It was on his way back past them, clutching a large doughnut in a bag, that he caught a few words of what they were saying.
“The Potters, that’s right, that’s what I heard —”
“ — yes, their son, Harry —”
Mr. Dursley stopped dead. Fear flooded him. He looked back at the whisperers as if he wanted to say something to them, but thought better of it.
He dashed back across the road, hurried up to his office, snapped at his secretary not to disturb him, seized his telephone, and had almost finished dialing his home number when he changed his mind. He put the receiver back down and stroked his mustache, thinkin . . . no, he was being stupid. Potter wasn’t such an unusual name.

(Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone)

There is continuous auxiliary + being + adjective structure. In the context, its meaning is, I guess, ‘act foolishly (temporarily)’. Does the structure really have the meaning?

  • 1
    That's right. BE cast in the progressive signifies behavior as opposed to 'being' or 'essence'. Aug 25, 2013 at 13:30

1 Answer 1


Yes. “He was stupid” would be a general statement about the person: it would mean that that person is a stupid person. “He was being stupid”, in contrast, means that the person was stupid at that point in time, for the duration of a particular action. More precisely, “he was being stupid” means that the person acted stupidly in a particular circumstance. This doesn't mean (but doesn't exclude) that he is stupid in general.

You can find the same construction with a lot of adjectives.

When I was doing bad in school, especially at the beginning of 7th grade, she kept asking me if I was being trustworthy, being successful, being smart, not being a slacker. (Robert A. Sullo, Activating the Desire to Learn, 2007)

Chloe is a guest, why are you being such a jerk? (Nicole Knighton, Roommates in New York, 2009)

she's being either melodramatic or coy (Peter Selgin, 179 Ways to Save a Novel: Matters of Vital Concern to Fiction Writers, 2010)

  • Gilles, why are you using "would" and "would be" in your answer, you say " Yes. “He was stupid” would be a general statement about the person: it would mean that that person is a stupid person". Are not you sure about your answer ?
    – yubraj
    Oct 13, 2016 at 12:48
  • @yubrajsharma That could be a question for this site. I write ‘“He was stupid” would be …’ because it is a hypothetical statement. The author wrote “he was being stupid”, so I use the indicative mood to discuss this wording. The author did not write “he was stupid”, so I use the conditional mood to discuss this wording. This has nothing to do my the confidence in my answer. It's a hypothetical (if … then …), not a tentative statement (maybe …). (Do you understand why I used “could” in my first sentence?) Oct 13, 2016 at 15:29
  • I think you'r using "could' to mean the "possibility" just like like 'may be'.
    – yubraj
    Oct 13, 2016 at 15:41
  • I don't see any hypothetical statement there, op has posted the context in which "He was being stupid" means "He was behaving like stupid', but why have you written "It would mean" instead of "It means"? I think you used 'would' here for guessing or assuming, Am i right?
    – yubraj
    Oct 13, 2016 at 15:48
  • @yubrajsharma Once again, no, “would” does not indicate guessing or assuming. The conditional mood is not used for this in English. The hypothetical statement is “if the author had written ‘he was stupid’”. Oct 13, 2016 at 16:24

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