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A stative verb is one which asserts that one of it's arguments has a particular property (possibly in relation to its other arguments). Statives differ from other aspectual classes of verbs in that they are static; they have no duration and no distinguished endpoint. Verbs which are not stative are often called dynamic verbs.

Contents

Examples

Examples of sentences with stative verbs:

I am tired.
I have two children.
I like the color blue.
I think they want something to eat.
We believe in many gods...
The case contains six bottles.
This would imply that we didn't care.

In languages where the copula is a verb, it is a stative verb, as is the case in English be. Some other English stative verbs are believe, know, seem, and have. All these generally denote states rather than actions. However, it should be noted that verbs like have and be, which are usually stative, can be dynamic in certain situations. Think is stative when it means "believe", but not when it means "consider". The following are not stative:

You are being silly.
She is having a baby.
Quiet please, I am thinking.

Some languages morphologically distinguish stative and dynamic verbs, or transform one into another. Arabic, for example, can use the same verbal root to mean ride (stative) and mount (dynamic).

Propositions that are expressed in most Indo-European languages by noun qualifiers (such as adjectives) are instead expressed by stative verbs in many other languages. In Japanese, so-called i-adjectives are in fact best analyzed as intransitive stative verbs (for example, takai alone means "is high/expensive", and samukunakatta means was not cold).

Static versus dynamic

The same verb may act as stative or dynamic. An English phrase like "he plays the piano" may be either stative or dynamic, according to context.

Some languages use the same verbs for dynamic and stative situations, while other use different (if often etymologically related) verbs with some kind of qualifiers to distinguish between the usages. A stative verb is often intransitive, while a corresponding one would be transitive. Compare, for example, modern English with modern Danish.

Danish English
dynamic/transitive stative/intransitive dynamic/transitive stative/intransitive
lægge ligge lay (something down) lie/be lying
sætte sidde set (something somewhere) sit/be sitting
stille stå stand (something in an upright position) stand

Formal definitions

In some theories of formal semantics, including David Dowty's, stative verbs have a logical form which is the lambda expression

\lambda (x): \ [\operatorname{STATE} \ x]

Apart from Dowty, Z. Vendler and C. S. Smith have also written influential work on aspectual classification of verbs.

English

English grammar series
English grammar
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Dowty's analysis

Dowty gives some tests to decide whether an English verb is stative. They are as follows:

  • Statives do not occur in the progressive (the * before a sentence means that it is ungrammatical or absurd to most native English speakers):
    • John is running. (non-stative)
    • *John is knowing the answer.
  • They cannot be complements of "force":
    • I forced John to run.
    • *I forced John to know the answer.
  • They do not occur as imperatives.
    • Run!
    • *Know the answer!

(The phrase "Know thyself!" is imperative, but it uses the archaic "know" as a dynamic verb.)

  • They cannot appear in the pseudo-cleft construction:
    • What John did was run.
    • *What John did was know the answer.

See also

References


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