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Stative verbs

Do you know how to use stative verbs like think, love, smell and have?

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

Language level

Intermediate: B1

Comments

Hello again Hayder991,

Yes, certain dynamic verbs can work in this way - I listed the most common ones. The adjectival phrase describes the subject, but the verb still has its normal meaning (arrive, come etc).

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Stative verb is easy to understand or
Use it easily to every time.

Hi,

I understand "need" to be a stative verb. With "need" or any other stative verb for that matter, do we ever use such stative verbs in the present continuous tense when we mean to say that the action or state expressed by the verb is happening right now at this very moment (for instance, as we speak)? So for instance, do you say "I need help" (simple present tense) or "I am needing help" (present continuous tense) to describe a situation happening now?

Hi VegitoBlue,

Simple forms are used even for situations happening at the moment of speaking.

Sometimes we can use stative verbs in the continuous form when we want to emphasise the temporary nature of a situation. This is most common with feel:

How do you feel?

How are you feeling today? Any improvement?

It is less common with other verbs, but does occur:

I love running. I run every day.

I'm on holiday and I go running every day along the beach. I'm loving it!

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi,

My question is whether a stative verb can be transitive. My understanding of a transitive verb is that firstly, a transitive verb is an action verb (meaning it expresses a doable activity like run, swim etc) and secondly, the transitive verb must have an object which receives the action of the verb.

If my above understanding of a transitive verb is correct, then won't it logically mean that a stative verb, being a non-action verb, cannot be a transitive verb since a stative verb is not an action verb, and hence cannot transfer its action to an object (something which receives the action of the transitive verb)?

Appreciate your kind advice, thanks!

Regards,
Tim

Hello Tim,

There is often a correspondence between stative and intransitive, with pairs of transitive-dynamic and intransitive-stative verbs easy to find: lay/lie, seat/sit, raise/rise etc.

 

However, there are many stative transitive verbs. Verbs describing mental states are generally transitive:

I know the answer.

I love you.

I believe the theory.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Peter, thanks very much for your response; however, i'm afraid i don;t quite get the first part of your response, which is "There is often a correspondence between stative and intransitive, with pairs of transitive-dynamic and intransitive-stative verbs easy to find: lay/lie, seat/sit, raise/rise etc." Could you kindly explain this in another way?

In addition, from the second part of your response, which is "However, there are many stative transitive verbs. Verbs describing mental states are generally transitive", I suppose you are saying that stative verbs can be transitive, such as "know, love and believe" are all stative verbs which are also transitive? But if so, may i know how this gels with my understanding of transitive verbs ? Or perhaps, is it a case where my understanding of transitive verbs (i.e. verbs which transfer their actions to a direct object) is wrong?

Appreciate your advice, pls. Thanks!

Regards,
Tim

Hello Tim,

In English it's sometimes said that there are pairs of verbs in which one is transitive and dynamic and the other intransitive and stative, showing some correspondence - stative verbs tend to be intransitive. It's not a particularly useful way to think of the topic, to be honest, but I suspected it might be the source of your misunderstanding.

Stative verbs can be transitive. It's an error to think that they cannot. Similarly, dynamic verbs can be intransitive: I run every day.

In other words, while there is some tendency towards stative being intransitive, it is by no means a rule.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Peter, thanks very much for clarifying. I think get what you are saying (i.e. while there is some tendency towards stative being intransitive, it is by no means a rule), however, may I know if my understanding of a transitive verb is correct? I guess the source of my confusion is because I've always understood a transitive verb to be a verb where there must be a direct object who receives the action of the transitive verb, and because stative verbs do not express not actions, hence my confusion as to why stative verbs can also be transitive? In other words, is my understanding of a transitive verb (as above) correct?

Many thanks for your advice.

Regards,
Tim

Hi Tim,

A stative verb is one which requires one or more objects. There is no requirement for the verb to have a physical action.

The Dictionary of Linguistics and Phonetics 6th edition (Crystal, 2008) gives the following definition of transitivity:

transitivity (n.)

A category used in the grammatical analysis of clause/ sentence constructions, with particular reference to the verb’s relationship to dependent elements of structure. The main members of this category are transitive (tr, trans), referring to a verb which can take a direct object (as in he saw the dog), and intransitive (intr, intrans), where it cannot (as in *he arrived a ball).

Many verbs can have both a transitive and an intransitive use (cf. we went a mile v. we went), and in some languages this distinction is marked morphologically.

More complex relationships between a verb and the elements dependent upon it are usually classified separately. For example, verbs which take two objects are sometimes called ditransitive (as opposed to monotransitive), as in she gave me a pencil. There are also several uses of verbs which are marginal to one or other of these categories, as in pseudo-intransitive constructions (e.g. the eggs are selling well, where an agent is assumed – ‘someone is selling the eggs’ – unlike normal intransitive constructions, which do not have an agent transform: we went, but not *someone went us). Some grammarians also talk about (in)transitive prepositions. For example, with is a transitive preposition, as it must always be accompanied by a noun phrase complement (object), and along can be transitive or intransitive: cf. She arrived with a dog v. *She arrived with and She was walking along the river v. She was walking along.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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