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What is the difference between a mental and physical action verb?

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Actions verbs can describes two different kinds of movement: that of the physical kind, which involves movement that can be seen; and that of the mental kind, which describes movement that cannot be seen. 

To test our understanding of this concept, let us consider which of the following words are mental action verbs and which are physical action verbs: 

  • think
  • dream
  • dance
  • climb
  • imagine

Which of these words, when used as action verbs, can be seen? Which of these words, when used as action verbs, cannot be seen? Let's consider them in complete sentences:

  • Laurie thinks about ice cream. (mental verb)
  • Dante dreams that he will be a doctor one day. (mental verb)
  • Robert dances the tango every Friday night. (physical verb)
  • Alexandra climbs mountains for fun. (physical verb)
  • Josephina imagines that she is a pirate. (mental verb)

We cannot see Laurie think about ice cream, Dante dream about his future career, or Josephina imagine swashbuckling on the high seas; however, they are all still performing mental actions. We can, on the other hand, see Robert dancing and Alexandra climbing mountains.

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An action verb describes some kind of action being performed, either mental or physical action.

A physical action verb has an Subject that is clearly performing an action.

    Sally walked the dog.

In this case, the action verb is walked, which is something being done by the Subject Sally.  The Object of Sally's action is dog.  You can see Sally walking the dog.  You can see Sally's physical action.

A mental verb also preforms an action because the Subject is doing something, though the process is invisible. The difference between a physical action verb and a mental action verb is that a physical action verb shows a visible action while mental action is not visible.  

    Jenny thought good ideas.

In this example, the Subject Jenny thought ideas.  Thought is a mental verb.  We cannot literally see her thinking.  Yet it is and action she performs.

As a side note: Opposite of action verbs are linking verbs. The main difference between an action verb and a linking verb is that an action verb shows action performed while a linking verb associates the Subject with its Complement. Linking verbs create a link between the subject and an attribute or characteristic or condition that the Subject has or is or demonstrates.

For example, a characteristic of ice cream is that ice cream tastes good:

  • Ice cream tastes good.

Another example is that an attribute Shane has is that he is intelligent.

  • Shane is intelligent.

A last example is that a conditioned experinced by Ramona is that she feels worried.

  • Ramona feels worried.

In these three examples the Subjects are Ramona, Shane and ice cream. The Complements of the Subjects are worried, intelligent, and good. The linking verbs associating the Subject with its condition, attribute, or characteristic are feels, is [a be verb], and tastes.

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