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Form, meaning and use
Action verbs describe things we do or things that happen.
Ted is playing football.
The sun rose at six this morning.
We use state verbs to talk about attitudes, thoughts, senses or belonging. Sometimes, state verbs can also describe actions. Most state verbs are not used in the continuous (-ing) form.
The children love ice cream.
I believe in angels.
Action verbs can be used in all tenses. State verbs can not be used in continuous forms.
The new baby weighed 3 kg.
NOT: The new baby was weighing 3 kg.
Maria has a piano.
NOT: Maria is having a piano.
My father likes cream in his coffee.
NOT: My father is liking cream in his coffee.
Ms. Thomas owns three small dogs and a cat.
NOT: Ms. Thomas is owning three small dogs and a cat.
Mr. Thomas belongs to a football club.
NOT: Mr. Thomas is belonging to a football club.
Here are some common state verbs:
Verbs with two meanings
Some state verbs can be used in the continuous form to talk about a temporary action or an action happening in the present. However, some state verbs can be used as action verbs in the present continuous form with a change of meaning. Here are some examples:
Bernard looks healthy. (his appearance now)
I was looking out the window at the rain. (watching the rain)
Does Maria have a piano? (own)
They are having lunch with their mother today. (eating)
I don’t hear the music playing. (hear with my ears)
Our manager will be hearing our presentation today. (will be listening to)
Lola feels that we were rude. (thinks)
How has your father been feeling? (how is his health)
That perfume smells good. (has a good scent)
The boy is smelling the flowers. (sniffing at)
The new baby weighs 3 kg. (her weight is 3 kg)
The woman is weighing the apples. (measuring their weight)
They are good writers. (it’s a fact)
Bob is being crazy. (behaving in a crazy way)
What do you see on the wall? (notice with your eyes)
They are seeing their cousins tomorrow. (will visit)
In very informal English, the continuous form is sometimes used with state verbs. An example is the restaurant advertisement that says, ‘I’m loving it!’ You might also hear someone say, ‘I’m hating this movie.’ The -ing form of the verbs in these examples have a sense of being temporary.
(Right now) I’m hating this movie.
(General opinion) I like the move I saw last week.