Action and State Verbs

'I'm loving it!' or 'I love it!' Do you want to know which one of these famous advertisement mottos are correct? You got to learn about state and action verbs!

Intermediate
"Action and State Verbs" in English Grammar

What Are Action and State Verbs?

Based on what kind of meaning a verb denotes, there are mainly two types of verbs:

  • action verbs
  • state verbs

Basically, action verbs indicate some sort of movement. State verbs do not indicate any movements.

Action Verbs

Action verbs (also called dynamic verbs) indicates an action that a person or an animal or an object performs either physically or mentally (but mostly physically). Most verbs in the English language are action verbs.

Run! Catch the ball!

Here in the example, they are performing a physical action.

I play tennis every weekend.

State Verbs

State verbs (also called stative verbs) describe a state or the way something is. It does not refer to an action a person or object is doing. Only a few verbs are considered state verbs.
These verbs often show things that do not change and are almost always the same. They refer to:

  • Feelings and emotions

Jim liked to eat a fancy dinner at least once a month.

As you know, 'like' describes a feeling toward someone or something.

  • Senses

I hear a voice.

  • Mental actions and state of being

He is 27 years old.

  • Possession and owning

I have two brothers.

Main Difference

State verbs indicate a mental state that has no start or finish. By itself, a state verb has a sense of continuity. Therefore, you cannot usually use continuous tenses with state verbs.
Some state verbs do not take continuous tenses.

I have two brothers. (Not "I'm having two brothers.")

I am tired now. (Not "I am being tired now.")

I know this man. (Not "I'm knowing this man.")

Verbs That Can Be Both

Using an Action Verb in a Sentence

Some verbs are a little tricky depending on the meaning they convey. They can be either active or stative.

The Verb 'Have'

One such verb is 'have'. When 'have' means 'to own' it is a state verb. But when it means 'to eat, drink, take etc.' it is an action verb.

I have a brother called Brian.

'Have' indicates ownership, here.

I'm having lunch right now.

'Have' indicates eating, here.

The Verb 'Think'

Like the verb 'have', 'think' can have different meanings. When it means 'to believe', it is a state verb and we should not use it in the continuous tense. But when 'think' means 'to reflect or consider' it is an action verb, because you can stop or start thinking about something at any time you want.

I think he's right.

'Think' means 'to believe' here.

She has been thinking about his marriage proposal.

It means she is considering his marriage proposal.

Verbs of Senses

Verbs like 'smell, taste, see, feel, hear' can be both state or action verbs. For example, we use 'smell' as a state verb to describe how somebody or something smells and what's their odor. But 'smell' can also be an action verb describing the act of smelling something.

She smells of flowers.

'Smell' refers to her odor, here.

She's smelling the flowers.

Other Verbs like 'Live' and 'Work'

Verbs like these can be considered action verbs or state verbs depending on the context. It really doesn't matter whether you use them in a simple tense or continuous one. They are both correct.

She's lived here for 20 years. = She's been living here for 20 years.

The present perfect tense emphasizes the result of an activity in the past; In contrast, the present perfect continuous tense emphasizes the duration of an activity in the past.

I am working on this project for a year. = I've worked on this project for a year.

The present continuous is used to indicate that the action is still happening, but the present perfect shows that the action is finished and now the doer has the experience.

The Miracle of Slang Language

Nowadays you may see breaking the rule of not using continuous tense with state verbs. For example, the sentence 'I'm loving it!' is technically wrong, but we use it in colloquial or slang language.

Review

Based on what kind of meaning a verb denotes, there are mainly two types of verbs.

action verbs indicate an action that a person or an animal or an object performs either physically or mentally.
state verbs describe a state or the way something is.

Common State Verbs

feelings and emotions like, love, hate, etc.
senses hear, smell, sound, etc.
mental actions and being Is, are, etc.
possession and owning have, has, etc.

There are some verbs that can be both state and action verbs.

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