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The gentleman sitting next to me on my last flight said very irritably to the stewardess, “I am not liking this coffee. Are you having any tea please?” I choked on my coffee, looked at him and then continued reading my in-flight magazine with its own share of completely wrong English. But then, perhaps I shouldn’t have reacted that way, the look and all, because this whole “I am liking” and “I am not liking” thing is fairly common if you have noticed. But you know, it’s one thing to play around with words on Facebook, and quite another to not know the correct usage. And forgive me for saying this, only when you know the correct usage do you get the scope to play around with the language.

So anyway, why is it wrong to say “I am liking the scarf you are wearing?” It’s because of the stative verb. By definition, a stative verb is used primarily to describe a state or a situation, as opposed to a dynamic verb that describes an action or process. A stative verb, therefore, denotes a state of being, not an action. Examples of stative verbs are: like, know, belong, love, hate, have, imagine, understand etc. For a complete list of stative verbs, see this website.

Now, having defined stative verbs, we need to understand that they do not take the progressive aspect (continuous form) or the imperative form. Stative verbs will typically mean the following groups of verbs:

1. Possession (I have black hair, and not I am having black hair)
2. Emotion (I love you, and not I am loving you)
3. Thought (I know her, and not I am knowing her)
4. Senses (The coffee tastes bitter, and not The coffee is tasting bitter)

Using the present continuous tense with a stative verb is wrong because:

  • the present continuous or present progressive is used for an action that is happening at the moment of speaking, or an action that is in progress in the present period of time
  • stative verbs do not indicate a definite time duration. The states expressed are unchanging while they last and you cannot ask How long have/has…with them. For example, you can’t really ask “How long have you hated the coffee?” or “How long have you had black hair?” with these verbs.

But in practice, it’s a little difficult to explain when a verb is stative and when it can be dynamic because certain verbs do overlap. For example, if we consider the verb “Have”, we may say “I have black hair” in stative usage, as well as “I am having dinner” in dynamic usage. So I think more than the rulebook definition of stative and dynamic verbs, it is easier to keep in mind the usage and meaning of stative and dynamic. To say “I am liking this job” may be wrong, but asking “How are you liking the new job” is fine. The distinction is especially fuzzy in IndE (Indian English) where using the present progressive with a stative verb is actually commonplace, and you know how the language works…if too many people say it, it begins to sound right. So there. Close that tab with the list of stative verbs after your first look at it, and then go with what you think is right. Just, think right, ok?

Knowing and Understanding the English Language was never easy, but we do know and understand it somewhat now, don’t you agree?