What the heck is a stative verb? I’m loving it!

Fast food: A burger and some fries

Languages constantly change. Every year new words make it into the dictionary and sometimes there are even changes that are more significant than just the addition of a few new words.

When I went to school, I learned that not every verb can take an –ing at the end; they don’t appear in the continuous form. I was taught that words that are connected to thinking that are stative verbs. These verbs are not dynamic. That means the following struck-through sentences are technically wrong:

I’m liking this film.
They’re hating this sentence.
She was promising to take me out.
I’m guessing you’re right.
This is appearing to be wrong.
I’m loving it!

Even though all of these sentences are technically wrong, some of them sound more “okay” than others. Especially because the last example has been adopted as the campaign phrase by a well-established fast-food chain, one could assume that the sentence is correct.

As mentioned above, verbs which cannot be used in the continuous forms are called stative verbs => they typically describe a state which is something does not easily change. Here are a few examples of stative verbs:

  • like
  • love
  • hate
  • remember
  • think
  • guess

The states they describe are often related to thoughts and opinions or emotions and feelings. However, the great majority of verbs is not stative but dynamic. That means they can be used both in the simple, and the progressive form. They typically describe actions. The difference between a stative verb and a dynamic verb can be understood more easily by looking at this example:

She loves the rain. → In this sentence the stative verb love expresses the state the subject is in regarding the rain. This state is something that doesn’t generally change.
She is listening to the rain. → In this sentence the dynamic verb listen expresses the action the subject performs. This action is subject to change. The person might easily do something else.

But what about instances in which stative verbs are used in a dynamic way? There has been an interesting development which leads to strange sentences like:

  • “I’m loving this so much”
  • “I was hoping I’d find you here”
  • A: “What do you want to eat? | B: ”I’m thinking sandwiches?”

These sentences contain stative verbs which are used in a dynamic way. Since language keeps changing due to the way it is used by its speakers, it is possible that some of the stative verbs can sometimes be used in this way. If you’re unsure what to do, it would be recommended to stick to the rules and to use stative verbs without a continuous form:

  • “I love this so much”
  • “I hoped to find you here”
  • A: “What do you want to eat?” | B: “I think I’d like to have sandwiches?”