sleeping / asleep

English translation: Yes there is a difference ...

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10:19 Jan 9, 2003
English to English translations [Non-PRO]
English term or phrase: sleeping / asleep
a nagging doubt came upon me and I turn to my esteemed colleagues for help...

"the children are asleep in the back of the car"

"the children are sleeping in the back of the car"

is there a difference?
what is the difference?
why is there a difference?
PAS
Local time: 23:48
English translation:Yes there is a difference ...
Explanation:
... but it's so small that many languages don't feel that they need it.

"They are asleep" indicates the state that the children are in now, at this precise point in time, with no reference how they might have been at any other time.

"They are sleeping" indicates that they are currently in the state of "sleeping", a state that started before you looked and will continue after you have finished looking.
Selected response from:

Peter Coles
Local time: 22:48
Grading comment
As always, I wish I was able to award points to all who helped.
William Clough - please accept an honourable mention.

Thanks,
Pawel Skalinski
4 KudoZ points were awarded for this answer



Summary of answers provided
5 +6Yes there is a difference ...
Peter Coles
4 +2For the most part, they are interchangeable
William Clough
4 +1To me the difference is a point-of-view factor, depending on how you frame the thought.
Refugio
4no difference here
Sarah Ponting
3Well, uh...
Arthur Borges
3asleep more common
Anna Moorby DipTrans


Discussion entries: 2





  

Answers


3 mins   confidence: Answerer confidence 3/5Answerer confidence 3/5
asleep more common


Explanation:
Asleep refers to a state. If a person is not awake they are asleep! Lots of non-native English speakers use 'he is sleeping'. It's not incorrect as far as I'm aware, which is why it's a tricky question, but I think English people would more naturally say that someone is asleep
Not sure that helps much! I'll keep thinking about it...
xx

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Note added at 2003-01-09 10:25:32 (GMT)
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Found this on an English usage webpage. Perhaps a little more formally explained!

When an adjective comes before a noun it is attributive; when it comes after noun and verb (for example, It looks good) it is predicative. Some adjectives can only be used predicatively: The child was asleep, but not: the asleep child. The participles of verbs are regularly used adjectivally: a sleeping child; boiled milk, often in compound forms: a quick-acting medicine; a glass-making factory; a hard-boiled egg; well-trained teachers. Adjectives are often formed by adding suffixes to nouns: sand: sandy; nation: national.


Anna Moorby DipTrans
Local time: 23:48
Native speaker of: English
PRO pts in pair: 3
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4 mins   confidence: Answerer confidence 3/5Answerer confidence 3/5
Well, uh...


Explanation:
Your question is uncomfortably precise.

Offhand, I feel it as if kids who are "asleep" are in a deeper, longer form of sleep ("beta" is the tech term I think).

"are sleeping" is light, alpha sleep with lots of dreams which the slightest sound can destroy by dragging the beneficiary wistfully back into earthly wakefulness.

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Note added at 2003-01-09 10:25:58 (GMT)
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As to the \"why\" of it, maybe mothers realised there were different kinds of sleep centuries before psychology and back seats were ever invented.

Arthur Borges
China
Local time: 05:48
PRO pts in pair: 23
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8 mins   confidence: Answerer confidence 4/5Answerer confidence 4/5
no difference here


Explanation:
as that's what they're doing at that precise moment.

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Note added at 2003-01-09 10:30:37 (GMT)
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At the moment one of my dogs is sleeping in his basket, the other is asleep on the floor, under my desk. Neither is faster asleep than the other: the terms are interchangeable in this context.

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Note added at 2003-01-09 10:33:39 (GMT)
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Having read Peter\'s answer, I must say that I agree with hisi point about the use of the present continuous tense: they are sleeping indicates that the activity (sleep) will continue. However, at this point oin time there is no difference in what the children are doing!

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Note added at 2003-01-09 10:36:49 (GMT)
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In answer to your note to Arthur:

If you\'re just talking about this moment in time, there is no difference in what the children are doing.
There is a very small difference between the meanings of the two forms in regard to the activity over time, as Peter rightly points out below.

Sarah Ponting
Italy
Local time: 23:48
Native speaker of: Native in EnglishEnglish
PRO pts in pair: 67
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8 mins   confidence: Answerer confidence 5/5 peer agreement (net): +6
Yes there is a difference ...


Explanation:
... but it's so small that many languages don't feel that they need it.

"They are asleep" indicates the state that the children are in now, at this precise point in time, with no reference how they might have been at any other time.

"They are sleeping" indicates that they are currently in the state of "sleeping", a state that started before you looked and will continue after you have finished looking.

Peter Coles
Local time: 22:48
Native speaker of: Native in EnglishEnglish
PRO pts in pair: 47
Grading comment
As always, I wish I was able to award points to all who helped.
William Clough - please accept an honourable mention.

Thanks,
Pawel Skalinski

Peer comments on this answer (and responses from the answerer)
agree  Sarah Ponting: yes the very name of the present continuous tense indicates that the activity continues
5 mins

agree  edlih_be: spot on!
34 mins

agree  Christopher Crockett: Some fine distinctions to a fine point.
4 hrs

agree  Dolly Xu
1 day 17 hrs

agree  Montefiore: absolutely
2 days 19 hrs

agree  AhmedAMS
198 days
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29 mins   confidence: Answerer confidence 4/5Answerer confidence 4/5 peer agreement (net): +2
For the most part, they are interchangeable


Explanation:
However, you will generally find that some forms have more options for modifying the term. For example, when I hear "asleep", the only modifier that readily comes to mind is "fast asleep". However, "is sleeping" can incorporate "soundly", "lightly", "fitfully", or any other appropriate adverb without too much difficulty.

Other than that, they are pretty much interchangeable. Don't worry about using one when the other is more appropriate, unless you really want to use "fast asleep"!

William Clough
United States
Local time: 17:48
Native speaker of: Native in EnglishEnglish

Peer comments on this answer (and responses from the answerer)
agree  Marie Scarano
5 mins
  -> Thanks, Marie!

agree  Peter Coles: an interesting and valid observation
4 hrs
  -> Thanks for the feedback, Peter!
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6 hrs   confidence: Answerer confidence 4/5Answerer confidence 4/5 peer agreement (net): +1
To me the difference is a point-of-view factor, depending on how you frame the thought.


Explanation:
For example, if the question is, What are the children doing, the answer would be, They are sleeping. And yes, this carries an idea of continuity, the 'action' of sleeping having begun before and expected to continue after the moment. There might also be a 'where' or 'how' component:

They are sleeping at Grandma's house tonight.
They are sleeping restlessly.

But if you are thinking about a state or condition, they are in the state of sleep, in other words, asleep.

Refugio
Local time: 14:48
Native speaker of: Native in EnglishEnglish
PRO pts in pair: 485

Peer comments on this answer (and responses from the answerer)
agree  kaalema: in other words, asleep is an adjective and sleeping is a verb
14 days
  -> Right, thanks, kaalema
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