Non-Action Verbs & Exceptions

When learning the present progressive (or present continuous) tense, my students would often get confused by certain verbs that remain in the simple present even with a present progressive time marker like “now” or “right now.” These non-action verbs (or stative verbs) also have many exceptions to the general rule.

Help is here! Try teaching your English language learners about non-action verbs and exceptions using the tried-and-tested method below.

Categories & Progressive Tenses

Non-action verbs are verbs that involve no movement or action. Students will remember common non-action verbs more easily if you teach them the five main types of verbs. These categories include state, possession, feelings and needs, thought, and the senses. See examples in the chart below.

Remind students that progressive tenses (be + -ing verb) usually can’t be used with non-action verbs (but see Exceptions below). This rule is especially important when students are learning the present progressive.


For intermediate-level learners and above, it is important to learn that there are many exceptions to the non-action/progressive rule because these exceptions are quite common.

A. Non-Action Verbs with Action Meanings

Many non‐action verbs have another meaning. If this second meaning is an action meaning, a progressive tense can be used.

  • My child is being a brat at the moment. (= misbehaving)
  • We are having dinner. (= eating)
  • She is having a baby. (= giving birth, delivering)
  • He is having fun. / He is having a good time. (= enjoying)
  • I am thinking of buying a new car. (= planning, deciding)
  • They are seeing a movie. (= watching)

Some non-action verbs don’t have a change in meaning, but a progressive tense can be used to emphasize a longer, continuing action.

  • My son feels sick.
  • My son is feeling sick.
  • She has wanted a new dress for ages.
  • She has been wanting a new dress for ages.
  • I love Netflix.
  • I’m loving Netflix.

B. Action Verbs with Non-Action Meanings

Some verbs that are usually action verbs can also change meaning. With the non‐action meaning, a progressive tense should not be used.

  • You are looking out the window. (action)
  • You look nervous. (non-action)
  • You are looking nervous. (non-action)
  • The children appeared at the window. (action)
  • They appear calm. (non-action)
  • They are appearing calm. (non-action)


Try our Simple Present Vs. Present Progressive lesson in the Grammar Practice Worksheets section for more practice with non-action verbs. Note that this lesson will be updated in the next few months and will soon include grammar notes and charts. Subscribers can also download and print the Non-Action Verbs & Exceptions PDF, which including a second page of exceptions.

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Leave a Comment ↓

  1. siti says:

    Apr 29, 2018 at 11:57 am

    Hi Tanya,
    I would like to ask about these two sentences.
    1) I have been knowing him – this is incorrect because we don’t use stative verb with -ing right? then why the following sentence is correct?
    2) I have been thinking about him. Isn’t think is stative verb?

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Apr 30, 2018 at 6:38 pm

      Hi Siti,

      If you look under Exceptions (A, Non-Action Verbs with Action Meanings) in the post above, you’ll see that there are some cases where non-action verbs can take the -ing form and become active verbs. Sometimes the verb has a different meaning (like having = eating) and sometimes it just emphasizes a longer action, as in your thinking example.

      You’re right that your first sentence is incorrect. We almost never use “know” as a active verb.

      Your second sentence is actually correct. We use “think” as a stative verb when we are saying our opinion (e.g., I think it’s a good decision) but as an active verb when we are planning, deciding, or thinking continuously about something/someone (e.g., I am thinking about moving to Europe).

  2. Julia says:

    Feb 16, 2018 at 5:08 am

    Why can’t we use TOUCH in Continuous…. ??? …

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Feb 20, 2018 at 3:44 pm

      Hi Julia,

      Good question. We can “touch” in the continuous tense since it is an action verb. The non-action sense verb is “feel,” not touch. Since we’ve already included “feel” in the “feelings and needs” category, I didn’t include it again in the “senses” category. I’ve changed it in the chart and in the post. Thanks for bringing it to my attention!

  3. Yousif says:

    Dec 01, 2017 at 2:13 am

    Hi teacher Tanya
    my name is yousif. From yemen
    I have a question.
    Which are correct sentences?
    1-The police is still searching for the murder weapons .
    2-The police are still searching for the murder weapons.

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Dec 04, 2017 at 4:17 pm

      Hi Yousif, #2 is correct. Collective nouns like “the police” can be tricky, but we usually think of the police as the individual police officers, so it’s best to use a plural verb.

  4. Ahmad says:

    Nov 27, 2017 at 11:26 pm

    Hello.when can we use ing with the verb understand? I heard ” are u understanding me?” In the movie Sicario.What’s the difference between “do you understand me? And are you understanding me?”

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Nov 29, 2017 at 2:59 pm

      Hi Ahmad, there’s no difference in meaning. The usage difference is that the -ing form is less common and used for emphasis.

  5. Mayyah says:

    Nov 03, 2017 at 2:33 pm

    Thanks. very useful.
    Is this sentence correct?

    We are watching a film and we are enjoying it.

    or we enjoy it.

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Nov 03, 2017 at 2:49 pm

      Hi Mayyah,

      “We are watching a film and (we are) enjoying it” is best. (You can drop the repeated “we are.”) They are both action verbs, so the -ing form sounds best to indicate the continuing action.

  6. IULIA WEIR says:

    Sep 22, 2017 at 2:06 pm

    Very useful. Thanks.

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Sep 22, 2017 at 2:10 pm

      You’re welcome! Thanks for commenting.

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