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.

– Written by Matthew Barton (copyright) / Creator of

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43 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?

    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. Perfect (Posted on 10-12-2017 at 06:46) Reply


  4. Luz (Posted on 3-25-2018 at 03:07) Reply

    Good practice

  5. Mor (Posted on 5-8-2018 at 16:08) Reply

    I love ❤️ It

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

    I did some mistakes but still i have some doubts.

  7. 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.

  8. Ohnmar (Posted on 7-13-2019 at 23:25) Reply

    Thanks so much for your exercises .

  9. 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:

  10. CARLOS OROZCO (Posted on 10-5-2019 at 09:30) Reply

    Muy Buena actividad

  11. Anonymous (Posted on 10-6-2019 at 20:20) Reply

    Check the answers please

    1. mb Post author (Posted on 10-6-2019 at 21:57) Reply

      Click on ‘Check Answers’ to check the answers.

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

    This is my work for school

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

    I would like other activities

    1. Anonymous (Posted on 10-25-2020 at 04:36) Reply

      it was easy

  14. 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!

  15. R.SHASI KUMAR (Posted on 7-9-2020 at 00:11) Reply


  16. 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. A (Posted on 9-14-2020 at 04:23) Reply

      Ya right

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

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

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. Fatima (Posted on 3-2-2021 at 20:14) Reply

    Good exercises. I liked them.

  21. Wookyoung Jeon (Posted on 4-3-2021 at 15:50) Reply

    it’s good for me thank you

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

    good exercises

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

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

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

    Hi Danker,
    That is excellent. I like it.

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

    It was hard but it is a good practice

  26. 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


  27. Ayesha (Posted on 9-12-2021 at 14:50) Reply

    It was a very helpful exercise.

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