Stative Verbs: Some Extra Thoughts (3 of 6): What is he thinking?

By | September 23, 2020


In the previous posts, I looked at the four sorts of stative verbs. ‘Stative’ means ‘about states’ or unchanging conditions. The four sorts of verbs are verbs of Senses (smell, hear, sense), Ownership (have, contain, belong), Mind (believe, trust, know), Emotion (love, hate, adore). I remember these by thinking ‘SOME verbs are stative’. But in the previous post, I mentioned that it is not just the main meaning of the verb which matters, but the way the verb is used. English often uses verbs flexibly.

Let’s look at the verb ‘think’. Isn’t this a verb about the mind? That’s the M in SOME? So, it must be stative, right? Well, yes and no. Often it is indeed stative.

I am thinking I know the answer. [incorrect]

You are thinking I’m wrong. [incorrect]

But here’s the point. The verb think can also show mental activity or movement inside the mind at a point of time, so in this sense, it is not about state at all.

I’m thinking about what to do tonight. [correct]

He’s thinking right now about how to answer the question. [correct]

Compare the following two sentences.

1 What do you think about him? [correct]

2 What are you thinking about him? [possibly correct]

The first means ‘do you like him or not?’. The second might mean that we are looking at him right now in class, and I am curious to know the thoughts which are happening in your mind.

Similarly, the verbs wonder, consider, speculate, and others, can show mental activity, and take the ‘ing’ form. But the verbs prefer or detect are stative, since they involve no mental activity.

By the way. Look at the picture at the top of this post. That chimpanzee is looking directly at you, and I wonder what is he thinking. [Maybe: “Gee, those human beings are ugly-looking things.”]

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Author: Andrew

Andrew Guilfoyle Cambridge CELTA, Cambridge DELTA, Cambridge CELTA teacher-trainer, M.Ed