Stative Verbs

Definition

Stative verbs (also known as state verbs) are verbs that describe a static condition, situation, or state of being. They are contrasted with action verbs (also called dynamic verbs), which describe an active, dynamic action that can be performed by a person or thing.
Stative verbs can be in the present, past, or future tense; however, because they describe static conditions, they are usually unable to progress through time, and they therefore cannot be used when forming the continuous or progressive forms of verb tenses. For this reason, they are sometimes referred to as non-continuous verbs or non-progressive verbs.
However, some stative verbs can be used in a continuous tense in certain situations, as when describing a temporary state that has begun and will end. This is becoming more common in modern English, and the prescriptive rule that stative verbs can never be continuous is becoming less strict. We’ll look at some of these exceptions in the sections below.

Types of stative verbs

Linking verbs are usually used as stative verbs; these include the verb be and the verbs of the senses. Other verbs that are considered stative are those that express emotions, possession, cognition, and states or qualities.
Below, we’ll look at common examples of different types of stative verbs. As we will see, certain verbs can be either dynamic or stative, depending on their use and context in a sentence.
(It’s important to note that the sections below do not contain exhaustive lists of stative verbs; they are only meant to provide illustrative examples.)

To be

The verb be is the most common linking verb. It is used for describing general characterizations, sensations, measurements, location, or to rename the subject.
For example:
  • “You are wrong.”
  • “It was hot yesterday.”
  • “I am not hungry.”
  • “They were confused.”
  • “I can tell that you are upset.”
  • “Our daughter is one week old.”
  • “She is five feet tall.”
  • “John is in the other room.”
  • “This is a lost cause.”

Using the continuous form

However, the linking verb be can function as an action verb when it is used to mean “to behave.” We can test whether be is acting as a stative or action verb by putting it into one of the continuous tenses. For example:

Sense verbs

Verbs of the senses, or “sense verbs” for short, are used to indicate perceptions based on physical or mental sensations. The sense verbs are:
  • taste
  • smell
  • sound
  • seem
  • feel
  • look
  • appear
When sense verbs are used as linking verbs, they merely relate the means by which the speaker has arrived at such a sensation about the subject. We pair them with predicative adjectives.
For example:
  • “I feel terrible today.”
  • “You sound tired.”
  • “She didn’t sound Irish.”
  • “You look fabulous today.”
  • “He doesn’t look very happy.”
  • “This doesn’t seem right.”
  • “The car appears OK, but I’ll have to drive it to be sure.”
  • “That smells nice.”
  • “This milk tastes strange.”

Using the continuous form

Note, however, that some of the sense verbs can take the continuous tense to describe a temporary state in some contexts; they are more common in more casual speech and writing. For example:
  • “You are looking great, Suzy!”
  • “It is seeming less likely by the day that we will succeed.”
The sense verb feel is unique, though, in that it is very often used in the continuous form when talking about one’s or someone else’s health, as in:
  • “I’m not feeling well at all.”
  • Are you feeling OK, John?”
Certain sense verbs also function as action verbs in other contexts, and these can take the continuous form. For example:
  • “I was feeling gently around the table in the dark.”
  • “The guards are sounding the alarm!”
  • “What’s that delicious food I am smelling?”
  • “He was looking across the table at me.”
  • “Birds have been appearing out of nowhere.”
  • “He is tasting the soup to decide whether it need salt.”

Verbs of emotion

Verbs that describe our emotions about something are also considered stative. These transitive verbs take nouns, noun phrases, gerunds, and sometimes infinitives as their objects. Here are some common examples using stative verbs of emotion:
  • “She likes old movies.”
  • “My son loves to read.”
  • “I enjoy walking along the beach.”
  • “I hate to eat dinner alone.”
  • “The kids dislike sharing their toys.”
  • “I prefer salad to French fries.”
  • “I don’t mind eating vegetables.”
Most of the time, a verb of emotion can take either a gerund or an infinitive with little to no difference in meaning. However, an infinitive sometimes refers to a potential activity, while a gerund refers to an activity in general.
Other verbs of emotion, such as enjoy or don’t mind, can’t take the infinitive at all:

Using the continuous form

As with the sense verbs, we can sometimes use verbs of emotion in the continuous form to describe an ongoing but temporary sensation. However, such uses are generally quite informal. For example:
  • “We are loving this neighborhood.”
  • “I’m liking our chances of winning the championship.”
  • “I’m hating the second season of this show.”
Although enjoy is a verb of emotion, it is often used in the continuous form and is not considered informal. For instance:
  • “He is enjoying his newfound wealth.”
  • Are you enjoying your meal?”
However, there are still some verbs of emotion that generally do not take a continuous form, as in:

Verbs of possession and attribution

Possession and attribution are static actions, not dynamic ones. Verbs that refer to ownership are considered stative and do not take the continuous form. For example:
  • “I have a large house.”
  • “She owns three cars.”
  • “That stereo belongs to me.”
  • “They have a large family.”
  • “He holds several postgraduate degrees.”
  • “She possesses a great wealth of knowledge.”

Using the continuous form

We often find some of these verbs used in the continuous forms, but their meanings are different and they are functioning as action verbs instead, as in:
  • “You’re not holding on to the hammer tight enough!” (Hold means “to grip with one’s hands” in this context.)
  • “He thinks that a ghost is possessing him.” (Possess means “to gain control or power over” in this context.)
  • “She’s having a baby in a few months.” (Have means “to give birth to” in this context.)
  • “They’re having a party next door.” (Have means “to arrange or carry out” in this context.)
However, if the verb is indicating possession or attribution, we cannot use it in a continuous form:

Verbs of cognition

Verbs of mental cognition, such as understand, know, recognize,, or think, are generally used as stative verbs and do not take continuous forms. For example:

Using the continuous form

Some verbs of cognition can be stative or dynamic, depending on the context. If they can correctly be used in a continuous form, they are expressing a dynamic action. For example:
  • “I consider my options before I make a decision.”
  • “I consider myself a rational person.”
  • “They thought of an answer.”
The stative verb understand, however, has some informal uses in which the continuous form is often considered acceptable, as in:
  • “I’m sorry, I’m not understanding your question.”
  • Am I understanding you correctly?”

Verbs of states or qualities

Besides the linking verb be and the verbs of the senses, we can use other verbs, such as weigh, depend, involve, owe, or consist, to describe the state or qualities of something. For example:

Using the continuous form

Some of these verbs can be dynamic or stative, depending on the context and the way they are used. When the verb is describing an attribute of the subject, it functions as stative verb (as we saw above). When the verb describes an action taken by the subject, though, it is functioning as an action verb, as in:
  • “He is weighing each bag before delivery.”
  • “I am involving a number of people in this project.”
The phrasal verb depend on, however, is always stative, but we often find it being used in the continuous form, especially when its subject is a person. For instance:
  • “We are depending on you to get this done in time.”

Continuous Forms vs. Gerunds

With so much emphasis placed on whether or not a stative verb is able to use one of the continuous forms, it is important to distinguish between continuous forms and gerunds.
The continuous (or progressive) forms refer to six specific verb tenses: present continuous tense, present perfect continuous tense, past continuous tense, past perfect continuous tense, future continuous tense, and future perfect continuous tense. These all use the present participles of verbs to express an action that is continuously (or progressively) happening. Generally speaking, only action verbs can take the continuous forms. (Although, as we’ve seen above, there are many exceptions to and interpretations of this rule.)
Gerunds, on the other hand, refer to the “-ing” form of the verb when it is used as a noun. When a gerund takes additional information as part of its predicate, the entire phrase (known as a gerund phrase) functions as a noun. Any verb, even a stative one, can be used as a gerund. For example:
  • Knowing your own weaknesses will help you become stronger.”
  • “I enjoy being in Paris.”
  • “What I like most is reading in a quiet room.”
  • Loving one’s work is a rare but wonderful accomplishment.”
Because the gerund and present participle of a verb look identical, it can often be confusing to determine how a verb is behaving. However, just remember that if the verb and its constituent parts are functioning as a noun would in a sentence, then it is a gerund; if it is describing an action that the subject is performing, then it is a present participle used to create a continuous tense.
Quiz

1. Which of the following is the function of a stative verb?





2. In general, which of the following is something a stative verb cannot do?





3. Which of the following cannot be used as a stative verb?





4. Which of the following is not another name for stative verbs?





5. True or False: The linking verb be is always considered a stative verb.



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