Verbs never used in a Continuous tense

When teaching my students the difference between the Present Simple and the Present Continuous, there’s always a moment when I need to tell them that State Verbs are never used in a Continuous tense, but what are and which are State Verbs?

The easiest way to distinguish between state (or non-progressive) verbs is to check the meaning of the verb/sentence. State verbs refer to unalterable conditions, whereas action verbs refer to processes. Compare these sentences:

  • She is tall. (Can that be changed?)
  • She plays the piano. (She can stop playing the piano and start a new process).

Among state verbs we have different subcategories:

Stative: be, seem, appear

Possession: have, belong to, own, contain

Thinking: believe, think, consider, doubt, agree, concern, imagine, impress, mean, understand

Emotions: like, love, hate, dislike, matter, mind, want, wish

Verbs that belong to these groups will never be used in a continuous tense as they cannot be used to describe a process. If you are not sure about a verb, a good tip is to ask yourself “Can I be in the middle of _______ (having a car, believing in God, loving my parents)?” If the answer is negative, then you have a state verb!

You can find several lists in the Internet but you have to be careful with these because sometimes a verb can be used as a state and an action verb because it has more than one meaning. The clearest example is “have”, which can mean “possess” or “take”. For instance,

  • I have a beautiful picture of a British landscape in the living room.
  • I have cereal and milk for breakfast.

The first example is a state verb, whereas the second is an action verb. Therefore, it can be used both in continuous and simple tenses.

Other verbs like “have” are “think”, “be” or “consider”. Can you guess their two meanings?

Let me lend you a hand:

  • I think/consider this is a good idea (I have an opinion)
  • I am thinking/considering about buying a new car (I am making a list of positive and negatvie points before maing a decision)
  • I am a shy (this is an unalterable characteristic)
  • The kid is being very spoilt today (he is behaving in a strange manner)

You can download this information in PDF format.

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