I’m Lovin’ It

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When they teach the present progressive tense, teachers provide a list of verbs that cannot be or at least are not normally used in these tenses. They are called stative verbs and deal with states rather than actions, hence they are also called state verbs. The most common ones include like, love, hate, need, want.

The early inoculation by my teachers was very effective as I was completely confident that constructions like I’m liking/loving/hearing etc. were incorrect. This is why the McDonald’s slogan – I’m lovin’ it – later came as a surprise to me, but since it was just advertising, I didn’t attach much importance to it. Thanks to the internet though, I became more and more exposed to English content and I heard statives used in progressives right, left and center. To understand this phenomenon, it was no longer enough to consult the then Bible we had – English Grammar in Use – I had to turn to its advanced version, Advanced Grammar in Use where two units are dedicated to the present continuous and simple present, one of which deals entirely with the topic at hand.

„We can use the present continuous with state verbs to emphasize that a situation is temporary…”:

Ella’s with us at the moment. The children are loving having her here.

It goes on to explain that some state verbs can be used in continuous tenses in their action meaning, e.g. Carley Robb is currently appearing in musicals where appear means take part, whereas in the app doesn’t appear to work on my phone, it means seem.  

Other verbs like this include: cost, expect, feel, fit, have, imagine, measure, think, weigh

I highly recommend that you study this unit (Unit 1), you can find the whole book online here:

Advanced Grammar in Use

Statives seemed to have been sorted until a couple of weeks ago  when I heard a colleague say the following sentence:  We’re having to do it.

It’s one thing to put a main verb stative or action in a continuous tense, but it’s another to put have to in one. Why is have to so special? It expresses modality, therefore some consider it a modal verb, such as can, must, might, will, shall. Anyone would agree that these verbs cannot be used progressively, no one would say: *She is musting to go now (She must be going now would be correct). Have to, however, is not strictly a model verb, not syntactically at least, because we can’t say have I to or have to I to form questions. With other modal verbs we can do that, that is, invert the verb with the subject: I can can I, you will → will you?

Ok, we determined that it’s not a proper modal verb, so we can use it in a continuous tense. Yes, theoretically speaking, but to me it still feels strange, especially the fact that I hadn’t heard it before this particular occasion. I looked it up – along with several statives – on Google Ngram and the result  indicates that the use of these verbs has increased in the past 50 years. The data is only until 2000, so I would presume that their use is even more frequent nowadays:

Ngram

For those whose interest I managed to spark, here is an interesting study I found on state verbs:

Stative Verbs and the Progressive Aspect in English

Anyway, Massive Attack already said that “love, love is a verb, love is a doing word” back in 1998 and nobody can argue with that.

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