Understanding what stative verbs are will help learners of English use simple and continuous tenses more accurately.
We can divide English verbs into two categories: stative verbs and dynamic verbs.
Dynamic verbs are ‘action’ verbs. They refer to:
- activities (things we physically do): play, walk, speak, wash, wait, listen, etc.
- things that happen (processes): grow, change, die, melt, etc.
We use dynamic verbs in both the simple and continuous (‘ing’) forms, depending on context:
- I play every day. / I am playing now.
- I worked all day yesterday. / I have been working since this morning.
- Trees grow every year. / The trees are growing now.
- The weather changes every day. / The weather is changing now.
Stative verbs do NOT refer to a physical action; they express a state or condition (things which are permanent; things which don’t have a beginning or end).
Some examples of stative verbs are: like, love, believe, know, understand, have (when it means to own), prefer, hate.
We do NOT normally use stative verbs in the continuous (‘ing’) form:
I’m liking cheese. I like cheese. He’s believing in God. He believes in God. She’s been knowing me for 5 years. She’s known me for 5 years. He’s having 3 brothers. He has 3 brothers. I’m understanding. I understand.
! So remember: if the verbs is stative, always use it in its simple form, not continuous!
When a verb can be both stative and dynamic
Be careful – some verbs have more than one meaning. The verb might be stative in one meaning and dynamic when it used in another meaning. Here are two examples:
- When have means possess or own it is stative and so is NOT used in the continuous form:
- He has a new car.
He is having a new car.
- He had 2 sons.
He was having 2 sons.
- However, when have is part of a phrase (have a shower, have lunch) it is dynamic and so can be used in the continuous form, depending on context:
- I have lunch every day. / I’m having lunch now.
- I had a shower this morning. / I was having a shower when you called.
- When think means have an opinion it is stative and so is NOT used in the continuous form:
- He thinks she’s beautiful.
He is thinking she’s beautiful.
- I think we’ll win the game.
I am thinking we’ll win the game.
- However, when think refers to the process of the brain (considering, concentrating on) it is dynamic and we can use it in a simple or continuous form, as necessary:
- He always thinks carefully before he speaks. / What are you thinking about?
- I always think about my first love. / I’m thinking of going to live in Australia.
Famous exception: ‘i’m lovin’ it’ at McDonald’s
You’ve no doubt seen and heard the McDonald’s slogan ‘i’m lovin’ it’.
On one hand this slogan is ungrammatical: love is a stative verb so they should say ‘I love it’ (the slogan should also start with a capital letter, of course).
On the other hand, we could understand the verb love here as meaning enjoy, and in that case ‘I’m loving it’ is perfectly acceptable, i.e. I’m enjoying my french fries and milkshake.
But McDonald’s probably didn’t care much about the grammar; they chose it for its marketing strength - ‘i’m lovin’ it’ has more bite and impact than the simple ’I love it’.
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Any questions about stative verbs? Perhaps you know some more exceptions to the rule. Feel free to leave a comment below. Thanks!