What Is a Stative Verb?

Contrast Them With Dynamic, or Action, Verbs

i'm lovin' it slogan

 McDonald's

In English grammar, a stative verb is a verb used primarily to describe a state or situation as opposed to an action or process. It can be a mental or emotional state as well as a physical state of being. The situations are unchanging while they last and can continue for a long or indefinite time period. Common examples include be, have, like, seem, prefer, understand, belong, doubt, hate, and know, such as in the adage, "We are what we believe we are." ​ These words are also known as a state verb or a static verb.

 Contrast them with dynamic verbs, which show action.

Four Types

Geoffrey Leach and colleagues describe four types of stative verbs in their work: ​"Our analysis follows previous proposals...that divide verbs lending themselves to stative interpretation into four semantic classes:

(a) Perception and sensation (e.g. see, hear, smell, hurt, taste)...
(b) Cognition, emotion, attitude (e.g. think, feel, forget, long, remember)...
(c) Having and being (e.g. be, have, have to, cost, require)...
(d) Stance (e.g. sit, stand, lie, live, face)"

(Geoffrey Leech, Marianne Hundt, Christian Mair, and Nicholas Smith, "Change in Contemporary English: A Grammatical Study." Cambridge University Press, 2012)

How They're Typically Not Used

Stative verbs usually don't occur in the progressive aspect  (an -ing verb form paired with a helper, such as in ​are trying; you wouldn't say, for example, I am having a pencil.) or the imperative mood, which is the "command" form of a sentence, such as in Come with me.

 

Of course, our malleable English language is made up of exceptions to the rules. Susan J. Behrens, in "Grammar: A Pocket Guide," notes, "[T]here is some advertising that plays with stative verbs. The McDonald's slogan I'm loving it uses a stative verb in the present progressive form. I recently saw a magazine ad with the tagline, 'She's sensing a change in the air.' So the advertising world seems to be having fun with stative verbs." (Routledge, 2010)

Differences Between Stative and Dynamic Verbs

English also has plenty of gray areas, where a word isn't always only in one or the other category. Sylvia Chalker and Tom McArthur explained, "In practice, the boundary between stative and dynamic verbs is sometimes fuzzy, and it is generally more useful to talk of stative and dynamic meaning and usage. In most varieties of English, some verbs are normally stative (therefore no *I am owning this car, *Know how to give first aid!), but others are partly stative and partly dynamic (no *She is liking to help people, but How are you liking your new job?; no *I am forgetting their address, but ​Forget it!). Some verbs belong to both categories but with distinct meanings, as with have in She has red hair and She is having dinner. In IndE [Indian English], the stative/dynamic distinction described above is considered standard, but it is widely ignored, so that expressions like I am owning this car and She is liking to help people are commonplace." ("The Oxford Companion to the English Language." Oxford University Press, 1992)