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Concourse 2

Stative and Dynamic verb uses: the essentials


The distinction

There is a fundamental and important distinction in English between stative and dynamic uses of verbs.  In many texts, you will see them referred to as 'dynamic' or 'action' verbs or 'state' or 'event' verbs.  This is misleading because it is not the verb itself that is stative or dynamic, it's the use to which it is put.

Look at these examples and try to identify which verbs describe an action and which describe a state.
Click here for comments when you have done that.

  1. He's being stupid.
  2. He's angry.
  3. He's reading Tom Sawyer.
  4. It astonishes me.
  5. It belongs to John.
  1. He's growing up.
  2. My foot hurts.
  3. The train arrived on time.
  4. He tapped me on the shoulder.
  5. I love pizza.

The distinction between stative and dynamic uses is explicable by looking at aspect across languages.  Aspect refers to the way the speaker perceives an event or state in relation to time.  Is it continuous, ongoing, finished etc.?
For example, in many languages there is only one verb for recognise and know.  The distinction between the meanings will often be made by reference to the aspect of the verb: the perfective (finished action) form for the sense of I knew him at once and the imperfective (unfinished state) for the sense of I was acquainted with him.
It is also possible to explain the difference between It costs a lot (continuous, steady-state) and It is costing a lot (progressive action) with reference to aspects of the verb.

Related guides
tense and aspect for more on the differences
verbs index for the links to related areas
tense and aspect for the essential guide to two related concepts
what verbs do for a run-down of the functions of verbs