Look at the man in the picture. Is he stupid or is he being stupid? In this post, I will explain when the present continuous tense can be used with state verbs like be and then answer this question.
What are state verbs?
State verbs are verbs such as be, know, understand, realise, like, love, hate, think, see, hear, seem and believe.
The opposite of state verbs are action verbs. Action verbs, as the name suggests, describe actions. Here are some examples: run, walk, talk, fight, work, drink, eat, sleep, etc.
We use the continuous tenses (verb be + -ing) to talk about actions taking place at a particular time. For example, we use the present continuous to talk about an action talking place at the present moment:
Don’t disturb John. He‘s studying.
According to traditional grammar books, state verbs cannot normally be used in the continuous tenses. This is because they are not actions.
For example, we say ‘I understand you’ (NOT I’m understanding you).
However, some state verbs can be used in the continuous tense, with a difference in meaning. When they are used in the continuous form, they become actions:
|Verb||Present simple||Present continuous|
|be||He is irritating. (= he has an irritating character)||He's being irritating. (= he is behaving in this way now)|
|think||I think it's a good idea. (= my opinion)||What are you thinking about? (= what 'activity' is taking place in your head?)|
|have||I have a sandwich in my hand. (= I possess a sandwich)||I'm having lunch. (= I'm eating lunch)|
|see||I see Mark. (= I am able to see Mark)||I'm seeing Mark. (= I'm meeting or dating Mark)|
|love||I love it!||I'm loving it! (slang, very informal)|
Is the man stupid or is he being stupid?
Well, we don’t know anything about this man’s character. It is possible that he is very intelligent! Looking at the picture, we can say that he’s being stupid, which means that he’s behaving in a stupid way or doing something stupid at this moment.