English verbs can be categorized into three different types: normal verbs, stative verbs, and mixed verbs.
Also known as “event verbs” or “actions verbs,” these are words for actions that we mean to take and usually have very visible results. Verbs like “run,” “swim,” “jump,” “break,” “eat,” “read,” “watch,” and “talk” fall into this category. We can use these verbs in the continuous tenses, i.e. “I am running.”
Also known as “state verbs” or “non-continuous verbs,” these are verbs that describe internal or abstract states, which often don’t have visible results.
- Existence: be, exist
- Mental States: believe, doubt, think, know, realize, understand
- Likes, Dislikes, Desires: like, hate, love, loathe, need, prefer, want
- Possession: have, have got, own, belong
- Sense: see, hear, touch, taste, smell, sense, feel
- Appearance: look, seem, appear
Even when we want to describe temporary states, we don’t use continuous tenses with stative verbs.
- I have a cold. Correct
- I am having a cold. Incorrect
- Jennifer needs help. Correct
- Jennifer is needing help. Incorrect
Many verbs can be used as either stative verbs or action verbs, and their meaning is different in each case. When they are being used as action verbs, they can be used in the continuous tenses like any other action verb. Likewise, when they are being used as stative verbs, they cannot be used in the continuous tenses.
Be: “To be” is usually a stative verb, but when it is used as an action verb, it means “to behave,” and is used to express a temporary way that someone is acting.
- Julie is a doctor. (Stative)
- Julie is annoying. (Stative; she is an annoying person all the time)
- Julie is being annoying today. (Action; she is just acting annoying today)
Have: “To have” is usually a stative verb, but when used as an action verb, it means “to experience.”
- My mom has three dogs. (Stative)
- I hope my mom is having fun on her vacation. (Action)
Think: “To think” is usually a stative verb, but when used as an action verb, it means “to go over in your mind right now.”
- Scientists think that too much sun can cause skin cancer. (Stative)
- The scientist is thinking hard about her experiment. (Action)
Taste/Smell: When these are used as stative verbs, it means that something has a particular taste or smell to it. When they are used as action verbs, they mean the act of a person tasting or smelling something.
- The soup tastes delicious. (Stative)
- I am tasting the soup to see if I should add more spices. (Action)
- I think I smell like I should take a shower. (Stative)
- The dog is smelling everything he can on the walk. (Action)
See: “See” has many different meanings. As a stative verb, it can mean to see something with your eyes, or to understand something. As an action verb, it can mean to consult with someone (like a doctor or a lawyer) or to be in a romantic relationship with someone.
- Do you see those yellow birds in the tree? (Stative)
- I see what you mean. (Stative)
- Tanya is seeing a doctor about her wrist injury. (Action)
- Greg and Liz have been seeing each other for two years. (Action)
Some other common words that can be used as either stative or action verbs are “appear,” “miss,” “look,” “find,” “weigh,” “hear,” and “feel.”