Differences between Action and Stative Verbs

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All verbs in English are classified as either stative or action verbs (also referred to as 'dynamic verbs'). Action verbs describe actions we take (things we do) or things that happen. Stative verbs refer to the way things 'are' - their appearance, state of being, smell, etc. The most important difference between stative and action verbs is that action verbs can be used in continuous tenses and stative verbs cannot be used in continuous tenses.

Action Verbs

She's studying math with Tom at the moment.

  • AND She studies math with Tom every Friday.

They've been working since seven o'clock this morning.

  • AND They worked for two hours yesterday afternoon.

We'll be having a meeting when you arrive.

  • AND We are going to meet next Friday.

Stative Verbs

The flowers smell lovely.

  • NOT Those flowers are smelling lovely.

She heard him speak in Seattle yesterday afternoon.

  • NOT She was hearing him speak in Seattle yesterday afternoon.

They'll love the concert tomorrow evening.

  • NOT They'll be loving the concert tomorrow evening.

Common Stative Verbs

There are many more action verbs than stative verbs. Here is a list of some the most common stative verbs:

  • Be - He is from Dallas, TX in the Southwest.
  • Hate - She hates ironing clothes, but doesn't want to wear them wrinkled.
  • Like - I like spending time with my friends. 
  • Love - She loves her children just as any mother loves her children.
  • Need - I'm afraid I don't need a new pair of shoes. 
  • Belong - Do these keys belong to you?
  • Believe - Jason believes the news about the company, but I don't.
  • Cost - How much does that book cost?
  • Get - I get the situation, but I still don't know the answer.
  • Impress - Does Tom impress you with all his knowledge?
  • Know - She knows the answer, but she doesn't want to give it away.
  • Reach - Can I reach and take the hamburger?
  • Recognize - Susan recognizes the need for a discussion.
  • Taste - The wine tastes very fruity, but still has a dry finish.
  • Think - I think that's a good idea. 
  • Understand - Do you understand the question?

You may notice that some of these verbs can be used as action verbs with different meanings. For example, the verb 'to think' can either express an opinion ​or the process of considering. In the first case, when 'think' expresses an opinion it is stative:

  • I think she should work harder on her math.
  • She thinks he is a fantastic singer.

'Think', however, can also express the process of considering something. In this case 'think' is an action verb:

  • They're thinking about buying a new house.
  • She's thinking of joining a health club.

Generally, stative verbs fall into four groups:

Verbs Showing Thought or Opinions

  • Know - She knows the answer to the question.
  • Believe - Do you believe what he says every time?
  • Understand - I understand the situation very well.
  • Recognize - She recognizes him from high school. 

Verbs Showing Possession

  • Have - I have a car and a dog.
  • Own - Peter owns a motorcycle and a scooter, but no car.
  • Belong - Do you belong to the fitness club?
  • Possess - She possesses an incredible talent for talking.

Verbs Showing Senses

  • Hear - I hear someone in the other room.
  • Smell - It smells bad in here. Did you fart?
  • See - I see three trees in the yard.
  • Feel - I feel happy this afternoon. 

Verbs Showing Emotion

  • Love - I love listening to classical music.
  • Hate - She hates to get up early every day.
  • Want - I want some help with my homework.
  • Need - I need some time with my friends. 

If you are unsure of whether a verb is an action verb or a stative verb ask yourself the following question:

  • Does this verb relate some sort of process or a state?

If it relates a process, then the verb is an action verb. If it relates a state, the verb is a stative verb.

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Your Citation
Beare, Kenneth. "Differences between Action and Stative Verbs." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/differences-between-action-and-stative-verbs-1211141. Beare, Kenneth. (2023, April 5). Differences between Action and Stative Verbs. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/differences-between-action-and-stative-verbs-1211141 Beare, Kenneth. "Differences between Action and Stative Verbs." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/differences-between-action-and-stative-verbs-1211141 (accessed June 6, 2023).