Sense Verbs – Stative and Dynamic Verbs in English

English sense verbs like smell, sound, feel, look and taste are unusual because they have two or more meanings.

In this video lesson you’ll learn their meanings and how to use them correctly in conversations. You’ll also learn some important grammar to do with stative and dynamic verbs.

Kathy, my dog has no nose.
Really? How does he smell?
Terrible!

This lesson’s about verbs related to the 5 senses. You’ll learn how sense verbs can have different meanings, and you’ll learn some important grammar too. Let’s start with a conversation. How many sense verbs can you spot?

Do you want coffee?
Oh yes please.
Jay?
Hmph.
What’s wrong with you today Jay?
Nothing?
You look tired.
I feel fine.
You sound angry.
Well, I’m not.
Here’s your coffee.
Ooo thank you Kathy. It smells great.
It tastes great too.
Where’s mine?
You said you didn’t want any.
Huh!

Did you spot the sense verbs? Let’s check.

You look tired. I feel fine. You sound angry. Well, I’m not. Here’s your coffee. Ooo thank you Kathy. It smells great. It tastes great too. Where’s mine?

Notice the words that follow the sense verbs here. They’re all adjectives. Now in some languages you could also use an adverb. So for example, you might say “You sound angrily” or “The coffee tastes well”. But not in English. These sentences are wrong. After sense verbs we use adjectives.
We can also use the preposition ‘like’ after sense verbs and I’m going to make another video about that, so make sure you subscribe to our channel so you don’t miss it.
Now there are a couple more sense verbs that are very common – see and hear.

Oh my.
What’s the matter with you today.
I’m worried about my iphone.
Your new iphone? I’ve lost it.
Well let me call it.
Oh.
Can you hear it? Yes, but I can’t see it.
It’s in your pocket.
Oh.

Notice how we used ‘can’ with these verbs. That’s very common because they’re general ability verbs. Hearing and seeing are abilities that people have and we don’t have to make an effort to do them. They just happen naturally, if our eyes are open and our ears aren’t blocked of course. So we use ‘can’ a lot with ‘see’ and ‘hear’.

I can see you but I can’t hear you.
Can you hear me now? Now I can.

Now there’s another interesting thing about sense verbs. They all have two or more meanings. And that’s why this old joke works

Kathy, my dog has no nose.
Really?
How does he smell? Terrible!

The joke plays of two different meanings of smell. One meaning is to sense an odour and the other meaning is to give off an odour.
Now here’s some grammar you’re going to find very useful as your English gets better.

I love this new shampoo Jay.
Do you? I don’t.
It smells like flowers.
Exactly.

The verb smell is a stative verb in this sentence because it describes a state – something that just is.
But here the verb smell describes an action – we call it a dynamic verb.
So why is this useful, Vicki? Well, we don’t usually use stative verbs in the progressive or continuous form. Even when we’re talking about a temporary situation or state we use the simple form. Understanding stative verbs will help you use simple and progressive forms correctly. Let’s look at another example.

Does my hair look OK Jay?
Yeah, it looks fine.
You’re not looking.
Oh.

So we’ve got two different meanings of ‘look’. Here it means appear or seem. ‘It looks fine’ means its appearance is fine.
But here look means using your eyes, turning them in a particular direction.
And notice the verb forms. With the dynamic verb, we can use the progressive. But with the stative verb, we usually don’t.
Taste is similar. We can taste food – so Jay is tasting some soup here. But we can also say something tastes delicious, salty, sweet and so on.
So let’s check you’ve understood.

Oooo this milk smells funny. When did we buy it?

Is ‘smell’ a stative or a dynamic verb here? It’s a stative verb. It’s descrining the state of the milk. And what about in this sentence? It’s a dynamic verb. An action. Great!
So let’s review
Sense verbs have two or more meanings. When they’re describing an action – something dynamic – we can use the simple or progressive. But when they’re describing a state, we usually use the simple form.
Oh, and don’t forget, sense verbs are followed by adjectives, not adverbs.

Oh hi Jason. I’m your surgeon.
My surgeon?
Yes and this is your kidney.
My kidney?
Yes, thanks for donating it. It looks very healthy.

Click here to learn how we use the verbs see, look and watch.
Click here to watch more videos on English grammar.
Click here to watch this video with a clickable transcript

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