Perfect Your English Grammar | Stative Verbs & Continuous Tenses ❌
This lesson will help you perfect your English Grammar. I’ll teach you everything you need to know about stative verbs and show you that they CAN’T be used in continuous tenses.
Understanding how to accurately use active and stative verbs will help you transform your English and stop making mistakes with verb tenses!
Get your notebook ready, let’s start!
Well hey there! I’m Emma from mmmEnglish and I’m so excited to be bringing you this lesson today. It’s a grammar point that is so often overlooked by English teachers but one that’s gonna reveal some little known secrets about English verbs. And these secrets are gonna dramatically improve your English accuracy, particularly when it comes to continuous tenses.
We’re talking about stative verbs and usually, stative verbs can’t be used in continuous tenses though this is a common mistake for a lot of my students.
Now you might be thinking: stative verbs, surely they’re not that common? Surely there’s just a few of them that I’ve got to worry about.
Well, have I got news for you. Some of the most common English verbs are stative verbs You use them every time that you speak in English. So this lesson is really important, I want you to watch it all the way through and save it.
What is a stative verb?
So what on earth is a stative verb anyway?
Stative verbs are also called state verbs. They express a state, rather than an action. And they’re often related to things like:
- our thoughts and our opinions
- our senses
- our feelings and emotions
and then a bunch of other verbs that aren’t really actions.
But don’t worry, we’ll take a closer look at all of those different types of verbs in a minute.
The most important thing that you need to know is that many of them are used only in the simple tenses. So that’s:
- the present simple
- past simple
- present perfect simple
- past perfect simple
- and the future simple
So that means you can’t use stative verbs in which tenses?
- the present continuous
- the past continuous
- the present perfect continuous
- the past perfect continuous
- and the future continuous
Now unlike many things in English grammar, this rule is a simple rule to remember. Stative verbs can only be used in simple tenses. Now there are some exceptions, there’s always exceptions in English, right? But I will talk about those in much more detail later in this lesson.
These are all examples of a stative verb.
Now I said that stative verbs describe a state, but what does that really mean? The verb hear requires no action from its subject.
- Did you hear the sound?
When the alarm goes off, you’re gonna hear it whether you choose to hear it or not, right?
Hearing is one of the five senses, it’s not an action that we can choose to do. Hear is a state verb. But the verb listen is an action verb.
- Are you listening to me?
We get to choose whether or not we listen to someone or something, right? If you don’t wanna listen to the radio, it’s up to you, you can turn it off.
The same rule applies with the verbs see, watch and look. See is a sense. Watch and look are actions.
So far so good?
Where things can get a little tricky is that some verbs have both an active and a stative meaning. The verb measure is a good example. We can say:
- The table measures sixty centimetres by sixty centimetres.
So here, measure is describing the quality of the table, it describes a fact. So in this context, measure is a state.
- I’m measuring the window to fit the curtains.
Here, measure is an action. So I’m carrying out the action of measuring for the curtains.
There are more verbs that fit into the category and I’ll share a few more of them with you as we go through this lesson.
But now that we’ve got those basics down, let’s get stuck into learning about stative verbs in context. We can break stative verbs down into about five categories.
1. Thought & Action
The first one is verbs of thought and opinion.
- The best way to recognise and remember new words is to learn them in context.
Now there are two stative verbs in that sentence, can you see them?
Recognise and remember.
So they’re both verbs of thought and opinion, so they’re both stative verbs. It’s incorrect to say:
I’m recognising the man across the street.
I am not remembering your name.
Stative verbs need simple tenses. We just say:
- I recognise that man.
- I don’t remember your name.
Let’s try another one.
- I agree, it can be hard to understand the difference between English tenses. You have to know the rules inside out.
So which is the stative verb there? Do you know?
Agree, understand and know.
- She agrees with me.
Not: She is agreeing with me.
- We understand you.
Not: We are understanding you.
- You know him.
Not: You are knowing him.
There are lots more verbs that fit into the category of thought and opinion.
These are all stative verbs.
Not a complete list but they’re just some of the most common verbs of thought and opinion.
2. Verbs of the Senses
The second group of stative verbs are verbs of the senses. Now we have five senses. Do you know what they are?
- See with your eyes.
- Hear with your ears.
- Touch with your fingers.
- Taste with your mouth.
- And smell with your nose.
Verbs of the senses are stative verbs so we don’t usually use them in the continuous tenses.
Notice that I said usually, we don’t usually use them in the continuous tenses.
Now verbs of the senses are a little bit special and that’s because we can also use them to talk about the act of tasting, smelling or feeling.
We can say:
- I’m tasting the cake to make sure it’s OK.
We can also say:
- This cake tastes delicious.
One is an action, can you guess which one?
- I’m actively tasting the cake.
I’m checking to make sure that it’s yummy. This one is a state. It relates to perception. My perception of the cake is that it’s delicious. So I’m not describing an action here.
In that context, it’s incorrect to say: The cake is tasting delicious.
We just say:
- The cake tastes delicious.
Another thing to be aware of is that the verb see has a few different meanings.
So we can say:
- I saw Ruby at the supermarket.
In that sentence see is a verb of the sense so it’s stative. But look at these examples.
- I’m seeing Ruby tomorrow.
- He is seeing someone new.
So seeing means meeting. I’m meeting Ruby tomorrow.
And it also means being in a relationship. He’s in a relationship with someone new.
So in these sentences, the verb see is describing an action. And in that context, it’s perfectly okay to use a continuous tense.
3. Feeling & Emotion
The third group is verbs of feeling and emotion.
- I need to find out what Gloria likes doing in her free time.
Now there were two verbs of feelings or emotion in that sentence. Can you guess which ones they are?
Need and like.
You can absolutely use these verbs in the simple tenses but it’s incorrect to use them in the continuous form.
- I was needing some information.
- What is Gloria liking?
Now of course, there are lots of other verbs that fit into this category. Verbs like:
These are all verbs of feeling and emotion and you should avoid using them in continuous tenses.
The fourth group is verbs of possession. They’re verbs like
- and have
The bicycle belongs to my brother.
But not: The bicycle is belonging to my brother.
- She owns a red Ferrari.
Not: She has been owning a red Ferrari for a long time.
Now the verb have also falls into this category but only when it means to own or possess something. Now have is a bit of an exception so I’m going to go into more detail about it later on in the lesson.
5. All the other verbs that aren’t action verbs!
The last group of stative verbs is well it’s just everything else. And by that, I just mean any other verbs that aren’t actions. Like:
- and measure
So these verbs don’t describe an action.
- I promise not to be late.
Is promise an action? When I make a promise, I don’t actually do anything do I? I just say the words. I promise.
But there’s no physical action there, is there? It’s just a stative verb.
So I can’t say: I am promising not to be late.
That’s incorrect. We just use the present simple here. I promise.
- I owe you ten dollars.
Is owe an action?
If I said: Here’s ten dollars and gave you a ten dollar note, well giving is an action, right? But to owe someone money, that’s not an action.
So I can’t say: I’m owing you ten dollars, can I?
We just keep it simple. I owe you.
I know there are a few things that are confusing about stative verbs. Perhaps you’ve seen the words loving, smelling, and owing around.
And now you’re wondering: why is Emma telling me that using these verbs in this form is wrong?
Just because you can’t use these verbs in continuous tenses, doesn’t mean that you won’t see them in an -ing form.
Don’t worry, this is something that confuses a lot of my students. It’s one of those really annoying things about English grammar. -ing forms aren’t only used for continuous verb tenses. We use them as adjectives and nouns too, don’t we? Remember our friend, the gerund?
But I have got a super little tip for you.
A great way to check if it’s an -ing form of a verb is to look for the auxiliary verb be. Be will always be there if it’s a continuous verb form.
Auxiliary verb be + the main verb in -ing form = the continuous tense
- We were listening to music.
- Sarah is having a baby in March.
Can you see those auxiliary verbs? They’re telling us that listening and having, they’re action verbs.
But take a look at these sentences.
- I heard some surprising news.
Is surprising a verb? Surprising is an adjective and it modifies the noun news.
Gives us some extra information.
- Playing football is his passion.
Playing is a gerund. Playing football is the subject of our sentence. It’s a noun phrase.
- Seeing is believing.
What about here? Are either of these verbs? This one’s a bit tricky.
In this example, both seeing and believing are gerunds. They’re nouns but they look like verbs.
So this structure is just the same as saying:
- Tomorrow is Monday.
Tomorrow and Monday are nouns. Seeing and believing are also nouns.
So even though these words shouldn’t be used as verbs in -ing form, you will definitely see them around as adjectives and nouns.
Probably the most complicated part of this is that there’s a groups of verbs that have both an active and a stative meaning. And they’re the ones that require you to really think about the meaning of the verb before you decide which tense is appropriate to use.
Common Stative Verbs
Now I’ve been pointing them out as we’ve been going through this lesson, but I really just want to spend a couple of minutes going a little deeper here on the common ones. I mentioned that have is a stative verb when it means possession.
- Micky has a red bike.
So here, if we replace has with own, or possess, we know it’s a stative verb. And the meaning stays the same, right? We can assume that have is stative.
So that means we can’t say: Mickey is having a red bike.
It’s the same when we use have to describe a quality.
- They have brown hair.
So we can replace have with possess in this sentence. So have in this context is stative.
- They have brown hair.
We can’t say: They are having brown hair.
But – but is coming up quite a bit during this lesson, well, there are a few exceptions. Because we use have a lot in English and it has different meanings each time. It can mean to
- eat or drink
- or to experience
So these verbs are all action verbs which means we can use them in the continuous tenses.
- We’re having a party this weekend.
Have means host.
- She’s having a baby in June.
Have is expect.
- They were having lunch.
So now, have means eat.
So just make sure you stop every now and again and just think about the true meaning of have. Can you replace have with own or possess? Or does it mean something else?
This will be a really good guide if you’re trying to decide whether to treat this as a stative or an active verb.
The next verb to be careful of is be.
- You are funny.
So be in this sentence refers to part of your personality, so this is a fact, a state. It’s who you are.
- You are a funny person.
But if I say: You are being funny.
Here, be means you’re acting or behaving in that way. So in this context, it’s perfectly okay to use the continuous form.
The other verb I want to mention is think. Now think can be active or stative. But when think means to have an opinion, then it’s stative.
- What do you think about these earrings?
But when think means consider, it’s an action.
- What are you thinking about ordering?
There’s one more thing that I want to mention that I want you to be aware of.
Sometimes these rules are broken by native speakers especially in informal context.
You’ll hear someone saying: I’m loving this song! In the moment of enjoying the song, they’ll say that.
- Are you wanting my help with that?
Here in Australia, I hear people saying things like this all the time, so where does that leave us?
Is it wrong to say: I’m loving it? I mean McDonald’s has kind of made that pretty standard now. Are the millions of English speakers using the verb love incorrect when they say: I’m loving it?
Let’s just say that this is one of the many ways that English is changing and evolving. I mean, rules are made to be broken, aren’t they?
Are you ready to test what you’ve learned today? I really want you to practise using these stative verbs accurately. So I’m gonna give you some sentences where the verb has been used incorrectly and you need to correct them either by changing the tense or by swapping out the verb.
Let’s do the first one together.
- They were thinking it was a bad idea.
What does thinking mean in this sentence? Does it mean to have an opinion or to consider something?
It means to have an opinion so it’s a stative verb. We can correct it by saying:
- They thought it was a bad idea.
Now it’s your turn. So just make sure you pause the lesson after each example so you have time to think about the answers. And of course, write those answers down in the comments below so that I can come down and check them all out for you.
- I am wishing you a happy birthday.
- She didn’t answer the phone because she was hearing music.
- They are not believing in magic.
- I have been knowing Lucy for 5 years.
- You are having your birthday party tomorrow.
Well that’s it for this lesson! I really hope that it was useful to learn about action and stative verbs, Really focusing some time and energy on learning stative verbs will help you to understand how to use them accurately in your English sentences.
Now I’ve got a few other grammar lessons that will be really useful for practising stative and active verbs okay? I’ve added the links to them down in the comments below. As always, make sure you’re subscribed to the channel, turn on the notifications so I can let you know when there’s a new lesson here for you.
I will be back next week with another lesson for you but until then, why don’t you check out this one, right here? I’ll see you in there.
Links mentioned in the video
Perfect Your English Grammar | Stative Verbs & Continuous Tenses ❌
Learn Prepositions BY, FROM & OF + Take the TEST!
The Present Perfect Tense | English Grammar Lesson