My roommate and I were discussing whether the following is proper English or not.

I am being watched sleep.

It's similar to I am being watched while I sleep and I am being watched as I am sleeping, but we have no idea whether they are grammatically correct.

  • 4
    No, it makes no sense. But these kinds of questions are discouraged here. They should be posted on the other English site: ELL. I am being watched as I sleep or am sleeping is fine. You might get away with: I am being watched sleeping.
    – Lambie
    Mar 22, 2022 at 2:16
  • You can have he was let go and he was called away. It would help to add some examples along these lines to your question to argue that your quote shouldn’t be immediately dismissed as being ungrammatical.
    – Lawrence
    Mar 22, 2022 at 7:24
  • @Lawrence Those examples are immediately identifiable as different. Let go: probably a phrasal verb; called away: away is either an adjective or an adverb, which sleep in the question title certainly is not. Mar 22, 2022 at 7:48
  • Sense verbs allow remains of deceased clauses [J Lawler] such as 'We watched you sleep through the display of the Northern Lights; it seemed best not to wake you' and 'We watched you sleeping'. But passivisation like You were watched sleep is rarely (contrast 'You were seen sleeping') acceptable. Mar 22, 2022 at 12:53
  • Using watched sleep as you would a prolonged nap is a distortion. You could get a prolonged nap, but wouldn't be watched a prolonged nap Mar 22, 2022 at 14:19

2 Answers 2


Your "similar phrases" are correct:

I am being watched while I sleep and I am being watched as I am sleeping.

I am being watched sleep is entirely wrong and should never be used.

You could also change it from passive to active and say:

Someone is watching me while I sleep or Someone is watching me while I am sleeping.

  • Even 'Someone is watching {him} sleep' is acceptable (I've switched pronouns, as 'me' here sounds logically weird), so a better explanation of why passivised 'He is being watched sleep' would be required in a good answer on ELU (which is where I believe this question belongs). Mar 23, 2022 at 17:47

"I am being watched sleep" will be confusing to most and likely regarded as poor English. "I am being watched" sounds normal, but "sleep" seems out of place. If someone were to attempt to make sense of the sentence it could be unclear. When I first tried to make sense of it I understood it as: I embody ("I am being") sleep under surveillance ("watched sleep"). In other words I assigned "watched" as an adjective to "sleep" and took it to mean your personality is like watched sleep (whatever that means). So regardless of technical correctness, this phrasing should not be used because it will not make sense to most and will be likely misinterpreted by those who care to attempt it without sufficient context.

It may be better understood using asleep instead: "I am being watched alseep," but this is still quite odd.

Yes, watched can be used as an adjective (a watched pot never boils), but the problem in your case isn't "watched." If you remove it completely you have "I am being sleep." This doesn't make sense, you cannot BE sleep, right? So with or without the adjective "watched," you cannot use be + sleep as you have. If you want to use "watched" as an adjective here you can use: "I am getting watched sleep" as you mention, but that sounds terribly unnatural. The best option would be to just use "I am being watched while I sleep." or "I am being watched when I sleep."

  • No. You can't delete the past participle in 'He was being flayed alive' to leave 'He was being alive'; the passive can't be reduced this way. Mar 22, 2022 at 12:56
  • @EdwinAshworth I was commenting on the use of "watched" as an adjective there.
    – Eli Harold
    Mar 22, 2022 at 13:03
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    And I was saying that whatever POS 'watched' has, deleting it from 'We watched him sleep', 'He was watched sleeping' etc totally changes the syntax. The next step is to shrink the sentence to 'We sleep'. Invalid. Mar 22, 2022 at 14:41
  • @EdwinAshworth Yes, in your examples that is correct, but the point is not to shrink the sentence or just remove "watched," the point is to highlight the use of "being" with a noun like "sleep" which is the combination that occurs when using "watched" as an adjective to "sleep". If you want to try to argue that "I am being sleep" is correct and should be used then you are more than welcome to do so, but I believe that will be a hard sell. Otherwise, I believe we are in agreement and you have just misunderstood my answer.
    – Eli Harold
    Mar 23, 2022 at 12:02

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