We normally think of verbs as words used to describe an action.
But some verbs don’t describe an action – but a state of being. Unlike an active action that changes over a period of time, a state of being will stay the same. This type of verb is called a ‘stative’ verb.
So how can you tell if a verb is stative, and how do you use it?
Spotting stative verbs
A good way to decide if a verb is stative or not is to see if it describes a state of feeling something, thinking about something or having an opinion. Some common verbs include “understand,” “believe”, “like” and “prefer”.
E.g. “I prefer waking up early.”
Verbs that describe the senses – seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting and smelling – can also be used as stative verbs, when you are using them to describe a state of experiencing a sense.
E.g. “She smells of her new perfume.”
However, sometimes these verbs can also be used as active verbs, when the verb describes an action, not a state.
E.g. “She is smelling the new perfume.”
The two sentences above both have very different meanings!
Stative verbs vs continuous verbs
When continuous verbs are used, they usually use the form of: ‘to be’ + verb + ing
E.g. “She is dancing on stage.”
But unlike active or continuous verbs, stative verbs don’t use this form at all.
Instead, you usually use them in the simple form only.
E.g. “He enjoyed the film festival.”
E.g. “It tastes of spinach.”
Of course, as in the previous example, there are instances when you might want to use a verb that is normally a stative verb as an active verb! You have to think carefully about what you are trying to express, to decide whether it is describing a continuous action or not. Not all stative verbs can be used as continuous verbs – and even if they can, you will need to pay close attention to the meaning of the sentence first.
For example, you can correctly say “I am tasting the soup,” to describe the action of tasting something, but it would not be correct to say “the soup is tasting salty”, as you are describing a state – the saltiness of the soup – rather than an action.
Getting stative verbs and continuous verbs mixed up is one of the most common mistakes when it comes to learning English – so you’ll want to practise this one a lot so that you can tell which is which!
To get to grips with them, write a list of sentences using different stative verbs.
To make things a little trickier, trying using each verb as an action and a state – and see how the structure of the sentence changes each time.