Most of the verbs in the English language are action verbs that describe what a subject does. When an action takes place in the real present, use the present continuous tense. You can do that right now by saying “I am reading David’s blog entry.”
There is a smaller group of verbs in English called stative verbs that describe what a subject is. Here is an example sentence: “I believe her.” When they refer to the real present, stative verbs must be in simple present tense. (“I am believing her” does not sound correct in English.) The most important stative verbs in the TOEFL writing and speaking sections are the ones that express opinions (what someone thinks) and perceptions (what someone feels).
TOEFL Writing Task 2 asks you to express your own opinions and perceptions. Let’s look a sample response to the Writing Task 2 prompt in this blog post. The test-taker must agree or disagree with the statement “Modern life is easier than life in the past.” The sample response opens with a stative verb of perception: “I definitely agree that modern life is easier than life in the past.” At the end, another stative verb is used to provide a glimpse into what the future might look like: “I hope that current generations will work together to make life easier for everyone, now that it is possible to do so.” Grammar is as important as word choice. If the test taker had written “I am definitely agreeing that modern life is easier,” or “I am hoping that current generations will work together…,” the words would have been confusing and less powerful. The score would have been lower, too.
Stative verbs of perception and opinion are similarly important in the TOEFL Speaking Section. In Practice Test 1 of The Official Guide to the TOEFL Test, the first Speaking Section task asks students to describe a place they go to often, and to explain why it is important to them. Statements of perception such as “I feel comfortable there” or “I need to go there because…” are good choices. The second question asks test-takers to say whether it is better to study many different subjects or just focus on one subject. Opinions can be expressed in sentences such as “I think it is better to study many different subjects,” or “I prefer to focus on one subject.”
The third question in the TOEFL Speaking Section asks you to listen to a conversation and identify the opinion of one of the speakers. In TOEFL iBT Test 2 from Official TOEFL iBT Tests with Audio, the male speaker is happy about changes to his university dining hall. Possible stative verb responses include “The man agrees with the changes,” and “He believes the dining hall made a good decision.” In the fifth question of the speaking section, test-takers need to identify the opinions of both speakers in a conversation. They also need to offer their own opinion. To bring all of these opinions together, use stative verbs to say things like “The male speaker dislikes,” “The female speaker doubts,” “I sympathize with the female speaker because,” and so on.
It’s not always easy to speak your mind, especially in a second language. Skilled use of stative verbs can help you express yourself clearly. It can also help you understand the personal thoughts of other people. Study stative verbs and remember to keep them in simple present tense. Soon, you will be on your way to English success. You can enjoy this success both on the TOEFL and in everyday social situations.