How to Understand State Verbs
An English student’s guide to using state verbs correctly
State verbs, also known as stative verbs, are used to describe states and not actions. The main difference between states and actions is that states don’t require an action to happen. States just happen by themselves without us having to do a conscious activity. This distinction will help you to decide in the future which verbs are state verbs, and which ones are action verbs.
The above tip is the most important to remember. Then…
Do Not Add -ING to State Verbs
Usually, we add -ING to verbs to indicate that an action is continuous, but state verbs already describe continuing states so there is no need to add -ING. That’s why we don’t use state verbs in Continuous tenses, such as Past Continuous, Present Continuous, Future Continuous, etc.
The verb ‘smell’ has both a stative and an active meaning depending on a situation, as in ‘These flowers smell beautiful.’ and ‘She is smelling the flowers.’
Categories of State Verbs
As state verbs describe different states, here are some ways in which we can categorise them:
- Emotion — adore, care, desire, dislike, hate, hope, like, love, mind, need, prefer, want, wish
- Senses — hear, look, see, smell, taste
- Mental States — agree, appear, astonish, believe, concern, deny, disagree, doubt, feel (meaning: to be of an opinion), know, mean, promise, realise, recognise, remember, suppose, think, understand
- Possession — belong, consist, contain, have, include, involve, own, possess
- Other States — cost, depend, fit, measure, matter, owe, seem, weigh
Some verbs have one stative meaning and a different active meaning. To help you remember these, keep in mind the difference between states (something that just is) and actions (something that has to be actively done) while reading through the examples below:
When trying to decide on the type of verb, consider whether it describes a state or an action.
State Meaning: I care about you. (emotion)
Active Meaning: I am caring for my elderly mother. (action)
State Meaning: Do you mind if I open the window? (emotion)
Active Meaning: I am minding my younger brother this weekend so I’ll be busy. (action)
State Meaning: I feel that you need to trust me more. (mental states)
Active Meaning: I am feeling something in the box, its surface is rough… It’s a kiwi! (action)
State Meaning: This meal looks good! (sense)
Active Meaning: She was looking out of the window. (action)
State Meaning: This soup smells delicious! (sense)
Active Meaning: I am smelling the soup. (action)
State Meaning: This risotto tastes amazing! (sense)
Active Meaning: I am tasting the risotto to check how it tastes. (action)
State Meaning: I realise that this is important. (mental state)
Active Meaning: I am realising my lifelong dream — I’m going on a round-the-world trip. (action)
State Meaning: I think you are right. (mental state)
Active Meaning: I am thinking about our last holiday, it was great (action)
State Meaning: This leaflet contains information on how to prevent the spread of the virus. (possession)
Active Meaning: The local authorities said they were containing the spread of the virus. (action)
State Meaning: I have a pair of lovely sunglasses. (possession)
Active Meaning: We are having lunch on Friday afternoon. (action)
State Meaning: This task involves looking carefully at all available options. (possession)
Active Meaning: “I am involving you in this investigation”, Detective Lopez said. (action)
State Meaning: It depends what you want. (other states)
Active Meaning: I am depending on you, so please, do not disappoint me. (action)
State Meaning: Does the dress fit you? (other states)
Active Meaning: We are fitting a new kitchen at the weekend. (action)
State Meaning: The fabric measures 200 cm wide. (other states)
Active Meaning: I am measuring the fabric for my new dress. (action)
State Meaning: This TV weighs a lot, it is very heavy. (other states)
Active Meaning: I am now carefully weighing the ingredients. (action)
We are weighing our options. (action)
The main thing to remember in order to differentiate between state and active verbs is to ask yourself, is this verb a state or an action? If it is a state, you will not add an -ING to the verb.
If possible, write a grid with these examples on a piece of paper, stick them on the wall for a week or two, and look at the list every day to revise the verbs. Also, try to make your own sentences with the verbs to help you use them in a meaningful way.
Make sure to reward yourself for your study efforts.
You can also set yourself a challenge to use one verb in its active and state form per day and try to have some fun with it! Remember to reward yourself for your efforts to stay motivated and on track by doing something you like or getting yourself a small treat.
Written by Joanna Bartosz-Donohoe, founder of Anglica Language School