The boy being small is the fastest. = The boy who is small is the fastest.

Another example:

The city being very beautiful is worth visiting.

instead of:

The the city which is very beautiful is worth visiting.

I couldn't find any sources explaining this (or, I couldn't find any sources which explain this?) or telling me why this is possible.

Can you tell if and when this is possible and, if so, what makes it correct?

I am not so sure about the first two examples being correct but I am fairly sure the third one ("I couldn't find any sources explaining this") is. Is this perhaps a gerund?


2 Answers 2


Taken in a single breath group, "The boy being small" would normally be parsed as meaning "The fact that the boy is small", so it does not make sense in this case. (Some people insist on "The boy's being small" for this use).

So it would have to be read as though the participal phrase was a separate breath group: "The boy, being small, is the fastest" - careful writers would write the commas, to reflect the pause in speech before and after "being small".

However, as mattdm says, this means "The boy, who is small, is the fastest", which is not the same as "The boy who is small is the fastest". The first, with the relative clause in a separate breath group (represented by the commas) has a non-restrictive or commenting relative clause - it is making an incidental observation about the boy, who must be identified in some other way. Without the pause "The boy who is small is the fastest" has a restrictive or defining, or identifying relative clause: it is identifying the boy by his smallness.

In summary: a relative clause can be restrictive or non-restrictive, the latter as a separate breath group. A participial phrase like "being small" may replace a non-restrictive relative clause, but not a restrictive one.

  • So had I added the commas I could have used being small?
    – L.White
    Apr 2, 2016 at 17:44
  • Only if you intend it to be non-restrictive.
    – Colin Fine
    Apr 2, 2016 at 17:45
  • So again non restrictive implies that I dont deem "who is small" essential information? Whereas "The boy who is small is the fastest" puts emphasis on his being small to the point where the sentence would not work without this information being added? If I understood correctly.
    – L.White
    Apr 2, 2016 at 18:05
  • Sort of. The way I prefer to think about it is that a restrictive clause narrows down (specifies) the person being talked about, whereas a non-restrictive one doesn't, but just comments on them.
    – Colin Fine
    Apr 2, 2016 at 19:02
  • @Colin Fine could you please see my comment under mattdm's post? I really appreciate your opinion on this :)
    – Yuri
    Apr 2, 2016 at 20:42

This construct sounds awkward without commas; I would put your examples like this:

The boy, being small, is the fastest.

The city, being very beautiful, is worth visiting.

In both cases, the clauses mean something different from "who is" or "which is". They implies that this is the reason for your conclusion. The boy is fastest because he is small. The city is worth visiting because it is beautiful.

  • Alright, makes sense. What about the third example though? I dont think I can make this work with because as since or any of those. ( I couldnt find any sources explaining this.) If this one is correct I dont think there is a difference in meaning as opposed to the two you have given explanations to.
    – L.White
    Apr 2, 2016 at 16:26
  • +1. Is there a term for the "being small" clause?
    – JavaLatte
    Apr 2, 2016 at 16:39
  • I guess adjective phrase is what I was looking for here.
    – L.White
    Apr 2, 2016 at 16:53
  • I don't think assuming that the city which is beautiful and the city being beatiful are the same structure is a good idea because present participle phrase (here being beautiful) is used to give a reason why the city is worth visiting. While in _the city which is beautiful the adjective clause starting with which modifies the city! In other words, the following is the implied meaning in each sentence:
    – Yuri
    Apr 2, 2016 at 20:33
  • > Because/since the city is beautiful, it's worth visiting = being beautiful, the city is worth visiting. > That beautiful city (not other cities) is worth visiting = the city which is beautiful is worth visiting.
    – Yuri
    Apr 2, 2016 at 20:34

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