If I have a sentence like "I was talking with her", "talking" is clearly the verb, right?

If I construct a similar sentence, "I was being honest with her", is "being honest", as a phrase, a verb? Is there a way to consider those two words taken together as a verb? Is it a "phrasal verb"?

"Being honest" seems like it behaves like a verb to me - it takes the place of a verb and seems to act in every grammatical way like a verb, by my estimation, but I'm not confident.

  • 1
    Does being dishonest feel like a verb to you? How about being coy? or being less than forthcoming? Commented Dec 7, 2023 at 18:38
  • In practice, there's not really much difference between I was honest and I was being honest. See this earlier question about X is used and X is being used. Commented Dec 7, 2023 at 18:59
  • @TimRonsomedevice yes.
    – TKoL
    Commented Dec 8, 2023 at 9:14

1 Answer 1


No. Verbs are words, not phrases.

In "I was talking with her" there are two verbs "was" and "talking". The verb "talking" heads a subordinate participle clause to the matrix clause "I was {...}", This is called a progressive, or continuous construction.

In "I was being honest with her", the matrix clause is "I was {...}" and the subordinate clause is "being honest with her". It is headed by a participle verb "being" and honest is an adjective, a required complement of the verb. This is another progressive or "past continuous" tense.

In both cases "with her" is a prepositional phrase. It is supplementary. It adds more information, but isn't grammatically required.

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    While this is the right answer for this application, I would argue that "phrasal verbs" are a thing, at least as a useful concept for learners. Partly just because certain phrasal combinations have meanings that are distinct from the sum of their parts. "You set me up," "you put me down." Commented Dec 7, 2023 at 18:39
  • Yes, I'd agree, @Andy and we should be careful about what "word" means. It isn't necessarily defined by the written form. But this isn't a phrasal verb.
    – James K
    Commented Dec 8, 2023 at 6:45

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