Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Stative verbs plus

What are stative verbs?

Stative verbs (or state verbs) are a relatively small group of verbs which describe states rather than actions, and so are in contrast to dynamic (or action verbs), which form the vast majority of verbs.
Stative verbs tend to be connected with existence, thoughts, emotions, the senses and possession. They often describe states which last for quite a long time. The most common is the verb be.
The most important thing to remember about stative verbs is that they are not normally used in continuous (progressive) tenses, which are usually used to describe actions or change. However quite a few verbs can be both stative and dynamic, and some stative verbs can even occasionally be used in continuous tenses, so we need to be able to distinguish how they are being used.

Dynamic, stative or both?

Exercise 1 - Use your instinct and what you already know. Try these verbs in a continuous tense and see if they sound OK. If so, they are probably dynamic (action) verbs. If not, they're likely to be stative verbs. But see if you can also see which could be both (there are eight of them here).


Verbs which can be both stative and dynamic

As we saw in that last exercise, some verbs can be both stative and dynamic. In the next section we will look at six of them. But before that, try this exercise.

Exercise 2 - Use your instinct. Tick (check) the sentences which look OK. For those that don't, leave the boxes empty.

1.He's being very naughty today.
2.She's being very tired at the moment.
3.I'm seeing him at the weekend.
4.I'm seeing someone coming to the front door.
5.This soup is tasting good.
6.She's tasting the soup to make sure it's ready.
7.He's feeling a bit hungover today.
8.This material is feeling like silk.
9.I'm thinking we should go somewhere different this year.
10.He's probably thinking about his next holiday.
11.He's wishing he hadn't said that.
12.We're wishing for good weather for our holiday.
13.She's having a great time in Turkey.
14.She's having her own blog.
15.He's seeming very nice.


  • stative - states
    • She's an engineer
    • I was really tired
  • dynamic - behaviour
    • Now you're just being stupid
    • He was being so badly-behaved


  • stative - possession
    • She has a new house and a new job.
    • They have three children.
    • He always has great ideas.
  • dynamic - actions
    • She's having lunch with her mother.
    • They're having a party at the weekend.
    • She's having a baby soon.


  • stative - have an opinion or intention
    • He thinks it's going to rain
    • I think I'll go to bed
  • dynamic - the process of thinking, considering
    • He's thinking about the weather.
    • Don't interrupt me! I'm thinking.


  • stative - have an opinion, have a texture or other quality
    • He feels that we should work harder.
    • It feels so soft.
  • dynamic - emotions, touching
    • He's feeling a bit under the weather today.
    • Stop feeling that bruise, you'll make it worse.


  • stative - vision and opinion
    • I see a boat on the horizon
    • I don't know what she sees in him.
  • dynamic - meet somebody, have a relationship, have a mental problem
    • I'll be seeing her tomorrow. Shall I give her a message?
    • They've been seeing each other for about a year now.
    • Pink elephants? You must be seeing things!


  • stative - want something
    • I wish it was the weekend
  • dynamic - make a wish
    • Blow all the candles out. What are you wishing for?

Verbs of the senses and appearance

Many of these verbs can be used as stative or dynamic verbs.

Exercise 3 - use one verb for each group of two or three sentences. Use a suitable simple or continuous tense. In each group there is at least one in a simple tense and at least one in a continuous tense. For this exercise, don't use contractions.

appear   ·   see   ·   hear   ·   feel   ·   look   ·   smell   ·   sound   ·   taste
1aShe different perfumes as I walked into the cosmetics department.
 bThese roses wonderful. Did you grow them yourself?
2aI that there is too big a gap between the rich and the poor.
 bShe says she really good at the moment.
3aListen! They the gong for lunch. We'd better hurry.
 bI have to say, your plan very interesting.
 cThat like Peter now.
4aI you're getting married.
 bI thought I somebody at the door, but I must have things.
5aShe wines all yesterday afternoon.
 bThis soup delicious.
6aI will him later today. Do you want me to give him a message?
 bWe will if we've got time later on.
 cAh! I her now; she's over there by the fountain.
7aCurrently she at the Strand Theatre in a play by Strindberg.
 bHe to be asleep.
8aI at the newspaper when I came across this article.
 bLet's see it. Oh yes, it rather interesting.

Can and keep with verbs of the senses

To talk about things you see etc at a given moment, we use can/could with a bare infinitive, rather than a continuous tense. We can do this with see, hear, taste, smell, remember, understand
  • I could hear somebody singing next door. NOT I was hearing ...
  • I can understand how you feel. NOT I am understanding ...
We can use keep + -ing form to talk about repeated events
  • I keep seeing this strange bird in the garden.
  • I keep remembering what she said.

Verbs after used to and would

As you know, we can use used to to talk about past states and habits.
  • In the past, I didn't use to have a car. (state)
  • I used to walk to work every day. (habit)
  • She always used to bring us presents. (habit)
We can also use would to talk about past habits and repeated actions, but we can't use it to talk about past states. So we don't use would in this way with stative verbs.
  • In the past, I wouldn't have a car. (state)
  • I would walk to work every day. (habit / repeated action)
  • She would always bring us presents. (habit / repeated action)
Remember you don't have to use these constructions if they confuse you; you can always use past simple. But it would be good to at least master used to, and be aware that native speakers will often use would. Would is particularly useful to vary the text a bit when you are writing -
  • I used to live quite near my office, so every day I would walk to work.

Two special verbs - live and work

  • I used to live in a small town. (state)
  • Every day I would walk to work. (habit)
  • She used to work in a factory. (state)
  • Every day she would take a packed lunch to work with her. (habit)
These two verbs, live and work, are not usually listed as stative verbs, but they can be used to describe states.
  • He lives in Manchester. He's lived there all his life. (a permanent state)
  • She's living with her parents until she can find a new flat. (temporary situation)
  • He works as an engineer. (permanent state)
  • I don't think he's working today. (action now)
When they describe more temporary situations they act like dynamic verbs, and we tend to use a continuous tense.
But when they describe permanent or long-lasting states, they act like stative verbs and we use a simple tense.
They can go with used to to talk about the past, but not would.
  • He used to live in Cardiff, but now he lives in Bristol.
  • He would live in Cardiff, but now he lives in Bristol.
  • She used to work in an office, but now she works from home.
  • She would work in an office, but now she works from home.

live and work in the present perfect

Stative verbs are often used in present perfect simple, especially with a period of time. We don't normally use them in present perfect continuous.
  • I've thought that for a long time.
  • Have you been there long.
  • I've seen this film before.
But work and live are rather special: we can use them in both simple and continuous forms with very little change in meaning.
  • She's lived here / been living here all her life.
  • He's worked / been working there for twenty years.
The use of the continuous perhaps stresses the length of time, but apart from that there is very little difference.
So live and work are rather special verbs. They can sometimes be used perfect continuous tenses, even when describing long lasting states, but they can't be use with would to describe past states.
Other expressions with similar meanings sometimes behave in a similar meaning, for example - make a living

Stand, sit, lie

These verbs are normally dynamic, but can also be use to describe states, especially connected with geographical location, in which case they are not normally used in continuous tenses.
  • He's standing over there.
    The house stands in its own parkland
  • She was sitting reading when the doorbell rang.
    The village sits in a valley at the foot of the mountains.
  • I think he's lying down at the moment.
    The pass lies between two high mountains.

I'm lovin' it

Macdonald's advertising slogan has been critised by some grammar purists as being 'bad grammar'. The verb love is certainly a stative verb and isn't usually used in a continous tense. But if you check Macmillans Dictionary you'll see that it gives three main uses for the verb love
  1. to be very strongly attracted to someone in an emotional and sexual way
  2. to care very much about someone, especially members of your family or close friends
  3. to like or enjoy something very much
Now while it says that progressive (continuous) tenses are never used with the first two meanings, it makes no such rule about the third. Indeed it gives an example sentence:
  • I've been retired for a year now and I'm loving every minute of it.
And that sentence sounds absolutely natural. In fact we do sometimes use stative verbs in continuous tenses when we are talking about experiences which last a limited period of time, especially in present and present perfect.
  • How are you liking your new job?
  • I've been wanting to do that for ages.
  • You must have been hearing things.
  • I've been noticing lately how more and more people are cycling to work.
This use of loving is unusual enough for the Macdonalds campaign to have got a bit of extra pubicity due to its use of language, but not so unusual that it sounded impossible to most of us. It is 'edgy' but not beyond the limits.
There's a good discussion of I'm lovin it at GrammarGirl (link below).

Exercise 4 - Use one verb for each pair of sentences, once in a simple tense, once in a continous tense.

consider   ·   cost   ·   disagree   ·   imagine   ·   love   ·   measure   ·   recognise   ·   remember   ·   want   ·   weigh
1aI hope you about the party tonight.
bIt's a long time since we last met. I hope she me.
2aShe every minute of her new job.
bShe playing golf at the weekend.
3aI see you with me yet again just for the hell of it.
bThey on so many things, yet they get along really well.
4aIt a lot of money to travel by train nowadays.
bThis transport strike the company a lot of money.
5aMore and more people the importance of the environment.
bHe her immediately, even though he hadn't seen her for ages.
6aWe moving out to the country.
bHe shaving a waste of time.
7aWhere are our potatoes? The shop assistant them.
bThis shopping a ton. Can you help me with it?
8aIf you that I'm going to tidy up all this mess, you're mistaken, young lady!
bIf you a tropical island with lots of palm trees; that's what it's like.
9aWas there anything else you ?
bAs a child he always to be an engineer when he grew up.
10aHe's the room for a new carpet.
bThe room three metres by four.

Where there is ittle difference between simple and continuous

There is a small group of verbs used to describe temporary states which we can use in simple or continuous tenses with very little difference in meaning:
ache, feel, hurt, look (=appear)
  • My back aches / My back's really aching
  • How do you feel today? / How are you feeling today?
  • She looks really good in that dress / She's looking really good today
We tend to use continuous when we are talking about a particular moment, and simple when we are talking more generally, but there is very little difference.

A note on performative verbs

This is a small group of verbs where by saying the verb you perform the action described in that verb. For example, the act of saying - I promise you - means I am making that promise. And if I say - I predict it will rain - I am making that prediction. These verbs include:
accept, acknowledge, advise, apologise, assume, deny, guarantee, hope, inform, predict, promise, recommend, suggest, suppose, warn
These are not stative verbs and can be used in continuous tenses when we are describing what somebody is doing - Don't go on about it so much, can't you see he's apologising? But when we use them as a declaration - I apologise for what I said, we usually use a simple tense rather than a continuous one.

Afterthought - another edgy advertising campaign

The fuss over the Macdonald's slogan reminds me of the story of another, earlier controversial slogan:
  • Winston tastes good like a cigarette should
Nowadays that use of like as a conjunction instead of as is not quite so controversial, at least in informal conversation, although a lot of people still don't like it. But at the time it caused a furore. In 1955 the tobacco company took over the sponsorship of Walter Cronkite's news show. Cronkite was perhaps the most famous American broadcast journalist ever, and often cited as "the most trusted man in America" (Wikipedia). He was so annoyed by this 'misuse' of like that he refused to read the slogan out on air. It's another example of a slogan that used language that was non-standard enough to draw the wrath of the purists, while being mainstream enough not to offend the majority.
See my post about as and like here


Areti Gavalaki said...

Just a few days ago I visited your blog looking for some nice, clear, thorough explanations and exercises on stative verbs. Now my request has been granted. Thank you!!

Warsaw Will said...

Hi Areti, and a belated thank you for joining my list of followers and apologies for not answering your previous comment. I also get the occasional visitor from your blog, which I also look at now and then and find very interesting, so thank you for that as well.

Unknown said...

Just wanted to thank you for the great exercises and wonderful grammar commentaries. This is my favourite blog. I'M LOVING every minute spent here! :-) Best greetings,
Iza Zbikowska Aaboe

Warsaw Will said...

Dziękuję uprzejmie - and thanks also for signing up to the followers list. And as for me, I'm loving living in your fascinating country.