Grammar: State Verbs vs. Action Verbs (Review & Exercises)

English Level: Lower-Intermediate, Intermediate

Language focus: Progressive verb tenses and state verbs.

Jump to: Exercises

Introduction: Action Verbs & State (Stative) Verbs

Most verbs are action verbs.

  • John kicked the ball.
  • Chefs cook food.
  • People speak languages.

To kick, to cook, to speak -- these are all actions that we do with our bodies and we can see the actions happen.

Some verbs, however, are not actions. They describe a condition or a state.

  • I understand you.
  • She knows the answer.
  • He has a job.

Verbs like this -- understand, know, have -- are not actions that people do. They are states (conditions), so they are called state verbs.


Okay, but why is this important?

State Verbs Are Never Used in the Progressive (Continuous) Tense

That's right.  We never say the following:

  • I'm understanding you. (wrong - I understand you.)
  • She was knowing the answer. (wrong - She knew the answer.)
  • He is having a job. (wrong - He has a job.)

We cannot use the Present Progressive (is having), Past Progressive (was having), or Future Progressive (will be having) with state verbs. Progressive tenses describe actions happening at a certain time, but because state verbs are not actions, we do not use progressive tenses with them.

What Are Some Common State Verbs?

  • agree
  • be
  • believe
  • belong
  • care (about)
  • consist
  • contain
  • depend
  • deserve
  • disagree
  • dislike
  • doubt
  • hate
  • hear
  • imagine
  • include
  • involve
  • know
  • like
  • love
  • mean
  • mind
  • need
  • owe
  • own
  • prefer
  • promise
  • realize
  • recognize
  • remember
  • seem
  • understand
  • want
  • wish

There are more, of course, but these are the most common verbs.

Special Cases: Sense Verbs

Most of the verbs for the senses - see, smell, taste, feel, look --  can be used as both a state verb and an action verb because they each have two different meanings. Let's look at some examples.

  • I feel sick. (This is a state verb that means 'I am sick / I think I am sick.' There is no action here).
  • I am feeling the top of the desk. (This is an action verb that means 'I am using my hands to touch the desk to see how it feels.' This is an action.)
  • This smells bad. (= State verb that means 'this has a bad smell '-- there is no action here.)
  • I am smelling the flower. (= Action verb that means 'I am sucking in air through my nose to get the smell of the flower.')
  • This tastes salty. (= State verb that means 'it has a salty taste.')
  • I am tasting the strawberry. (= Action verb that means 'I am using my mouth and tongue to learn how something tastes.')

Can you see the difference? It is obvious when you look at an example like The cake tastes delicious. If 'taste' were an action, that would mean that the cake (the subject of the sentence) would be tasting something! (That would be impossible!) People taste cakes (which is an action). When we say 'the cake tastes delicious', the verb taste is a state verb that describes the cake.

Another Case: The Verb 'Think'

The verb think has a state meaning and an action meaning as well. Let's look at two examples.

  • I think blue is a nice color. (State verb: I believe blue is nice / In my opinion, blue is nice.)
  • I am thinking of the answer. (Action verb: I am using my brain to try to find the answer.)

So, think is a state verb when we use it to give an opinion, but it is an action verb when we describe our brain in action.

There are a few other exceptions as well, such as idioms with the verb have. When have means to possess something, e.g. I have a pen, we can never use the verb in an ~ing (progressive form). But there are some idioms with have that are actions. For example:

  • She's having a baby. (to have a baby = to give birth)
  • I'm having a party/picnic tomorrow. (to have a party/picnic = to host a party/picnic)
  • We're having trouble. (to have trouble = to do something with difficulty)
  • I'm having fun / I'm having a good time.. (to have fun / have a good time= to enjoy yourself)

These idioms are all actions.

What About McDonald's "I'm Lovin' It?"

McDonalds loves bad grammar.

(I don't love it.)

The McDonalds slogan is grammatically wrong because 'love' is a state verb. It should be 'I love it.'

Don't speak like McDonalds.


Practice: State Verbs & Action Verb Exercises

Put the below verbs into the Present Simple or Present Progressive tense.

  1. I (know) the answer.
  2. The child (look) at the TV now.
  3. This cake (taste) delicious.
  4. My father (not/own) a car.
  5. I (wear) a blue sweater today.
  6. Jane (seem) a little angry today.
  7. People (do) yoga in the park across the street right now.
  8. Chan (think) that English is easy.
  9. Lily (love) my brother now.
  10. My sister (not/talk) on the phone at the moment.


Exercise #2: Verbs That Are Both State & Action Verbs

  1. John (not/work) now. He (look) outside the window of his office. He can see two people across the street in the park. One is a woman. She (wear) a dress. She (look) like she is 40 years old. The other is a man. He (not/have) any hair. He (seem) angry at the woman. Maybe they (fight). They (not/look) happy.
  2. There are three other people in the park. They (have) a picnic. It looks like they (have) a good time. One man (taste) a piece of chicken. The chicken (look) delicious.  The other people (not/eat). They (play) cards.


Exercise #3: More Practice with State & Action Verbs

  1. John (want) to leave his office, but he can't. He (belong) to a big company, and he (have) a lot of work to do today. He shouldn't be looking outside the window. He should (think) about his work.
  2. His responsibilities for today (include) writing a report. He (care) about his job. He (not/mind) writing a report, but he (wish) he was outside right now.
  3. John can see his boss. His boss (not/work) either. He (watch) a video on his computer. He (look) happy. He (laugh) a little. His boss often (watch) videos.



Questions? Find a Mistake? Leave a comment below.

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42 comments on “Grammar: State Verbs vs. Action Verbs (Review & Exercises)

  1. Rai Munir (Posted on 1-22-2017 at 02:34) Reply

    The best part of the lesson: DON’T SPEAK LIKE McDONALDS:-)

  2. Rai Munir (Posted on 1-22-2017 at 02:38) Reply

    If somebody is eating at McDonald’s, and his/her friend asks: “Do you love it?”
    Can it be the answer: “Yeah, I’m loving it”?

    1. mb Post author (Posted on 1-22-2017 at 11:41) Reply

      You can say that nowadays, yes. But it’s because McDonalds has changed the way we use English. Typically, ‘love’ is not an action verb; it is a feeling.

      1. Radwan (Posted on 1-21-2018 at 04:31) Reply

        So why they are still keeping the wrong name, given they know is wrong. This is absurde.

        1. risa (Posted on 2-1-2018 at 02:24) Reply

          I’m pretty sure they chose to use (and are choosing to continue to use) an incorrect form because it gets people’s attention, and that’s what advertisers want. When the first “I’m lovin’ it” ad came out, it was hard NOT to pay attention to it because the expression sounded so strange– people talked about it, laughed at it, and imitated it. Now it’s become relatively common to hear someone use “loving” in the present progressive.

    2. andy (Posted on 11-13-2019 at 02:09) Reply

      I’m lovin’ it is perfectly fine, though unusual. You’re on holiday for a week in Hawaii and you write a postcard to your mum – We’re loving it here in Hawaii – at this temporary moment. Same goes for Mac – I’m loving it – here at this temporary moment whilst in Mac – not that I love Mac generally.

      1. Anonymous (Posted on 8-23-2021 at 16:03) Reply

        Agree. Language is always changing. Why not?

      2. Miss Eillaa (Posted on 10-17-2022 at 06:30) Reply

        sweetheart thats not true, it might be accepted in the american languages but that doesnt mean it is grammaticly correct. Please before you write something confusing on this amazing clear explanation think about what you say. For my students this is enormously confusing, i hope you learn a lot on school. Goodbye and remember: I love it not Im loving it.

        1. Max (Posted on 2-7-2023 at 16:06) Reply

          There is no blanket “correct” or “incorrect” when you get down to the nitty gritty of language. Prescriptivism is dead; descriptivism is all that matters at the end of the day. However native speakers communicate is *always* correct if it is understood as such by other native speakers.

    3. Anonymous (Posted on 3-7-2021 at 17:50) Reply


    4. Michael (Posted on 4-12-2021 at 07:33) Reply

      You can actually say that. It’s grammatically correct to say, ” I am loving it”. In this sentence, “love” is not a state verb. It becomes, “enjoy”.
      I am loving it = I am enjoying it

  3. Magela Figueroa (Posted on 6-10-2018 at 14:07) Reply

    I did some mistakes but still i have some doubts.

  4. Jazin Senghtwalaung (Posted on 3-24-2019 at 23:22) Reply

    Why No.3 in Exercise 3 (His boss often WATCHES videos) is wrong ? I got the right answer,I guess. Why it shows that my answer was wrong ? Please It’s very important for my exam.

    1. mb Post author (Posted on 3-25-2019 at 03:24) Reply

      ‘watches’ is correct. I’m not sure why it was marked wrong. When I enter ‘watches’, it is correct. Sorry for the inconvenience.

  5. Anuj (Posted on 9-17-2019 at 09:59) Reply

    His boss is not working/isn’t working (not/work) either.
    In this sentence where is the action. Third person is talking about a situation.

    His responsibilities for today include (include) writing a report.
    How to judge verb will have a ‘s’ or not. Generally with his – we put ‘s’.

    1. mb Post author (Posted on 9-17-2019 at 20:49) Reply

      Hello. 1) ‘work’ is the action. You can describe actions other people do using the third person, e.g. “She is kicking the ball.” The idea is the same.

      2) ‘His responsibilities’ = they (because it’s a plural noun). Therefore, we do not use ‘s’. To review the rules of subject-verb-agreement, see this page:

  6. Jonathan Thompson (Posted on 3-24-2020 at 10:47) Reply

    This is my work for school

  7. Juan Esteban Alvizures Hernandez (Posted on 5-29-2020 at 16:59) Reply

    I would like other activities

    1. Miss Eillaa (Posted on 10-17-2022 at 06:34) Reply

      This sounds offensive to a lot of people who think this is difficult, these are one of the hardest sentences for this theory. Keep this information for yourself please. compliments to the Post Author for the helpful responses!

  8. JC (Posted on 5-29-2020 at 20:39) Reply

    Special Cases: Sense Verbs…..
    ….Can you see the difference? It is obvious when you look at an example like The cake tastes delicious. If `taste’ were an action, that would mean that the cake (the subject of the sentence) would be tasting something! (That would be impossible!) People taste cakes (which is an action). Cakes taste delicious. This is a state verb the describes the cake.

    Question: Is the word “the” a misprint in the last sentence?

    1. mb Post author (Posted on 5-30-2020 at 01:19) Reply

      Thanks JC!

  9. NONE OF UR BUISNESS (Posted on 9-14-2020 at 04:22) Reply

    This is not a gud exercise not have any explanation nd depicting right answers wrong. I HATE IT

    1. MB (Posted on 9-14-2020 at 18:43) Reply

      Which answers are wrong? If you’d explain, it would be helpful.

  10. collin finn (Posted on 11-18-2020 at 21:31) Reply

    i learned a lot from this. ialso learned a lot from my mistake and hope to do way better in the futur.

  11. Danker Schaareman (Posted on 11-28-2020 at 20:14) Reply

    Above is this paragraph: We cannot use the Present Progressive (is having), Past Progressive (was having), or Future Progressive (will be having) with state verbs. Progressive tenses describe actions happening at a certain time, but because state verbs are not actions, we do use progressive tenses with them.

    I think the last part of the paragraph should read: “but because state verbs are not actions, we do NOT use progressive tenses with them.”

    1. mb Post author (Posted on 11-28-2020 at 21:58) Reply

      Thanks! This error has persisted for a while. Good eye.

      Re: second comment: I can agree that if you look at some states as in mental processes, (especially if describing them as a doctor), you can definitely say “He is thinking / She is now remembering who she is” etc. However, this doesn’t work for all state verbs, does it? Consider ‘know’, and ‘have’. You mentioned “I am loving you”, but when could that be used other than in the sense of ‘making love to you’, which is a different phrase and meaning. When could we say “I’m having a house”? I can’t imagine it.

  12. Danker Schaareman (Posted on 11-28-2020 at 20:49) Reply

    On stative verbs: what seems to be overlooked in the strict definition of stative versus dynamic verbs are mental and emotional processes where a process is an action, is dynamic. I think at least half of the stative verbs listed above can be classified as dynamic verbs: I am loving you, Am I just imagining it, I am remembering my childhood, I am involving and including you in the decision-making process, I am hearing you, he is owing me a lot of money, I am recognizing several old faces in the photographs, I am caring for you, I am depending on his support, etc., etc. I think language usage over time will come to accept what is now still considered to be wrong.

  13. Tommy G (Posted on 4-15-2021 at 23:06) Reply

    good exercises

  14. German (Posted on 5-14-2021 at 04:04) Reply

    Really good exercises and that about Mcd… is really illustrative!!

  15. Quang (Posted on 5-21-2021 at 12:29) Reply

    Hi Danker,
    That is excellent. I like it.

  16. dina zahran (Posted on 6-26-2021 at 14:27) Reply

    It was hard but it is a good practice

  17. Roly (Posted on 9-1-2021 at 23:35) Reply

    I have a question about ( He should _ (think) ) how i complete it?

    1. mb Post author (Posted on 9-2-2021 at 14:07) Reply


  18. Yana (Posted on 10-1-2021 at 21:45) Reply

    Thank you for the great job! I’ve a question about the verb “imagine” .Is it always used as a state verb or there some cases where we can find it in progressive form. I asked about it because I once wrote it in simple tense and turned out to be wrong. But I can’t any information about using this verb. Could you please help me?

    1. mb Post author (Posted on 10-2-2021 at 08:34) Reply

      Hello. Yes, you can use ‘imagine’ in the progressive tenses. For example, “I am imagining a pig flying over the moon” is a perfectly fine sentence. If we compare the verb ‘imagine’ to another mental verb like ‘understand’, we can see that understanding is not really an action but a condition. However, imagining is like an action — we can make an effort to imagine something. Like ‘think’, ‘imagine’ can be used both in the simple tense (“I imagine that must be difficult.” <-- in this case it's is similar to 'think'') and a progressive one ('I'm imagining a pig...." <- In this case it is similar to "I'm thinking of an answer", which describes something you are actively doing in your brain). I hope this helps; I know it sounds a little confusing.

  19. Chrislad (Posted on 12-3-2021 at 03:35) Reply

    Exercise two: they are fighting is technically incorrect. It would be better written if the answer was, they have been fighting. As a consequence of this is that they are not happy.

    1. MB (Posted on 12-3-2021 at 13:16) Reply

      ‘They are fighting’ is technically correct. It describes an action happening in the present. I agree that ‘they have been fighting’ is also possible, however.

  20. Taiana (Posted on 2-27-2022 at 11:25) Reply

    well I did some mistakes but with all the comments helped me clarify my doubts.

  21. Emily Joyce (Posted on 3-21-2022 at 09:52) Reply

    I enjoyed this site because it gave me a sense of achievement and showed me where something wasn’t quite clear yet.
    The most difficult ones for me are the verbs where you have to think about whether there is a static meaning in every single case. I think you have to repeat this often so that it becomes second nature to you.
    In my eyes, this is a didactically good approach (combining theory and practical exercises) because it forces us to think about the theory.

  22. Andie (Posted on 9-20-2022 at 20:17) Reply

    “I’m loving it”. It’s the beginning of my liking it, as I didn’t like burgers before, for example.

  23. Linda Li (Posted on 11-30-2022 at 19:36) Reply

    This page is very helpful for me. Now I can distinguish the action verbs and state verbs.

  24. Khitam (Posted on 3-12-2023 at 22:12) Reply

    This page is very good and easy. Now I can do the action verbs and state verbs.

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