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Learn about State and Action Verbs


The Difference between States and Actions

You should try the lessons on present simple and present continuous before you study this lesson.

present continuous

Hopefully, you remember that present continuous can talk about temporary actions which are in progress now. So, for example, in this picture:

She is eating an apple at the moment.

However, not all verbs describe actions. For example, the verbs believe and want are inside you, you don't do them. These verbs are states not actions, so we don't usually make continuous tenses with them.

At the moment, I want some coffee.
(not "I am wanting...")

Common State VerbsExamples
adore, love, like, don't mind, dislike, hate, loathe, approve, disapprove, prefer
I like rabbits.
I loathe coffee.
have, own, possess, belong, owe
I own 3 houses.
That chair belonged to me.
be, see, hear, seem, appear, smell, feel, sound
He seems tired.
I heard a noise.
Thinking/the mind
know, understand, believe, think, agree, disagree, suppose, suspect, doubt
I know your sister.
I agree with you.
Describing things
weigh, contain, consist, measure, cost, be
My car cost a lot.
This bag weighs a lot.
want, need, fancy, desire, wish
I need a new job.
I fancy a drink.

Note 1: some verbs have more than one meaning, which can be an action or a state.

she is smelling a flower

She is smelling a flower.
(action in progress, not "she smells ...")

The flower smells lovely.
(state, not "it is smelling")

There are lots of verbs like this. Here are some more examples:

I think you are crazy!
a state: think = in my opinion

I'm thinking about my new boyfriend.
an action: think = dreaming about

I have three cars.
a state: have = possess

I'm having dinner.
an action: have dinner = eat dinner

Note 2: You can't make the present continuous with a state verb, but you can use state verbs in their -ing form when they are nouns. For example:

Having a brother is great! ✓(Having is a noun)

I am having have a brother. (am having is a verb)

States and Actions Practice