Stative (Non-action) Verbs that break normal rules in English

Several weeks ago, CISL published a Grammar Lesson of the Month about Stative and Dynamic Verbs. Many students know these types of verbs as Action and Non-Action verbs.

To quickly review, Action Verbs are verbs that show action (like the name suggests). Examples include:










Non-action verbs (also called Stative verbs) are verbs about conditions or states, like:









The main rule to remember with Action and Non-Action verbs is that we cannot use Non-Action verbs with the Progressive (-ing) tenses. For example:

I have a car. (NOT “I am having a car.”)

You seem tired. (NOT “You are seeming tired.”)

She looks pretty. (NOT “She is looking pretty.”)

This is a general rule that all students learn. However, like many other rules in English, there are times when we break them! There are times when it is OK to use Non-Action verbs with the Progressive tenses, but when we do, the meaning of the sentence can change. Look at how we break the rules with the following verbs, all of which are normally Non-Action.

1. “See” vs. “Seeing”

“See” is a Non-Action verbs that usually means ” to see with your eyes.” Sentences like “I see her sitting on the park bench”, “I see a dog”, or “I see a large airplane” are all examples of how we normally use “see”. We do not say “I am seeing her sitting on a park bench”, or “I am seeing a dog”.

Because “see” is a Non-Action verb, we normally cannot use it with “-ing”. However, we CAN say “I am seeing her.” What does this sentence mean? It means that you are dating the girl!

“I see her”. (I can see her with my eyes.)

“I am seeing her.” (We are dating.)


2. “Think” vs. “Thinking” 

“Think” usually means “to have an opinion.”

“I think I like her.”

“I think the purple shirt looks best on you.”

“I think I will take the yellow dress.”

However, “think” can also mean “I have been thinking about something recently.” For example:

“I am thinking about moving to London.”

“I am thinking about buying a new car.”

“I am thinking about changing jobs.”


3. “Have” vs. “Having”

Have is a strange Non-Action verb: depending on what you put after it, it is OK for you to use it in the Progressive.

“I am having a good time.”

“We are having lunch tomorrow.”

“I am having a party this weekend.”

“She is having a difficult time with her new job.”

“The couple is having a baby.”


Memorizing the meanings of the Progressive and Simple Present expressions that can be used with “having” (and practicing the phrases often) is the only way to learn how to properly use “have” and “having”, so let’s practice!

1. They (started seeing/saw) each other after their first date.

2. I (have/am having) a party on Saturday. Would you like to come?

3. I (think/am thinking) about getting another dog. What do you think?

4. My girlfriend (thinks/is thinking) that horror movies are too scary. How do I convince her to see the new horror movie with me?

5. (Do you see/Are you seeing) that huge dog?!?