I came across the following text:

I met Mike while walking across a downtown street in Minneapolis, Minnesota. We struck up a conversation and being honest, I was not sure he was homeless. I asked him if he wanted some socks and that's when the conversation changed.

From the context, "being honest" seems to be another way of saying "to be honest", however, I am not sure whether it is a commonly used variation.

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    You could also use "...conversation, and to tell the truth, I..."
    – user3169
    Sep 27 at 2:32
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    Personally, as a native English speaker, if I hear people say "being honest" (mostly Eastern European people use this expression, in my experience) then I take it as a sign their English is not very good. I have heard native speakers use this version only rarely, if at all. I would prefer "to be honest". Sorry, just my 2c...
    – Kidburla
    Sep 27 at 8:17
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    @Kidburla, probably depends where you here. Here in UK, the two are fairly interchangeable in normal (native) speech. Sep 27 at 15:53
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    @TobySpeight: This native Brit finds "being honest" rather odd.
    – TonyK
    Sep 27 at 16:46
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    @TobySpeight I am also a native Brit and have lived in the UK my whole life :) I am 36 years old, and I can't remember ever having heard any native speakers use "being honest" in this way
    – Kidburla
    Sep 28 at 12:00

You are correct that "being honest" here is a commonly expressed form of "to be honest". This is an interjection, meaning a sudden addition to thought. Here, the interjection is relating to the following clause:

...and being honest, I was not sure he was homeless.

I do note that the punctuation here could be making the sentence more confusing than it needs to be, as the "and" could lead you to think that we are using a parallelism when we aren't. Interjections can optionally be made clearer by surrounding them with parenthesis or commas.

...conversation, and being honest, I was not sure...

...conversation and, being honest, I was not sure...


...conversation and (being honest) I was not sure...

This is a matter of writing style however, and while I believe not including the extra comma makes the sentence harder to parse, it isn't strictly wrong.

  • Those of us who remember Grammar Rock (70s, U.S.) know that interjections are "generally set apart from the sentence by an exclamation point, or by a comma when the feeling's not as strong." For what it's worth, I think the interjection itself makes the sentence harder to parse, but if it is to be included then setting it off with leading and trailing commas is the alternative that I find easiest to follow: "and, being honest, ...". Sep 27 at 13:50
  • Is "being honest" really a common substitute for "to be honest"? Sep 27 at 20:24
  • If "parallelism" is the name of the effect caused by its placement as if it were a past gerund that my answer takes complaint with, then I don't think that the comma removes the ambiguity. I do still prefer the sentence to have a comma either way. Great answer and you introduced me to "parallelism", +1 Sep 27 at 20:30

The idiomatic phrase is "if I'm being honest", which means the same as "to be honest". You're saying you're being honest with the person you're speaking to.

We struck up a conversation and, if I'm being honest, I was not sure he was homeless.

I haven't seen people using "being honest" by itself, but I would interpret it as a shortened version of "if I'm being honest". I wouldn't suggest using it though, as it might be seen as erroneous.

There is also a slight variant of the sentence where "being honest" would fit:

We struck up a conversation and, being honest, I told him I thought he was homeless.

I wouldn't interpret this as meaning "if I'm being honest" (with the reader), but rather as referring to being honest in the story, i.e. it means being honest with the person you told in the story (Mike).

This can't apply to the original sentence, as "being honest", used in this manner, requires it to be followed by something which involved you having been honest. But "I was not sure he was homeless" simply states a state you were in in the past (a state of uncertainty about whether he was homeless). You could be honest or dishonest in presenting that state to the reader (so "if I'm being honest" applies), but being in a state of uncertainty does not directly involve honesty, thus this interpretation of "being honest" does not apply (at least not as written).

  • 1
    Small correction: "...the idiomatic phrase is..." should be "...the original idiom is...". Idiomatic simply means "natural English", while an idiom is "a set phrase with a specific meaning". "being honest" is just as idiomatic as "if I'm being honest", but "if I'm being honest" is an idiom, while "being honest" is less so. Sep 27 at 7:47
  • @RichardWinters It was my intention to say "being honest" is not "natural English" (or at least it's an uncommon variant of the original phrase). As noted, I haven't seen people using "being honest" in this manner, therefore I can't consider it idiomatic. Of course different people have different experiences and me not having heard it before (or at least not remembering doing so) doesn't mean it's not common. Also, FYI, Merriam-Webster defines "idiom" as "an expression that cannot be understood from the meanings of its separate words...", which wouldn't apply here (although definitions vary).
    – NotThatGuy
    Sep 27 at 8:14
  • @RichardWinters in the context of the OP's example, "being honest" is not idiomatic, at least in my corner of the English-speaking world. I wrote an answer about that. Sep 27 at 20:08

"being honest" sounds wrong to me in your example because it suggests that the speaker is about to tell something that they were being honest about at the time of the events in the story.

See this example of expected usage in a past-tense story:

I struck up a conversation with a man on the street and being honest I told him his haircut didn't suit him

Perhaps the past conversation may have been "to be honest, your haircut doesn't suit you..."

And now, "being honest" is used during retelling because you were "being honest" at that time.

In your example OP:

We struck up a conversation and being honest, I was not sure he was homeless.

I absolutely expected the bolded part to be something he said to the homeless person at the time.

After reading the bolded part and realising that that didn't make sense, I had to reset my understanding of what "being honest" was used for.

It's unidiomatic (at least ambiguous) to use "being honest" in OP's example: even though "being honest" may be short for "if I'm being honest" (a shortening I don't see very much in the first place), its placement within this recitation makes it more suitable, and more likely, to be interpreted as a past gerund before anything else.

Because "being honest" is used where a past gerund would idiomatically appear, and conforms perfectly (e.g. the first example in this answer), it suggests the directly succeeding part of the story will pertain to the past.

Therefore its usage in your example is subtly jarring, and "to be honest" or "if I'm being honest" would have been better.

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