Recently, while googling my book (Loving Grammar: Mr. Lund’s Guide to Professional Clamdigging), I came upon a frenzy of articles debating whether or not we could say the words “I’m loving it,” as in “loving hamburgers” or “loving other stuff” that comes on our radar. Well, I learned a lot from Grammar Girl (posted on January 29, 2010) and one of her correspondents, Bonnie Trenga Mills, who is an English as a second language (ESL) instructor.
Apparently, the verdict that Grammar Girl arrived at is this: “I’m Loving it!” while perhaps effective as ad copy is not permissible. And why is that? Because the verb “love” is a stative word that should not getting the –ing treatment. We can say “I love my mom,” but we can’t say, “I’m loving my mom.” Dynamic verbs can get the progressive treatment, but stative verbs* cannot.
*The four categories of stative verbs are verbs that show thought or opinion, like “know” or “recognize”; verbs that show possession, like “own” and “belong”; verbs that show emotion, like “love” and “need” and, finally, verbs that show senses, like “feel” and “see.”
The truth is that when we are trying to intensify an emotion, we like to do it in exactly this way—by putting it into a progressive tense (-ing) framework. When mom makes me my favorite meal, it would be very normal to say, “I’m loving the best mom in the world—the mom who made me Two cheese Pasta.”
When we are in Paris and visiting the Louvre, it would be okay to say, “I see the Mona Lisa,” but it would be even more powerful to say, “I am seeing the Mona Lisa with my own eyes.” There is an immediacy and an emphasis and an intensity that is delivered in this version, and we do not see that same same quality in the sentence, “I see the Mona Lisa.” I’m not even sure that the two sentences mean the exactly same thing—one reflects my ability to see it; the other reflects my unrepeatable experience.
I still remember the first time I saw the ocean in my life. It was in South Wales and it was at night. Now which sentence would better capture that momentous moment?
Notice, sentence A. now is the one that sounds strange. Obviously, the preposition phrase cries out for the progressive (-ing) form of the verb, but I think the situation would be the same even without the phrase. Perhaps an ESL teacher might want her students to choose a dynamic verb to capture the experience, “I’m looking at the ocean for the first time,” but to my mind, the “looking” and “seeing” statements are not exactly equivalent.
Here’s one more example. I can remember in biology peering into a microscope to see the mysterious shapes and colors of critters like amoeba and paramecium. My lab partner might describe one thing and I would say something like this: “I’m not seeing a parmecium with a white hat; mine has a mustache and a scar on its right cheek.” I’m joking about the hat and scar, of course, but you can see that in this case both the present tense form and the present progressive (-ing) form would be pretty much equivalent, and certainly both would be correct.
The point is that the rule prohibiting the use of stative verbs in the –ing form doesn’t hack it on its own. There is an ‘intensifier’ component that needs to be added to make the rule more useful and helpful for ESL and native students.
On the other hand, I’m amazed that so much ‘grammar’ discussion today consists of splitting hairs over arcane subsections of grammar usage (and most native speakers don’t have the foggiest idea of the controversies that rage in the ESL world, by the way like this McDonald’s Ad.)
The sad thing is that the grammar that everybody needs is in their writing—whether they are native learners (L1) or ESL learners (L2). Everyone needs to know how to write and punctuate sentences that are clear and legal. And that’s the grammar/punctuation that no one seems know!
And that, my friends, is where Loving Grammar rises to the occasion: providing clear grammar and punctuation rules that stick. Check it out—LovingGrammar.com.