State verbs are a fundamental piece of English grammar. They might seem a bit nit-picky, but the truth is that they are absolutely essential if you want to progress in your understanding of the English language. Not only that, but state verbs are the key to much of your confusion and frustration with the English language.
Example of State Verb
In the first part, we use the present continuous because we describe an action that takes place now, that is unfinished, and that is temporary. In those 3 conditions, we use the present continuous “I am eating”, not the present simple “I eat”
In the second part, the 3 conditions are still there: now, unfinished, and temporary. However, we use the present simple instead. Why? Because ‘like’ and ‘be’ are state verbs.
What are the Rules for State Verbs?
State verbs are never used in a continuous form. That means no present continuous, no past continuous, no future continuous, no present perfect continuous, no past perfect continuous forms, and no other version of the continuous or progressive tense. NONE. State verbs do not have the continuous/progressive form, unlike action verbs.
The rules for state verbs are the most important rules in English grammar because they supercede all other rules. For example, if you meet all the conditions for the present continuous, you have to use the present simple if there is a state verb, like in the example above.
“I am needing this book” is incorrect, because ‘need’ is a state verb, and therefore can’t use the present continuous.
It should be “I need this book.”
“I was having a car” is incorrect, because ‘have’ is a state verb, and therefore can’t use the past continuous.
It should be “I had a car.”
Action Verbs vs State Verbs
Action verbs can be used in all tenses, including progressive tenses. For example, “I am writing a letter” and “I had been writing a letter.” are both possible because ‘write’ is an action verb. Most verbs are action verbs, whereas state verbs are special and less common.
State verbs or stative verbs are different from action or regular verbs in that they describe a state or condition rather than an action. These verbs are typically not visible, not visual, not kinetic, or not physical (eg. need, like, exist). They are quiet, slow, subtle (eg. think, see, hear). They don’t change very easily or very often (believe, possess).
How can I recognise State Verbs?
Even if this is the first time you have heard or read about state verbs, you probably already have an idea of state verbs. You probably already have an instinct that tells you that ” I am having a car” is bad English. You didn’t know why, but you knew. So, the key is to start with the instinct that you already have, and then start adding words to your mind map. The most difficult thing is that there are no real rules for which verbs are state verbs, so you will need to memorise a lot of words. Luckily, there is a pattern or a theme that will help you learn and remember them:
An easy way to remember state verbs is to think: Head, Heart, Hand
‘Head’ refers to mental states like believe or understand.
‘Heart’ refers to emotions, such as love, like, or hate.
‘Hand’ refers to possessing, such as have, possess, or owe.
List of State Verbs
State Verbs related to Possession
State Verbs related to Mental States
- think (opinion only)
State Verbs related to Emotions
State Verbs related to Senses
Miscellaneous State Verbs