Verbs not used in continuous tenses

Study the following example:

Verbs not used in continuous tenses 1 - state verbs - stative verbs

A: What does Gary do?
B: He sings in a rock group.

Verbs not used in continuous tenses 2 - state verbs - stative verbs

A: What is Gary doing?
B: He’s singing with his band.

Action verbs, like sing, are used in simple forms (e.g. he sings) and in continuous forms (e.g he’s singing). Most verbs (e.g. sing, teach, study, talk, listen, sit, play, etc.) are verbs of action.

But some verbs do not describe actions. Look at these examples:

Verbs not used in continuous tenses 3 - state verbs - stative verbs

Gary has a motorbike.

Verbs not used in continuous tenses 4 - state verbs - stative verbs

Gary likes Mary.

Non-action verbs (also known as state or stative verbs), like have (= possess), like, know, are not usually used in continuous tenses:

  • Gary has a motorbike. (NOT Gary is having a motorbike.)
  • Gary likes Mary. (NOT Gary is liking Mary.)

Non-action verbs include:

verbs of thinking:
know forget notice
remember recognise understand
  • I know the answer. (NOT I’m knowing the answer.)
verbs of feeling:
hate like love want
  • He likes ice-cream. (NOT He’s liking ice-cream.)
other verbs:
be cost fit hear
include mean need own
matter prefer smell sound
  • These shoes cost £100. (NOT These shoes are costing £100.)

Some verbs have two meanings – one that describes an action, and one that does not:

look: He’s looking at the car. (action)
He looks (= seems) tired. (non-action)
taste: John is tasting the lasagna. (action)
The lasagna tastes nice. (non-action)
feel: She’s feeling the cloth.
I feel (= am) angry about the situation.
have: What’s she doing? ~ She’s having (= eating) lunch.
What’s wrong? ~ I have a headache.
think: Please be quiet. I’m thinking (= considering).
I think (= believe) you’re right.


Now it is time to practise what you have learned.

  • For each Practice Test, read the instructions carefully.
  • Complete the exercise and press 'Check' to get your results.
Practice Test A

Practice Test B

Practice Test C

Practice Test D

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Nigel Bailey

Nigel is a qualified Teacher of English as a Foreign Language and has been teaching in Poland since 2003. He has been teaching over the Internet since 2008 and has taught more than 1,000 students in this way.

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