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Verbs not used in the continuous form

Posted by Manjusha. You are here: Home --> English grammar --> Verbs not used in the continuous form

A verb can denote a state or an action. Actions can be perceived with one or more of the five senses. Examples are: run, jump, skip, dance, eat, drink, work etc. Of course, there are some exceptions. Some actions cannot be perceived that easily. Examples are: decide and relax. Still they are actions because they involve doing something.

Verbs that refer to actions can be expressed in all tenses, including the continuous.

Study the examples given below.

Some verbs, on the other hand, refer to states. In grammars, these are called stative verbs. The problem with states is that you cannot perceive them directly. Stative verbs usually refer to our emotions, beliefs, ideas, reactions etc.

Stative verbs are not usually used in the continuous tenses.

Common stative or non-continuous verbs in English

Stative verbs are very common. In fact, some of the most common verbs in English refer to states, so review them carefully.

Here is a list of the most common stative verbs in English. These verbs are not usually used in the continuous form.

Verbs referring to mental and emotional states

Believe, doubt, feel, imagine, know, dislike, love, hate, prefer, realise, recognise, remember, see, suppose, think, understand, want, wish

Verbs referring to the uses of the senses

Appear, hear, look, see, seem, smell, taste

Communicating and causing reactions

Agree, deny, impress, please, satisfy, astonish, disagree, mean, promise, surprise

Other verbs

Be, belong, concern, consist, contain, depend, deserve, fit, include, involve, lack, matter, measure, need, owe, own, possess, weigh

This rule can be quite confusing for ESL students because even native speakers break them often. What’s more, some of these verbs have multiple meanings and continuous forms are possible with some of these meanings.

For example, the verbs smell, taste and sound are stative when they describe the condition of the subject. They are actions when they refer to what the subject does.

  • The fish tasted awful. (NOT The fish was tasting awful.)

Here the verb tasted describes a condition of the subject. The fish wasn’t good.

  • I was tasting the soup.

Here the continuous form is possible because we are talking about something that the subject does.

  • The flowers smell wonderful. (NOT The flowers are smelling wonderful.)

The continuous form is not possible in this case because we are talking about a condition or state of the subject.

  • She was smelling the flowers.

The continuous forms are possible in this case because we are talking about something that the subject does.

Some stative verbs are never used in the continuous form.

Study the examples given below.

  • I believe that a good education is essential for success in life. (NOT I am believing that a good education…)
  • I love my parents. (NOT I am loving my parents.)
  • I think that the new airport is a bad idea because of its adverse impact on the environment. (NOT I am thinking that …)
  • I support free education because many poor students need help. (NOT I support free education because many poor students are needing help.)

Notes

When think means have an opinion, it is not used in the continuous form.

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  • Differences between simple past and present perfect tense
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