Stative Verbs

What is a stative verb?

A stative verb, also state verb, is not used in the progressive tenses, even when talking about a temporary or current situation. They express a long-term state or a quality that does not change easily. Stative verbs therefore refer to the senses, feelings and emotions, long-term states, and characteristics. Learn more about stative verbs with Lingolia’s quick and easy examples, then put your knowledge to the test in the exercises.

Example

Kathy is having a dinner party tomorrow and she wants to make sure that there is enough food. She has already baked a chocolate cake and a lemon cake so the kitchen smells fantastic. Normally everyone loves her baking, but today her chocolate cake hasn’t turned out well. She can’t understand why exactly, it just doesn’t taste right. Kathy thinks it’s always good to have several options for her guests, so she is thinking about making some biscuits too. She prefers making cheesecake, but it would take too long. She can hear the oven timer – her main course is ready, hopefully it looks better than her chocolate cake!

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How to learn stative verbs?

The best way to learn stative verbs is to learn them by heart, which can be tricky. To make it easier, we have divided the stative verbs into different categories in the table at the bottom of the page.

While you’re still learning, a handy trick for the beginning is to think of stative verbs as verbs that come from the head or from the heart. This will help you to remember some of the most common stative verbs.

From the head From the heart
be dislike
believe hate
know like
mean love
think prefer
understand want

Stative verbs and changing conventions

As a rule, stative verbs should not be used in the progressive tenses. However, conventions are changing. Like with the verbs look and feel, in spoken English many stative verbs (particularly those related to feelings) are used in the progressive forms with no change in meaning. It is common to hear sentences such as:

Examples:
I’m loving it.
I’m liking this attitude!
I’m hating my job at the moment.
They’re not understanding your point.

These sentences are, of course, grammatically incorrect, but are still frequently used by native speakers.

Stative verbs by category

In addition to the head/heart categories, we can organise the stative verbs into more groups to help with the learning process. Note: the verbs marked with * can be used in the progressive form but with a different meaning. For more on this, see the table below.

Stative verbs for qualities and states

As their name indicates, stative verbs refer to states, qualities and characteristics. These are things that are either permanent or not easily subject to change.

Examples:
The chocolate cake contains nuts.
not: The chocolate cake is containing nuts.
The baking sheet belongs to Tricia.
not: The baking sheet is belonging to Tricia.

These verbs include:

  • be*
  • belong
  • consist
  • contain
  • fit
  • have*
  • include
  • involve
  • lack
  • matter
  • measure*
  • need
  • owe
  • own
  • possess
  • weigh*

Stative verbs for feelings

Stative verbs express feelings, emotions and preferences.

Examples:
She wants to make sure that there is enough food.
She prefers making cheesecake to biscuits.

Typical stative verbs for feelings and emotions include:

  • agree/disagree
  • like/dislike
  • love/hate
  • mind
  • prefer
  • want
  • wish

Stative verbs for opinions and thoughts

We use stative verbs to express thoughts and opinions.

Examples:
She can’t understand why exactly.
Kathy thinks it is always better to have more options.

Typical stative verbs for opinions include:

  • believe
  • feel*
  • know
  • mean
  • remember
  • suppose
  • think*
  • understand

Stative verbs for the senses

Verbs related to the senses and perception are often stative.

Examples:
The kitchen smells fantastic.
It just doesn’t taste right.
Hopefully it looks better than her chocolate cake.

The stative verbs for the senses include:

  • appear
  • hear
  • look*
  • see*
  • seem
  • sound
  • smell*
  • taste*

The verbs see, taste, hear and smell are combined with the modal verb can to express a progressive meaning.

Example:
She can hear the oven timer.
can indicates that the timer is ringing at the moment of speaking.

Other stative verbs

Other common verbs that are stative include:

  • astonish
  • concern
  • depend
  • deserve
  • impress
  • please
  • promise
  • satisfy
  • surprise

Stative verbs that also have a progressive form

The stative verbs above marked with (*) can also be used in the progressive form, usually with a change of meaning. See the table below for examples.

Simple Form Progressive Form
Verb Meaning Example Meaning Example
be state/quality By nature Adam is a selfish guy. behaving/acting in an out-of-character manner Why are you being so selfish?
have possession The house has a big kitchen. particular expressions

I’m having a great time.

Kathy is having a dinner party tomorrow.

feel* physical/mental condition I feel better. physical/mental condition I’m feeling better.
opinion (feel that) I felt that the meeting was successful.
look* current appearance You look good today. current appearance You’re looking good today.
measure size The garden measures around 300 square metres. action I’m measuring the distance from the kitchen to the door.
see sight I can see the stars. romantic relationship We’ve been seeing each other for a few months.
understand I see your point of view. have an appointment in the future I’m seeing a friend after work.
smell sense The cake smells fantastic. action I’m smelling the roses while I can.
taste sense The cake tastes fantastic. action of trying food/drink Today we are tasting some wines for the wedding.
think believe Kathy thinks it’s always good to have options. action (think about) She is thinking about making some biscuits.
weigh how heavy The baby weighs eight pounds. action She is weighing the flour for the cake.

Stative verbs in other structures

Remember, stative verbs can be used in the -ing form in other grammatical structures such as after a preposition or as a gerund at the beginning of a sentence.

Examples:
He’s good at seeming innocent, but actually he’s horrible.
Knowing him as I do, I don’t think he will stay here.