Here’s a grammar question for you: is it ever OK to use state verbs in the continuous form? Dan shows us when it is possible in this bite-sized video. For the transcript, a quiz and grammar notes, visit our website:
Hi Guys! Angelic Dan for BBC Learning English here. This week we’re going to be looking at state verbs. Now, there are some verbs in English which talk about states, not actions. These are called ‘state verbs’ and the rules of English say that we can never ever use these verbs continuously. And we don’t break the rules of English do we? Cos we’re good people aren’t we? Yes!
Examples of state verbs are words like: be and love and want. They usually concern feelings or possession or sensory information. Oooh – a magic potion. UGH! Lies! You can make state verbs continuous. You just have to be bad enough to bend the rules a little.
So, many so-called state verbs have two different forms – a state one and a dynamic one. Using the verb in one form or another changes its meaning. Consider: “I have a car” or “I’m having a shower”. This is very apparent with the verb be which in the continuous form means ‘temporarily acting’. For example, “Mike’s usually so energetic: why’s he being so lazy?”
We can also use the present continuous and an adverb such as always, forever and constantly to show irritation for a repeated habit that annoys us. “I’m forever understanding things too late to do anything.” Or, “I know I quit, but I’m constantly wanting a cigarette.”
We often make state verbs continuous for the purposes of being tentative and polite. In this way, we can make awkward questions less direct without accidentally offending the other person. This is very common in the past continuous and the future continuous. Compare: “Sorry to interrupt. I want to borrow the car.” Or, “Sorry to interrupt. I was wanting to borrow the car.” Or, “I’m going into town – I need some money.” Or, “I’m going into town – I’ll be needing some money, so errr…”
Sometimes we deliberately use a state verb in the continuous form to emphasise a strong feeling at the moment of speaking. A certain fast food chain, which you all know about, uses this as its marketing slogan. For example, “I went to a party last night and I was loving it!” Or, “I don’t care how long the chef took to cook it. I’m not accepting that.”
Finally, never forget that there are idioms and set phrases which use state verbs in the continuous form. For example, “I just don’t know what to do about this situation; it’s really weighing on my mind.” Or, “I’ve been seeing my partner for over six months, self-five!”
One last thing guys. We use these forms occasionally. Don’t go crazy with them, just understand that while in most cases state verbs stay in the simple form, you can break a rule or two, now and then. If you want.
Did you get it? I don’t care if you got it. I’m getting a drink.