What makes a verb stative in English?

I am not looking for various stativity tests, as these do not guarantee the verb really is stative. For example, no stativity test I have come across can account for the following data:

(1) This table is missing a leg.

(2) Look at this mess! You're wasting space.

(3) This shelf is taking up too much space.

(4) The problem is waiting for a solution.

(5) The smartphone is lying on the table.

What linguistic theory explains these discrepancies and provides a clear-cut distinction between dynamic, stative and mixed verbs in English?

1 Answer 1


With English verbs the notion of lexical aspect is only useful up to a point.

It's a handy device for explaining things like why some verbs are rarely cast in the progressive construction, or why some verbs imply temporal embedding while others imply temporal envelopment.

But the awkward fact is that many verbs have evolved senses which recategorize their 'core' lexical aspects, and in theory any verb may do so. BE, for instance, is a paradigmatic stative verb, yet it may be cast in the progressive with the sense "behave like": John is being a jerk about this.

So the answer is that there is no "clear-cut distinction between dynamic, stative and mixed verbs in English"; there are only distinctions between eventive and dynamic uses. Stativity, dynamicity, activity and the like may be constrained by the lexical sense of verbs, but in the end they are properties not of verbs but of specific utterances.

  • Yes, I agree. Stative is a useful category, but it's just not specific to verbs.
    – Greg Lee
    Mar 19, 2016 at 10:47
  • Yes, but note that predicate adjectives and nouns can be active or stative too. It's not be that's allowed in the progressive meaning 'behave like' -- it's the active predicate adjective (like be honest) or noun (like be a mentsh) that requires the be auxiliary.
    – jlawler
    Mar 21, 2016 at 1:32
  • @jlawler Hmm ... would you accept locating the stativity in the predication? And might we characterize the difference between the simple and progressive copula as one of individual- versus stage-level predication? Mar 22, 2016 at 11:59
  • You might, but I don't really believe in "stage-level" as a descriptive term.
    – jlawler
    Mar 22, 2016 at 13:01

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