State Verbs and Action Verbs

Table Of Contents:

All verbs in English are classified as either state or action verbs (also known as ‘dynamic verbs’). Action verbs describe actions we take (things we do) or things that happen. State verbs refer to the way things ‘are’ – their appearance, state of being, smell, etc. The most important difference between state and action verbs is that action verbs can be used in continuous forms while state verbs cannot.

Action Verbs

We often use verbs to talk about actions:

  • He swims at the beach every morning.
  • I cooked pasta for dinner last night.
  • She’s studying French at the moment.

We can use action verbs in different tenses, including continuous tenses:

  • He is swimming at the beach right now.
  • I was cooking pasta for dinner last night, when the phone rang.

State Verbs

We also use verbs to talk about states:

  • He needs to travel to the US.
  • I didn’t understand the homework.
  • They like basketball more than football.

We don’t usually use state verbs in continuous tenses:

  • NOTHe is needing to travel to the US.
  • I wasn’t understanding the homework.
  • They are liking basketball more than football.

We often use state verbs to talk about mental or emotional states, thoughts and opinions:

believe feelforget

Other common state verbs can denote possession and senses:


Some verbs can be both state and action verbs when they have different meanings:

  • What do you think of the decision?
  • I feel it’s a mistake.

Here we are using ‘think‘ and ‘feel’ to talk about opinions. They are state verbs so the continuous tense is not possible:

  • NOT: What are you thinking of the decision?
  • I’m feeling it’s a mistake.
  • What do you think of the decision?
  • I feel it’s a mistake.

In the following examples ‘think’ and ‘feel’ are action verbs so we can use them in a continuous tense.

  • What are you thinking about?
  • I’m thinking about our holiday.
  • How are you feeling?
  • I’m not feeling very well.

In the following example we are using ‘have’ to talk about possession. It is a state verb so the continuous tense is not possible:

  • NOT: He is having a red car.
  • He has a red car.

Here ‘has’ means ‘eats’:

  • She has breakfast at 7.30 every morning.

It is an action verb so we can use it in a continuous tense:

  • She is having breakfast now.

In this video from 7ESL, you’ll learn what state and action verbs are and how to use them:

See also:

Present Simple or Present Continuous?

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