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What Is a Stative Verb?

By Angie Bates
Updated May 17, 2024
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A stative verb is a type of verb that does not change its state, or in other words, is static. One of two classifications for verbs in English, stative verbs are not usually action verbs and cannot be changed to the progressive tense. They are the opposite of dynamic verbs which can change their states and often describe actions which have beginnings, middles, and ends.

Either indicating an aspect of perception or of relation, stative verbs are static in their action. For example, in the phrase "I love cake," the word "love" is a stative verb. The action of loving cake is not an action with a beginning and end, it is an emotion that exist without a time frame. On the other hand, "I am eating cake" has a clear beginning, middle, and end. The action of eating begins and is completed in a set frame of time.

When not used as helping verbs, "to be" and "to have" are stative verbs. "I am female," for example, is a clear example of an unchanging circumstance. Stative verbs do not need to be so lifelong, however. "I own a car" is again a static statement because the process of owning a car is unchanging. A person owns a car until they do not own it.

Alternatively, "to buy" is a dynamic verb because it indicates a changing process. "I will buy a car," for example, indicates a change in situation, an action that is completed once performed. A person can perform the act of buying, he or she cannot perform the act of owning.

Helping verbs, which are forms of "to be" or "to have" that do not participate in the action of the sentence, are not stative verbs. Instead, they are part of a verb phrase. For example, in the sentence "I am cooking dinner," the word "am" serves as a helping or linking verb, connecting the subject "I" to the main verb "cooking." Since in this case "am" is not a verb that can stand on its own and it connects a subject to a dynamic verb, it cannot be considered a stative verb.

Another attribute of a stative verb is that it cannot be forced. A dynamic verb may be used in conjunction with the verb to force a logical result. For example, "I forced her to clean the kitchen," makes logical sense, but the sentence, "I forced her to know the answer," does not. One can force someone to complete an action but one cannot force someone to have knowledge.

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Discussion Comments

By Perdido — On Jul 25, 2012

I have noticed that stative verbs are used a lot in poetry and romantic prose. I wrote a lot of poetry when I was going through hard times in relationships, and I used a lot of them.

Verbs like “yearning,” “needing,” “wanting,” and “promising” are all examples of romantic stative verbs. Since poetry often deals with concepts of the heart and mind rather than actual physical things or actions, it ends up containing plenty of these verbs.

I didn't even know what a stative verb was while I was writing all of my works. I learned later on, and as I read back over my stuff, I was surprised at the amount of these verbs I had utilized.

By StarJo — On Jul 25, 2012

@giddion - I still remember learning about stative verbs in high school. We had to memorize a list of stative verbs, and since I have a photographic memory, several of them have stuck with me through the years.

I think it helps to remember that stative verbs indicate a state of simply being or existing. They are not words that indicate activities.

Some that I remember are “to adore,” “to appear,” “to wish,” “to feel,” and “to seem.” There are many, many more, and you can find a list online if you want to increase your stative verb vocabulary.

By giddion — On Jul 25, 2012

This is an interesting categorization of verbs. It seems a bit tricky to determine which ones fit into it, though.

I see that sometimes, it depends on the context of the sentence. That could really throw things off for people like me who have to really think hard about grammar in order to grasp it.

Does anyone know any more examples of stative verbs? I think I might be able to understand them further if I had some sort of stative verbs list. I will be starting college next year, and I would like to increase my knowledge of grammar before I have to start writing essays and sounding like an expert!

By Kristee — On Jul 24, 2012

I have always been pretty good at grammar, but I have never heard of a stative verb. Maybe that's because I started home schooling after tenth grade, and my textbooks then covered only literature and not sentence structure.

The concept is easy to understand, though. Stative verbs are stationary. That would be a good way to remember the term.

Verbs like “love,” “am,” and “own” always have seemed like they should have their own category. They just don't operate the way that regular verbs do. It's nice to finally know where they belong.

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