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Stative & Dynamic Verbs‏‎ in English

Stative woman vs Dynamic train

We can group verbs in different ways. One method is to divide them into Stative Verbs and Dynamic Verbs.

Briefly, verbs which refer to a static or unchanging state or condition are called stative and verbs which talk about a moving or changeable condition are known as dynamic (or sometimes Action Verbs).

A couple of examples help explain this difference:

I’m eating just a single piece of toast for breakfast today!

He was running for the bus.

In both these examples above there’s action; these are dynamic verbs. Typical dynamic verbs include:

eat, watch, drink, grow, run, swing, talk, wash…

However, the following verbs describe the state (situation) of something:

I want a cup of tea.

She prefers Mozart to Haydn.

These stative verbs talk about a situation which does not change – or at least it doesn’t change often or soon. Typical stative verbs include:

hate, love, seem, have, sound, doubt, prefer, understand, deserve, lack,

The Importance of Stative Verbs

Looking at it as a simple way to divide verbs into two groups does not seem to make stative/dynamic verbs very useful.

However, it can be important when it comes to grammar. One of the main characteristics of stative verbs is that they cannot normally be used in the continuous forms.

She prefers Mozart.

* She is preferring Mozart.

* an asterisk at the beginning means what follows is ungrammatical

Because we’re talking about a state or situation, we can’t use the continuous (aka progressive) form; that is reserved for temporary sittuations.

On the other hand, dynamic verbs can easily be continuous:

He was running for the bus.

He ran for the bus.

Types of Stative Verbs

Meanwhile, stative verbs can be sub-divided into 2 groups:

  • perception verbs, which describe a state of the mind, a subjective perception (believe, hate, wish, etc) and
  • relation verbs, which describe the relationships between things (own, measure, include, etc).

Stative and Dynamic

Just to make things a little more complicated, some verbs like, be, see have, taste, see, think, smell can be both stative and dynamic.

They tend to have different meanings when they are used as stative or dynamic. For example, be can be used as a stative verb where it describes someone or something:

I am sarcastic

But when it’s used as a dynamic verb, it means something like behave as and it may not be a trait or may not describe the usual situation:

I am being sarcastic.

Likewise, see is usually a stative verb meaning to have sight and also to understand:

I see what you mean now that you have explained it better.

I cannot see anything. It’s too dark!

But see used as a dynamic verb means to meet or to have a relationship with:

Tom has been seeing Jane for over two years now. I think he will propose to her soon.

The Director can see you tomorrow at 4pm.

Finally have as a stative verb means to own:

I have an old car.

But have becomes a dynamic verb when used in expressions like:

I’m having a party / a picnic / a bath / a good time / a break

Stative & Dynamic Verbs and TEFL

But what does all this mean for you and your TEFL class?

The bottom line is that it’s not normally necessary to bring up stative and dynamic verbs with your class. You can deal with each verb as it arises, discuss the meaning and how it’s used and leave it at that.

The only usual problem is when EFL learners use a stative verb dynamically which can happen quite a lot:

Teacher: Do you speak any foreign language?
Student: * I am speaking English, Polish and also I am speaking some Russian.

* They are wanting to play football now.

* I am knowing the answer to this question!

Rather than talk to the class and try and decide whether these verbs are stative or dynamic, it’s usually easier to look at the situation and decide whether it’s a temporary or permanent situation and therefore whether it should be a simple verb form or a continuous verb form.

Useful Links

Simple or Continuous Verb Form?‏‎ – which should you use?

Image © Loïc Lagarde – a static woman and a dynamic train

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