Stative vs. Active Verbs

1. Stative verbs vs. active verbs

Verbs can be divided into two groups:

  • stative verbs
  • active verbs

Stative verbs are verbs that describe a state (something that is true, or not changing).
Active verbs are ‘doing’ verbs. This means the verb can be started and stopped.

Most verbs are active verbs. However, some stative verbs (e.g. be, have) are the most commonly used in the English language.

2. Stative verbs

Stative verbs describe a state or basic truth.

These are things that you cannot choose, start or stop. They are simply true.
For example: in the sentence ‘Sarah is a woman’, ‘is’ is simply true. When she wakes up each day, Sarah cannot choose, start or stop being a woman – it simply ‘is’.

Stative verbExample sentence
beI am happy.
knowShe knows him.
have (possess)I have two hands.
ownThey own the company.
likeWe like chicken.
loveKathy loves tennis.
hateWinston hates you.

Stative verbs generally do not take …ing.

I am angry.I am being angry.
She likes swimming.She is liking swimming.
We have a small apartment.We are having a small apartment.

3. Stative verb ‘…ing’ exceptions

Stative verbs do not generally take ‘…ing’.

However, ‘have’ takes ‘…ing’ when it means ‘host’, ‘perform’ or ‘experience’ (not ‘possess’).

HaveMeaning of have‘…ing’ example
have a partyhostKen is having a party on Saturday.
have a meetingperformIsabella and Wu are having a meeting right now.
have a good timeexperienceWe were having a good time until Dave came.
have an operationexperienceCharles is having an operation this afternoon.

Additionally, sometimes stative verbs use ‘…ing’ in songs or poems.
This is because the artist wants to show an emotion as an action.

I have been loving you all my life,
Why have you never loved me.
They have been hating me every day since I became famous, but I don’t care.

4. Active verbs

Active verbs are ‘doing’ verbs.

These are things that can be chosen, started and stopped.
For example, in the sentence ‘the cat chases the birds’, ‘chase’ is a choice that the cat can start and stop.

Most verbs are active.

Active verbs can take …ing.

*Note: Active verbs are sometimes called ‘dynamic verbs’ or ‘action verbs’

Verb‘…ing’ example
eatI am eating potatoes.
flyShe was flying a plane.
talkHe will be talking on the phone.
driveHugh is driving his new car.
watchByron and Miller were watching a film when the phone rang.

5. Exercises

1. Based on stative and active verbs, which of these sentences are wrong?
(i) I am knowing you for 3 years.
(ii) He is running very fast.
(iii) She is drinking whisky.
(iv) Humans are having two arms and two legs.
(v) She is having a party.

2. Make 3 sentences using stative verbs (remembering they don’t often take -ing).