Stative verbs

Stative verbs

Do you know how to use stative verbs like think, love, smell and have? Test what you know with interactive exercises and read the explanation to help you.

Look at these examples to see how stative verbs are used.

I think that's a good idea.
I love this song!
That coffee smells good.
Do you have a pen?

Try this exercise to test your grammar.

Grammar test 1

Stative verbs: Grammar test 1

Read the explanation to learn more.

Grammar explanation

Stative verbs describe a state rather than an action. They aren't usually used in the present continuous form.

I don't know the answer. I'm not knowing the answer.
She really likes you. She's really liking you.
He seems happy at the moment. He's seeming happy at the moment.

Stative verbs often relate to:

  • thoughts and opinions: agree, believe, doubt, guess, imagine, know, mean, recognise, remember, suspect, think, understand
  • feelings and emotions: dislike, hate, like, love, prefer, want, wish
  • senses and perceptions: appear, be, feel, hear, look, see, seem, smell, taste
  • possession and measurement: belong, have, measure, own, possess, weigh.

Verbs that are sometimes stative

A number of verbs can refer to states or actions, depending on the context.

I think it's a good idea.
Wait a moment! I'm thinking.

The first sentence expresses an opinion. It is a mental state, so we use present simple. In the second example the speaker is actively processing thoughts about something. It is an action in progress, so we use present continuous.

Some other examples are:

have

I have an old car. (state – possession)
I'm having a quick break. (action – having a break is an activity)

see

Do you see any problems with that? (state – opinion)
We're seeing Tadanari tomorrow afternoon. (action – we're meeting him)

be

He's so interesting! (state – his permanent quality)
He's being very unhelpful. (action – he is temporarily behaving this way)

taste

This coffee tastes delicious. (state – our perception of the coffee)
Look! The chef is tasting the soup. (action – tasting the soup is an activity)

Other verbs like this include: agree, appear, doubt, feel, guess, hear, imagine, look, measure, remember, smell, weigh, wish.

Do this exercise to test your grammar again.

Grammar test 2

Stative verbs: Grammar test 2

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Hello KongKong,

I can't think of a situation when that would be appropriate off the top of my head.

It's great that you've noticed exceptions to the general rule of not using 'love' (as a stative verb) in a continuous form, but I suspect in those situations the action wasn't continuing for the rest of a person's life.

If you can provide a specific example of a use of 'love' in the continuous and explain the context a little, we can try to help you understand it.

All the best,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

There´s the slogan McDonald uses for adverts: "I´m loving it."
I have always taken that to be an example of incorrect use in order to attract attention (like in Kwickie Mart), but maybe someone has a more satisfying explanation.

Hello Bernhard,

Yes, that's a great example. In general, it's true that it's not correct to use stative verbs in continuous forms, but in fact that are some exceptions. 

One possible meaning of a continuous form is to speak about something new, changing or developing. For example, imagine you recently were given a new desk at work. At first you didn't like it, but now you appreciate it more and more. If someone asked you about your new desk, you could say 'I'm liking it more and more'. The continuous form shows that you regard your feeling as something developing and changing still. We also often say things like 'What are you thinking?' not to mean to this moment, but to refer to the fact that a person has been spending time thinking about something and that their thoughts are still developing.

Now I'm not sure if that's what McDonald's had in mind when they created that slogan. As you say, it does attract attention -- it's also been used in some popular songs -- and one has to note that the slogan has been around for many, many years now, so it'd be difficult to argue against it as effective advertising.

Hope that helps.

All the best,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

"Loving it" (I am loving it) is a well-known slogan that aptly reflects current usage. When I lived in Manchester (UK) I heard people say things like "will you be needing/wanting that?" as a polite way of asking for the last biscuit/chip/piece of cake etc. Of course, these are rather unusual and quirky, but it's real language.

Submitted by M_ery on Thu, 09/02/2023 - 04:03

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Hello, how would you consider verbs such as "imagine" and "please"?

I would say that "imagine" could work as both but I'm not sure about "please". Let me know what you think, thank you.

Hello M_ery,

Imagine is usually stative when it expresses an opinion or has the meaning 'believe':

I imagine she's quite a difficult boss to work for.

I can't imagine what he was so angry about.

 

However, when imagine means something like 'consider' or 'think about' it is dynamic:

Why are you smiling?

I'm imagining how nice it will be to finally have a holiday.

 

Please is not a very common verb. It functions in a similar way to like - it is almost always stative. You might be able to imagine some contexts in which you could use it as a dynamic  verb but these would be extremely unusual - 'Your work is pleasing us at the moment but let's see how next week goes'.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by aandrop on Fri, 13/01/2023 - 12:12

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Hello.
I'm very grateful for your website!
I have a question about stative verbs. I've found the information that the verb "to feel" is a stative verb. But I can't find any confirmation for that. Could you make it more clear, please?

Hello aandrop,

'Feel' can have an active or stative meaning.

You can feel something with your fingers:

I felt the coat and immediately could tell how high quality the material was.

 

On the other hand, feel can describe emotions or physical sensations and then the verb is usually stative:

Could you close the window? I feel a bit cold.

I really felt uncomfortable in that meeting.

 

Sometimes we can use usually stative verbs with continuous aspect, such as when we want to emphasise that a feeling is temporary and immediate:

I don't like this party. Actually, I'm feeling really uncomfortable. Let's go home.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by M_ery on Thu, 29/12/2022 - 09:27

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Hello, I have a question about the verb "understand". I've come across this statement:
The continuous tenses are rare. They are used only in reference to doubt about one's understanding (e.g., "If I'm understanding you correctly...") or the process of trying to understand (e.g., "You're not quite understanding me").
How appropriate is that? Is it correct that way? In that case, if I have this example "I suppose that you ___________ my situation." Could we use either "are (not) understanding" or "(don't) understand"?

Thank you!

Hi M_ery,

You're right, "you are not understanding ..." and "you don't understand ..." are both grammatical. The simple form is fine, as well as the continuous form. However, they might differ in their social appropriacy. The continuous version might be interpreted as relatively more polite if you are pointing out another person's misunderstanding, which can potentially cause embarrassment, depending on the social context (the place, the characteristics of the people speaking, what their relationship is, etc.). Saying "you're not understanding ..." indicates that the action (misunderstanding) is only temporary, not final, and may be eventually corrected. In comparison, "You don't understand" sounds more definite and final. (However, I emphasise that this really depends on the social situation and what is considered appropriate in it. I don't think there's any issue with saying "You don't understand" to a friend, for example, although I probably wouldn't say it to my boss.)

I agree with the explanation that it's rare to use "understand" in a continuous form in order to simply indicate understanding (e.g. it would be unusual to say "I'm understanding your point").

I hope that helps to understand it.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team