Action vs State Verbs in English Grammar

Action vs State Verbs in English Grammar

'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!

Action vs State Verbs in English Grammar

Action vs State Verbs

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

Action Verbs

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

Run ! Catch the ball !

They are performing a physical action.

I play tennis every weekend .

Same rule applies here.

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 .

'Like' describes a feeling toward someone or something.

  • Senses

I hear a voice .

'hear' is a sense of being able to listen to a voice.

  • Mental actions and being

He is 27 years old .

'Is' refers to 'being'.

  • Possession and owning

I have two brothers .

When you 'have' something you own it.

Main Difference

State verbs indicate a mental state that you cannot start or stop them whenever you want. By itself, a state verb has a sense of continuity. Therefore, you cannot usually use the continuous tenses with state verbs.
State verbs don't take continuous tenses.

I have two brothers . (NOT I'm having two brothers . )

'have' can be tricky. Read the following tips.

I am tired now . (NOT I am being tired now . )

'Am' refers to being and it is a non-action verb.

I know this man . (NOT I'm knowing this man . )

'Know' refers to a mental state.

Verbs That Can Be Both

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

The Verb 'Have'

One such verbs 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 continuous tense with it. 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'.

She have 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.

She's smelling the flowers .

Other Verbs like 'Live' and 'Work'

Verbs like these can be considered an action verb or a state verb 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 past perfect tense emphasizes the result of an activity in the past; In contrast, the past 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.

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