Stative Verbs

While dynamic verbs describe an action, or something that is happening (play, take, cry, run, etc.), and modal verbs describe a number of different ways to express hypothetical meaning, possibility, ability, etc. (should, would, could, might, may, etc.), stative verbs describe the way things are, express feelings, beliefs, opinions, possession, appearances, and states of being.

There are numerous stative verbs in English that we use to help describe different feelings and/or states of mind and being. The best way to teach stative verbs is to introduce them according to function.

For example, the following are stative verbs used for thinking or opinions:

  • believe – “I believe I will be a strong asset for your company.”
  • suppose – “I suppose I could let you borrow my book for a couple days.”
  • understand – “They understand everything the teacher is saying.”
  • recognize – “We haven’t seen each other in ten years, but you still recognized me.”
  • prefer – “She prefers to be called by her middle name.”
  • realize – “I realized I was driving too fast when the policeman stopped me.”
  • remember – “I remember when we used to play in my backyard.”
  • mean – “He didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.”
  • imagine – “Can you imagine if we could go back in time?”
  • agree – “They agreed that the time had already run out.”
  • disagree – “The teacher disagreed with the students’ opinion on reading.”
  • doubt – “I doubt you can pass the test without studying.”

The following stative verbs are used to express feeling or emotion:

  • hope – “I hope we don’t get a lot of homework.”
  • want – “She wants to live in a big house when she gets older.”
  • wish – “He wishes the summer would never end.”
  • despise – “I despise the freezing weather in the winter time.”
  • hate – “They hated the movie because it was boring.”
  • dislike – “We really dislike the new principal because he has a cold personality.”
  • like – “I like your t-shirt.”
  • love – “He loves to go visit his grandpa on the weekend.”
  • appreciate – “She didn’t appreciate how much her parents did for her until she got older.”

The following stative verbs are used to express possession:

  • own – “I own a bicycle.”
  • belong – “The motorcycle belongs to him.”
  • contain – “My bank account contains all my money.”
  • have (in the context of owning) – “She only has twenty dollars in her pocket.”

The following stative verbs are used to express sense:

  • taste – “The soup tastes incredible.”
  • see – “I see the purpose of this exercise.”
  • hear – “We hear you are an excellent cook.”
  • smell – “I smell the aroma of bread every time I walk past the bakery.”
  • feel – “I feel the warmth of the sun on my head.”

Some verbs can be both action/dynamic verbs and stative verbs, depending on the intended meaning; for example:

  • see – “I see what you mean.” (stative), “I am seeing the doctor tomorrow.” (action)
  • taste – “The pizza tastes delicious.” (stative), “The chef was tasting the pizza.” (action)
  • smell – “Your perfume smells great.” (stative), “I was smelling the flowers.” (action)
  • have – “She has three cars.” (stative), “She is having lunch with Joe today.” (action)
  • think – “They think the coffee is good here.” (stative), “They are thinking about work.” (action)
  • weigh – “I weigh two hundred pounds.” (stative), “The butcher is weighing the meat.” (action)
  • admire – “We admire your bravery.” (stative), “We were admiring your paintings.” (action)
  • fit – “That dress fits you well.” (stative), “The tailor is fitting him for a new suit.” (action)

Exceptions

Usually, stative verbs cannot be used in the continuous tenses because they express a state (i.e., belong to, contain, know, desire, own, possess, prefer, seem, depend on, etc.). Thus, they are also referred to as non-continuous verbs.

However, some statives can be used in the continuous tense. This only happens when certain stative verbs are expressed as a temporary thought or feeling, in which case they take on a different meaning.

For example:

  • “I am enjoying this movie.” (temporary feeling)
  • “She is imagining herself on a deserted island.” (temporary thought)

In addition, some stative verbs can be expressed in the present perfect and past perfect tenses.

For example:

The present perfect (have + past participle of stative verb) can be used to express something that happened in the past until now:

  • “I have had this car for 2 years.”
  • “I have loved baseball since I was 5 years old.”
  • “I have been to Europe three times.”

The past perfect (had + past participle of stative verb) is used to express something that happened in the past before another thing happened in the past:

  • “She had promised to keep in touch more often.”
  • “By the time I finished school, I had owned twenty textbooks.”
  • “Before I started going to the gym, I had not believed in exercising.”

There are a wide range of both modal verbs and stative verbs that can confuse students if teachers attempt to introduce too many at once. It is more effective to present them categorically based on their use in the expression of different states and feelings (just as they were broken down in the sections above).

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