Action and non-action verbs

Action or Non Action Verbs?

Do you know the difference between an action verb and a non action verb?

Action Verbs

An action verb is used to describe an action that is performed, something that we DO. Action verbs can be used in simple, perfect and progressive (continuous) tenses. Most of the verbs we use are action verbs.
For example:
Action verbs: Read, Write, Talk, Work, Make, Do, Listen, Drive

Non-action Verbs

Non-action verbs are used to describe states, senses, desires, possession, emotions and opinion. Non-action verbs are not usually used in a continuous form.
For example:
Non-action verbs: Like, Hate, Prefer, Believe, Belong, Seem, Own, Feel

Non-Action Verbs, for example those listed above, are not normally used in a continuous form.
Look at these examples:

  • ‘I am liking this pizza’ (not possible)
    ‘To like’ is a state verb, not an action verb. It is not something that we do, and so it cannot be continuous. You like (or you don’t like) something. “I like this pizza” is correct.
  • ‘I am not believing you’ (not possible)
    ‘To believe’ is a state verb, not an action verb and it cannot be used in a continuous form. You believe (or you don’t believe) somebody or something. “I don’t believe you” is correct.

Verbs with both action and non-action forms

Some verbs can be used as action or non-action verbs, depending on their meaning.
For example:

To Think

‘To think’ can mean ‘to believe’ or ‘to have an opinion’. In this sense it is a non-action verb.

  • I think he is American…. >> Not: I am thinking he is American.
    What do you think about my plan?… >> Not: What are you thinking about my plan?

However, ‘to think’ can also mean ‘to consider’ and this is an action you perform. In this sense, ‘to think’ is an action verb.

  • I’m thinking about buying a new car. >> This means ‘I am considering buying a new car’ and is correct.

To Have

We often use ‘To have’ to talk about possession, and in this form it is a non-action verb. In this form, we can often use the verb ‘to possess’ instead of ‘to have’.

  • Marco has a Mercedes…or: Marco possesses a Mercedes >> Not: Marco is having a Mercedes.
    Paola and Marco have a dog (or) Paola and Marco possess a dog >> Not: Paola and Marco are having a dog.

However, ‘to have’ can also be used as a general verb (have a shower, have breakfast, have fun) and in this context it is an action verb.

  • Paola is having a cup of coffee. >> This means ‘Paola is drinking a cup of coffee’ and is correct.