Actions and States

'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
"Actions and States" in English Grammar

What Are Actions and States?

In order to describe everything that is happening or existing in our world we use verbs and tenses.

Based on whether the verb is describing an event or a state of being, we categorize them into two different groups:

  • States
  • Actions

States

State verbs describe situations that are related to the intrinsic features of a thing, person, or situation and therefore unchanging throughout their entire time.

We do not have state or action verbs, we have state and action contexts.

Using Simple Tenses to Show States

Some concepts truly seem permanent because it feels like they have been this way for years. For states, we must almost always use simple tenses. Some long states must always be used with simple tenses. For example:

  • Possession: Owning and being in possession of a thing or characteristics. It can also refer to family and other relations.

I have a brother. (Not 'I am having a brother.')

using 'have' in the progressive no longer conveys the meaning of 'possession'. It refers to 'expecting a child to be born.'

He has brown eyes. (Not 'He is having brown eyes.')

These senses of 'have' are not used in the continuous tense. Using continuous tense means 'pretending to' which in this context does not make sense.

  • Intrinsic Features: Characteristics and features that are inherent to a thing or person. They are part of who or what they are. Such as: being, age, gender, measurement, etc.

I am 30 years old. (Not 'I am being 30 years old.')

This is a state. We cannot express it with continuous tense.

The room measures 6 x 6 meters. (Not 'The room is measuring 6 x 6 meters.')

This is a state. You cannot use continuous tenses with it. Because measurement is a concept that is inherent. It does not change.

All the toys fit in the box. (Not 'All the toys are fitting in the box.')

You cannot use continuous tenses with these states. Because they do not denote an actions. They show how things are or have been.

You deserve the best. (Not 'You are deserving the best.')

'Deserve' is not used in the continuous.

  • Perceptions and Cognitions: Those believes and thoughts that make up the belief system of a person. They are not likely to change.

I believe in god. (Not 'I am believing in god.')

'Believe' is not used in the continuous tense. Do not say 'I am believing you'.

He doesn't understand French. (Not 'He isn't understanding French.')

'Understand' is not used in the continuous tense. Do not say 'I'm understanding what you're saying'.

I think he is cute.

This meaning of the verb 'think' means to believe, to have an opinion. This is a state. It is not a temporary thing. if we say 'I am thinking he is cute' it means it is a temporary thing.

  • Personal Permanent States: Things that are part of a person's live, such as living conditions, working conditions, etc.

I work in a restaurant.

Using simple tense means it is a permanent state, not something temporary. Also, if we want to mention the action of working in a restaurant, we can no longer use simple tense.

I live in Montreal.

This shows a state. It is permanent and not likely to change. Saying 'I am living in Montreal' shows that the speaker is emphasizing on the temporariness of the action.

  • Feelings and emotions: the emotions a person has about something that are not very likely to change.

He loves me.

Using simple tenses implies that this is a fact. It is not a temporary thing.

I like it.

It shows a state that is not going to change. But when we say it as a continuous verb, it means the speaker is referring to an action that is going on at the moment of speaking.

I wish I was a boy.

With the verb 'wish' we cannot use a continuous tense. Why? Because it is a think that we wanted to happen.

  • Perceptions: it refers to the way you think about something and your idea of what it is like.

This neighbor seems nice. (Not 'This neighbor is seeming nice.')

'Seem' cannot be used in continuous tense. Because it shows a state that is permanent and incapable or unlikely to change.

The skirt fits me. (Not 'The skirt is fitting me.')

In this meaning, 'fit' is not used in the continuous tense.

Using Continuous Tenses to Show States

If we use continuous tenses with long states, the meaning of the verb (and the sentence) changes completely. The context and meaning of the verb completely shift.

I'm having a brother.

Using 'have' with a state meaning in continuous tense, changes the meaning of have from 'possession' to 'expecting a child'.

He is being a 13 year old.

Using continuous with this long state, shows that we mean he is acting like a 13 years old. It is not a fact. It is a short temporary thing.

I am measuring this room.

This is an action. So we are using continuous tense.

With states, the emphasis is on the permanent nature of the meaning. Therefore it is possible to use it in continuous terms. States normally are expressed with simple tenses. However, if we use continuous tenses with short states, two of these things happen:
Either we use it to put emphasis on the shortness of the action. Or the meaning of the verb completely changes. For example:

I'm thinking about moving.

It means I am considering moving. I am in the process of deciding.

I'm liking it.

It means right now, at the moment of speaking, I am enjoying this thing.

I'm hoping for a bike!

However, with 'hope' you can use continuous tense. Because at the moment of speaking you wish for something and there is a chance it might happen in the future.

Using an Action Verb in a Sentence

Actions

Some verbs denote an action. Actions have a distinct beginning and end. But not all actions have the same duration. Some actions take hours and some take only seconds. Therefore, we can divide them into three groups:

  1. Long actions: Those that their time duration is long and it may take several hours.
  2. Short actions: Those that their time duration is very short and it may take mere seconds.
  3. Processes: They are neither long nor short. They show change and progress in general.

1. Long Actions

Using Simple and Continuous Tenses to Show Long Actions

Long actions can take a specific period of time and they have approximately one to several hours. Many movement activities are in this category. With long actions, we use continuous tenses. Let's take a look at some examples:

I'm walking in the park.

Using continuous tense with long actions puts emphasis on the ongoingness of the action at the moment of speaking.

I am dancing with my friends.

Many verbs of movement are like this. By using continuous we are emphasizing on the temporary action that is taking place at the moment of speaking.

He's swimming in the ocean.

If we use continuous tenses with a long action, we are emphasizing the temporariness and the fact that the action is happening right now at the moment of speaking. It is not a habit or a routine.

Tip!

But using simple tenses we are saying that the said action is a habit or a routine thing that happens regularly.

I walk in the park every day.

This shows that walking in the night is a habit or a routine action that takes place regularly.

I dance on weekends.

The cat purrs when she is happy.

He swims in the pool everyday.

2. Short Actions

Using Continuous Tenses to Show Short Actions

Short actions are those kinds of actions that will only take a few seconds. They do not have a long duration. Short actions can be categorized into two groups: repeatable and non-repeatable actions (process).
Using continuous tenses with the first group shows that the said action is repeated several times. And with the second group, continuous tenses mean that the said action is on the run and is in the process. For example:

The cat is purring.

He is hitting his son.

The baby was sneezing all nightlong.

The frog is jumping away.

The company is hiring new employees.

Tip!

Using simple present tenses to show short actions means that the action is a fact. But, using past simple tenses represents a narrative style and we can use it to describe a story.

He hits his son.

The baby sneezed.

The frog jumps in the pool.

The new company hired me.

3. Processes

Using Continuous Tenses to Show Processes

Processes express a change of condition or state in their argument. They describe a change of state. Note that when describing the change, the present simple tense should not be used. We should use the present continuous tense for things that are changing. Things that go through a process do not usually go back to their previous forms. They are mostly irretrievable.

The corns are growing in the field.

The ice is melting.

Tip!

Using simple tenses with processes changes the context of the verb and the sentence no longer shows a process, rather it shows a general fact about something.

Corns grow in the field.

The ice melts fast under the sun.

Verbs That Can Be Both

Some verbs can have both state and action meanings based on a different context. A sentence like 'he works in a bank' may be either state or action, according to the context. In some contexts, the verb 'work' relates to a state (a profession), In some contexts, it can be an action in a context where 'work' describes an action.

I have a brother called Brian.

'Have' indicates ownership, here.

I'm having lunch right now.

'Have' indicates eating, here.

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.

'Smell' means: the act of putting your nose near something and breathing in so that you can discover its characteristics with your nose.

Comments

You might also like

Verbs

Verbs are one of the most necessary elements to make a sentence. In fact, without a verb, we cannot have a meaningful sentence.

Regular and Irregular Verbs

Based on how we conjugate verbs in the past simple and the past participle, they can be divided into two types: Regular verbs and Irregular verbs.

Auxiliary Verbs

Auxiliary verbs help the main verb to express tense or voice or help make questions and negative sentences. That's why they're also called 'helping verbs'.

Phrasal Verbs

Phrasal verbs are used very commonly in English, even more so in informal situations. Phrasal verbs consist of a verb and a preposition or a particle.

Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

'She smiled beautifully'. 'She started a rumor'. One of these sentences has an intransitive verb and one has a transitive one. Want to know the difference?

Ditransitive Verbs

Ditransitive verbs are transitive verbs that take two objects. A direct object and an indirect object. Follow the article to read more about them.

Download LanGeek app for free