Please check this video.

I understood for performative verbs, if we are doing something and, at the same time, we are saying it, we don't need to use the present continuous tense. I am not sure I have it right.

For example, when I say, "I promise to do my homework," I am making the promise as I say this.

However, "promise" is not a stative verb, so we could say, "He is promising to do his homework."

Some sites say these are performative verbs, e.g. accept, acknowledge, advise, apologise, and warn, etc.

This site says,

Performative verbs: when you say a word you do the action the word describes

There is a group of verbs called "performative verbs". When you say these words, you actually do the action of the verb. If I say, "I apologise", by saying "apologise", I make my apology.

Compare this to a word like "run". If I say, "I run in the morning", then "run" just represents an action. Actually running is a different action. I cannot run just by saying "run".

What if I was running and saying, "I run," at the same time?

My Question

Does the performative principle apply to other verbs, such as "run" or "eat"?

Would the utterance, "I run," be grammatical if I was running while saying it?

  • It's grammatical anyway. 'I run, you run, he runs, we run, you run, they run'.
    – user207421
    Oct 30, 2017 at 0:04
  • There's a grave misconception here. A 'performative verb' is one where the actual utterance of the verb accomplishes the stated end. "Performative verbs name actions that are performed, wholly or partly, by saying something (state, promise); non-performative verbs name other types of actions, types of action which are independent of speech (walk, sleep [, run])." -Kirsten Malmkjaer, "Speech-Act Theory." The Linguistics Encyclopedia, 2nd ed. Routledge, 2004 [Nordquist; ThoughtCo] Sep 8, 2019 at 10:01
  • A grey area must arise when the utterers' (plural intended) ability to deliver is in doubt. Moses in the Old Testament was commanded (on the second occasion water seemed a distant dream) to speak to [unusual construction; Living Bible probably uses 'tell' or 'command'] the Rock to gush forth water; he could have achieved this, but probably none of the other Israelites could have done so. So, as conforms with the usual pattern, 'performative verbal usages' rather than 'performative verbs' would seem to make sense. I won't go into 'magic' and squibs. Sep 8, 2019 at 10:17

1 Answer 1


when you say a word, you do the action the word describes

This is correct but insufficient: when suggests that the only requirement is that the saying and the action occur at the same time, irrespective of causation; but that does not describe performative verbs accurately.

If I say, "I apologise", by saying "apologise", I make my apology.

The word by is essential: it tells us that saying "I apologise" is the cause of the action. Or, better: saying it is the action; saying it constitutes the action.

When you say, I run, your utterance alone does not make you run. Running and saying I run are not the same action (saying I run is an action of saying, whereas running a marathon is not an action of saying). That is why run is no performative verb in this context.

If you can say I run without actually running, then it is no performative verb. This is the 'negative' test, which is quite reliable. You can't say I promise without actually making a promise, which is why promise is a performative verb: the utterance and the action cannot be separated, because they are one.*

*) You can use verbs that are normally performative in a weird way, such that they are no longer performative; but that is exceptional.

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    Austin's original example of performatives was "I do" in a wedding ceremony. In that particular context, doing and saying are the same thing. Oct 29, 2017 at 12:28
  • 2
    @Tom: Well, it's common knowledge. I don't have a specific source for using the word cause. But anyway, a more advanced (and better) way of describing it is by saying that it is the action, as I mention immediately afterwards. If you look at Wikipaedia, it says: performative utterances are sentences which are ... changing the social reality they are describing (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Performative_utterance). Changing reality = causing reality to change. Oct 29, 2017 at 13:25
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    @Tom: No. Performative verbs are all verbs of communication, like state, promise, beg, request, order, christen, etc. Does saying I really stress out make the speaker stress out? One test is the use of hereby: I hereby promise to pay; I hereby request permission, but not *I hereby stress out Oct 29, 2017 at 16:47
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    A really nice explanation. +1 for the example of "promise"
    – Stilez
    Oct 29, 2017 at 17:22
  • 2
    @Tom Uttering the phrase "I give you five dollars" doesn't cause a transfer any money; the money isn't "given" until you hand over cash, or write a check, etc. So "give" is not performative. But uttering the phrase "I promise you five dollars" does cause a promise to be made; the promise is made by virtue of saying the words "I promise". That makes "promise" performative. The speech IS the act; the act IS the speech. Oct 29, 2017 at 19:02

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