Imagine – you’re learning English. You learn about the past continuous tense. You understand that it describes actions happening at a specific time in the past. Then you have this conversation with your English teacher:
You: I was speaking English.
Teacher: Yes! Perfect grammar! You’re amazing!
You: I was understanding the past continuous tense.
Teacher: No! Wrong!
Because of state verbs.
State verbs in English
Some verbs in English are called “state” or “stative” verbs. These verbs are not usually used in continuous tenses.
There are lots of state verbs in English, but the most common ones fall into 2 main groups:
Verbs describing feelings and opinions
- love, hate, like, dislike, prefer
Verbs describing your thinking
- believe, understand, recognise, know, remember
If you’re using these verbs, just remember that it’s usually more natural not to use them in any continuous tenses even if you normally would.
Actions happening now
- I am speaking English. (Present continuous)
- I love state verbs. (Present simple because “love” is a state verb)
Actions which continued in the past before another past action:
- I had been learning English for five years. (Past perfect continuous)
- I had known him for five years. (Past perfect simple because “know” is a state verb.)
For a complete list of state verbs, check out this list of state verbs.
Do you know someone who’s confused by state verbs? Share this post with them and make their life easier.