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English grammar notes - verbs - dynamic / stative


I am a doctor. (state)
They have two children. (state)
She loves ice-cream. (state)
I've known David for ten years. (state)
We had* a cat when I was a child. (state)

I play tennis on Saturday afternoons. (action)
He's having* dinner. (action)
We watched a movie on TV last night. (action)
I wrote some letters this morning. (action)

* The verb 'have' has many different meanings. It can express a state or an action depending on the context. 'Have' for possession is quite different from 'have' dinner (i.e. eat dinner), or 'have' a shower, bath etc.


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Two types of verb

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It is possible to classify verbs as either states (also called stative
verbs) or actions (also called dynamic verbs).

As some verbs can express both states and actions (see the example of 'have'
above), it is sometimes better to talk about stative meanings and dynamic meanings than simply stative verbs and action verbs.


What is an action verb?

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Action verbs express something that you do - you start the action and then you
stop the action.

He is writing a letter. He starts the action when he picks up the pen and starts to write. When he puts the pen down, he stops the action.

More action (dynamic) verbs:
read, come, go, work, get, make, take, put, study.
(Most verbs are actions.)


What is a stative verb?

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Stative verbs express situations. There is no need for action once the situation has started. You do not need to do anything. States are always true for as long as they continue.


He is a teacher.
This is a state - a situation. He is always a teacher. He is a teacher after the lesson. He is a teacher when he is in the pub or when he is asleep in bed. He is a teacher until he changes his job.

He is teaching English.
This is an action. It starts when the lesson starts and finishes when the lesson finishes.

She has two children
This is a state. It started when the children were born. She does not have to do anything more. It is always true.

She is having a shower
This is an action. She has to do something. The action starts when she gets into the shower and turns on the water. When she turns off the water and gets out of the shower, the action is finished.

Common examples of stative verbs (or verbs with stative meanings)

Verbs expressing thoughts, feelings and senses:
like, love, hate, know, understand, feel, see, hear etc.

Verbs that are used to describe things or express possession:
be, have, own, need, seem, look, taste, smell, sound

Other common stative verbs (this is not a complete list)

believe, belong, contain, deserve, doubt, envy, exist, forget, imagine,
include, involve, possess, prefer, realize, recognize, suppose, suspect, want,


Why is this important?

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(1) Stative verbs do not take continuous (ing) forms.

You cannot say:
I'm knowing David.
She's having a sister.
We're not understanding this point.
What are you thinking of the new Batman movie?
This meat is tasting bad.

(2) Certain common constructions can only be used with either action or stative
verbs. For axample,will and would for habits. These are never used with stative verbs.


Confusing areas - verbs with both stative and dynamic meanings

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As noted above with the example of 'have', some verbs have both dynamic and
stative meanings.

These include the following:

Verbs of the senses;

see (with your eyes)
see (visit)

taste (sense)
taste (try something to sample the taste)

smell (sense)
smell (put something next to your nose to sample the smell)

Verb to be

He is nice (permanent description)
He is being nice(temporary behaviour)

Love (general feeling)
She loves skiing

Love (enjoy)*
I'm loving it

*This meaning is not very common in British English and is included here simply
because students always ask about the use of this verb in the advertising slogan of a well-known fast food chain.

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