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Differences between Action and Stative Verbs

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Young woman sitting in chair, reading book
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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 can not be used in continuous tenses.

For example:

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
hate
like
love
need
belong
believe
cost
get
impress
know
reach
recognize
taste
think
understand

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
believe
understand
recognize

Verbs Showing Possession

have
own
belong
possess

Verbs Showing Senses

hear
smell
see
feel

Verbs Showing Emotion

love
hate
want
need

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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