GRAMMAR: Verbs with Stative Meanings (1)

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GRAMMAR: Verbs with Stative Meanings (1)

Some English verbs describe states that cannot be described using the progressive verb tenses. These verbs are said to have stative meanings and are often called stative verbs. It is important to be aware, however, that there are some verbs with stative meanings that can be used in the progressive verb tenses because they also have non-stative meanings or uses.

COMMON STATIVE VERBS

The verbs in the list below usually have stative meanings and are almost never used in the progressive verb tenses. agree amaze appreciate astonish believe belong concern consist contain depend desire disagree dislike doubt envy equal exist fear hate hear know like love matter need owe own please possess prefer realize recognize remember resemble seem sound suppose surprise understand want

COMMON VERBS WITH BOTH STATIVE AND NON-STATIVE MEANINGS OR USES

BE and HAVE

The verbs

BE

and

HAVE

almost always have stative meanings. Nevertheless, they do have some common non-stative uses.

The verb

BE

is always stative when it refers to existing states

:

David

is

a family physician.

It

was

cold in the fall that year.

However, sometimes the construction

BE

+ an

adjective is used in the present progressive and the past progressive tenses to describe temporary ongoing behaviour:

He

is

just

being

polite.

Pierre

was being

very careful.

In addition, the verb

BE

can be used in the present progressive and in the past progressive in passive voice constructions:

Cathy

is being

treated for cancer.

They

were being

followed by a detective.

The verb

HAVE

is always stative when it expressions possession:

Mary

has

a new car.

Bill’s grandfather

had

an enormous house in London.

However, the verb

HAVE

can be used in the progressive tenses when it means

eat

or

drink

:

While we

were having

lunch, the phone rang.

He

is having

a beer with his friend George.

In addition, the verb

HAVE

can be used in the progressive tenses in expressions like

have a good time

,

have fun

,

have a hard time

, and

have difficulty

:

Are

you

having

a good time?

She

was having

difficulty making ends meet.

_________________________________________________________________

© WILLIAM L. MILNES – Enseignement de l’anglais – 2007

GRAMMAR: Verbs with Stative Meanings (2)

COMMON VERBS WITH BOTH STATIVE AND NON-STATIVE MEANINGS OR USES

When the verbs

SMELL, TASTE, WEIGH, and FEEL

SMELL

,

TASTE

,

WEIGH

, and

FEEL

are used intransitively to describe something, they almost always have stative meanings. When they are used transitively to describe actions performed to ascertain the state of something, they have non-stative meanings and can be used in the progressive verb tenses. Note, however, that the verb

FEEL

has more than one stative and non-stative meaning and use.

The verb

SMELL

always has a stative meaning when it is used intransitively:

The bouquet of roses

smells

lovely.

That man on the subway

smelled

like a brewery.

The verb

SMELL

can be used transitively in the progressive tenses:

Mother

is smelling

the roses that we gave her.

The dog

was smelling

the telephone pole.

The verb

TASTE

always has a stative meaning when it is used intransitively:

This cheese

tastes

awful.

The spaghetti sauce

tasted

too salty.

The verb

TASTE

can be used transitively in the progressive tenses:

While Sue

was tasting

the wine, the waiter smiled.

George

is tasting

the soup.

The verb

WEIGH

is always stative when it is used intransitively:

Peter

weighs

about 180 lbs.

His laptop computer

weighed

very little.

The verb

WEIGH

can be used transitively in the progressive tenses:

The butcher

is weighing

the steak on his scale.

The witness

is weighing

his words very carefully.

The verb

FEEL

always has a stative meaning when it is used intransitively with a nonhuman subject:

This material

feels

very soft.

After the operation, his arm

felt

sore for several weeks.

However, the verb

FEEL

can be used intransitively in the progressive tenses with a human subject:

Sheila

is feeling

sick today.

He

has been feeling

depressed for weeks.

The verb

FEEL

can be used transitively in the progressive tenses:

She

is feeling

the sleeve of the jacket to see if it is made of wool.

The little girl

was feeling

the kitten’s fur

Finally, the verb

FEEL

always has a stative meaning when it is used as a synonym of the verb

think

or the verb

believe

:

I

feel

that the department is spending too much money.

Susan

feels

that we have not given enough attention to this issue.

_________________________________________________________________

© WILLIAM L. MILNES – Enseignement de l’anglais – 2007

GRAMMAR: Verbs with Stative Meanings (3)

COMMON VERBS WITH BOTH STATIVE AND NON-STATIVE MEANINGS OR USES

SEE

Unlike the verbs

SMELL

,

TASTE

,

WEIGH

, and

FEEL

, the verb

SEE

cannot be used in the progressive verb tenses to describe the action of ascertaining the state of something. As a verb of perception, it is always stative. Nevertheless, it does have two very common non-stative meanings that are not specifically related to visual perception, and it can be used in the progressive verb tenses with these meanings.

The verb

SEE

always has a stative meaning when it is used to describe or express visual perception:

When she

sees

the stain on the carpet, she will be angry.

I looked out the window and

saw

a sailboat on the lake.

However, the verb

SEE

can be used in the progressive tenses when it means

meet with someone

:

Doctor Smith

is seeing

a patient and cannot come to the phone.

I

will be seeing

her tomorrow morning.

The verb

SEE

can also be used in the progressive verb tenses when it means

date someone

:

Susan

is seeing

George now.

They

have been seeing

each other for over a month.

COMMON VERBS WITH BOTH STATIVE AND NON-STATIVE MEANINGS OR USES

APPEAR and LOOK

The verbs

APPEAR

and

LOOK

always have a stative meaning when they are used to describe how someone or something

seems to be

. However, both verbs can have a non-stative meaning that has nothing to do with

seeming to be

, and they can be used in the progressive verb tenses with this meaning.

The verb

APPEAR

is always stative when it means

seem

:

The teacher

appears

ill.

It

appears

that we were wrong.

The verb

APPEAR

can be used in the progressive tenses when it means

participate in a public performance or show

:

His sister

will be appearing

in a play on Broadway.

My favourite actor

is appearing

in a new movie.

The verb

LOOK

is always stative when it is used intransitively to mean

appear

or

seem

:

It

looks

cold outside.

His sister

looked

beautiful when I saw her at the dance.

The verb

LOOK

is often used in the progressive tenses as the root verb in a phrasal verb:

I

am looking for

my keys. Have you seen them?

She

has been looking out

the window for hours.

_________________________________________________________________

© WILLIAM L. MILNES – Enseignement de l’anglais – 2007

GRAMMAR: Verbs with Stative Meanings (4)

COMMON VERBS WITH BOTH STATIVE AND NON-STATIVE MEANINGS OR USES

MEAN and THINK

Like most verbs that describe mental or intellectual states (verbs such as

BELIEVE

,

KNOW

, and

UNDERSTAND

), the verbs

MEAN

and

THINK

are almost always stative. However, unlike most other verbs that describe mental or intellectual states, the verbs

MEAN

and

THINK

have non-stative meanings, and they can be used in the progressive verb tenses with these meanings.

The verb

MEAN

is always stative when it is a synonym for

signify

or

imply

:

The word "

horloge

"

means

"

clock

" in French.

What

do

you

mean

by that?

However, the verb

MEAN

is sometimes used in the progressive tenses to describe unrealized intentions:

I

have been meaning

to call you for weeks.

They

were meaning

to paint the bathroom, but they did not have enough time.

The verb

THINK

is always stative when it is used to introduce an opinion or a prediction:

He

thinks

that the Montreal Canadians will win tonight.

I

think

that it will rain tomorrow.

However, the verb

THINK

can be used in the progressive tenses to describe the act of thinking about something:

He

is thinking

about the meeting at noon.

She

had been thinking

about the problem all day.

_________________________________________________________________

© WILLIAM L. MILNES – Enseignement de l’anglais – 2007

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