This master’s thesis is a corpus-based investigation of an atypical progressive construction which has been characterized as a fairly recent phenomenon in the English language. The construction in question is used as a means to describe behaviour, and it consists of a form of the verb BE followed by being and a subject predicative. An example of this construction is a sentence such as:
She is being difficult.
My material consists of results from the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA) and the British National Corpus (BNC). My investigation consisted of finding out how common this construction is compared to the total use of the progressive in Present-day English. I continued by investigating what kind of adjectives, adjective phrases and noun phrases which function as subject predicatives. I looked at the various text categories in the two corpora to see in what kind of texts this construction most often appears. I also focused on what kind of meanings this construction is used to express, which verb form BE most often appears in and what kind of subject types that most often occur in this construction. Since I found it very interesting to see whether this construction is most frequently used to describe oneself or others in positive or negative ways, I also investigated what the various subject types were used to express. By comparing the results from these two corpora, I was able to find out about regional differences in the use of this construction. COCA also provided me with the opportunity to see the development this construction has experienced in the time period from 1990-2012.
I selected eleven adjectives and noun phrases which functioned as subject predicatives from each corpora to investigate further. What I found from my investigation of this construction was that it is not frequently used in Present-day English, but that it has seen an increase in frequency in American English from 1990-2012. Adjectives and adjective phrases are most frequently used as the subject predicative. BE most often occurs in the present tense and the most frequent subject type is the 3rd person singular. The 3rd person singular subject type was most often described in a positive way by the adjectives and adjective phrases investigated in both COCA and the BNC, but it was most frequently described in a negative way by the noun phrases in both corpora. This construction is most frequently found in spoken material and fictional texts. With regard to meaning, I found that the adjectives and adjective phrases functioning as subject predicatives that I investigated further in American English are most frequently used to express positive meanings, while the noun phrases I investigated further were most frequently used to express negative meanings. In British English I found that the adjectives, adjective phrases and noun phrases I investigated further were most often used to express negative meanings. I also found that this construction is generally more frequent in British English than in American English.