You're describing a book's location at the moment of speaking.

a. The book is on the table (right now).

b. The book lies on the table (right now).

c. The book sits on the table (right now).

I think a. works but b. and c. don't. In order for them to work, they need to be in the progressive (is lying/is sitting).

Aren't 'lie' and 'sit' both stative verbs?

If they are, how do you explain that b. and c. don't work, while a. does?


For those who think b. and c. are grammatical, here is "Class Notes Semantics I & II, UT, Austin, Spring 2015-Spring 2018", which says b. doesn't work (p296):

[b.] doesn’t seem to have any coherent interpretation at all, not even as a statement of where the book normally is or ought to be.

(In the PDF file, you can search "The book lies on the table" and go right to the page.)

If interested, please read the first two paragraphs on page 296.

Another Note

Here is another linguistics book that says b. doesn't work for describing the moment of speaking. Linguistic Semantics by William Frawley says:

19a. The book is lying on the table.


If (19a), for example, is put in the nonprogressive, a habitual (or nontemporary) interpretation results: The book lies on the table.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – tchrist
    Jun 8, 2019 at 13:25

3 Answers 3


"The book lies on the table" is perfectly natural to English speakers. As evidence, this Google books search shows that the phrase "The book lies on the table" was a common example English sentence in both grammar textbooks and books teaching foreign languages.

For instance, this very basic grammar textbook that was apparently originally part of the Harvard College Library reads, in exercise 1 of "section 4 The Verb" :

"Name the verbs in the following sentences and the nouns they say something about

  1. The boys climb the tree

  2. The book lies on the table

This is clear evidence that at least one native English speaking grammarian whose work was acceptable to a prominent university felt that the phrase "the book lies on the table" was obvious and simple enough to be used as an example sentence for young children.

  • Please check my last comment. Also, I've added another piece of evidence to the question that says b. doesn't work in the 'right now' context.
    – listeneva
    May 17, 2019 at 3:47
  • Rules of English grammar do not depend on context external to a sentence. Many of the books linked above are books on actual English grammar, and they say nothing about "historical present" May 17, 2019 at 3:50
  • Since you seem to be new around here, let me let you know that simply quoting a link of a Google books search cannot be qualified as an answer. I think you need to show the relevant portion of the book(s) you want to cite, as I did under 'another note' in my question.
    – listeneva
    May 17, 2019 at 3:54
  • 1
    More important than the authority of the source is the fact that the book doesn't say the sentence can be used to specifically refer to the time of speaking.
    – listeneva
    May 17, 2019 at 4:36
  • 1
    Children's grammar books are not for subtle discussions as the current one. Moreover, you're making an erroneous assumption that just because a sentence appears in a children's grammar book, it should be natural in all possible context. Why are you turning a blind eye to the evidence provided in the question? Both the class notes and the linguistics book specifically say that b. doesn't work to specifically describe the moment of speaking.
    – listeneva
    May 17, 2019 at 4:48

For your actual question, it's simple: be is different from all other verbs. It just is.

But I think the more interesting issue is that you say that sit and lie are stative verbs. They would normally be classified as activities, not states, going by the standard tests in a semantics class. They are atelic and can be used with the progressive. But really, just put it out of your mind that the verbs have to be "stative" or fall into any particular category and pay attention to what you read in the class notes you've cited. Linguistic analysis always has weird cases.

I think you don't get an habitual reading with the simple present form (and thus no reading at all) because you are choosing an inanimate subject. Sit and lie derive from posture verbs that normally have a human as subject; it's not surprising that some uses require a subject with agency.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – tchrist
    Jun 4, 2019 at 19:05

The first sentence, "The book is on the table" is what you might call bog standard. La plume de ma tante. The other would two most likely appear in a more literary context. Whether they are stative verbs or not is irrelevant.For example: Someone receives a book as a birthday gift. After the party, the book lies/sits on the table, neglected and unread for several days until someone comes along, picks it up and starts to peruse it.

  • Did you not see the first line of the question? "You're describing a book's location at the moment of speaking." Your example isn't describing the moment of speaking.
    – listeneva
    May 17, 2019 at 0:14
  • The present continuous form (The book is lying…) is used more often when describing something at the time of speaking. However, this does not mean that we cannot say "right now, the book lies on the table"... under certain circumstances. I actually did see the first line of the question, but I didn't think that was important. However, after such a snippy response, I don't think I'll waste any more of my time trying to explain it.
    – user218195
    May 17, 2019 at 16:00
  • I was simply pointing to a part of the question that I suspect you might have missed because you didn't address it in your answer. It was a mere reminder, even though I'd already had 'at the moment of speaking' in bold. And how is giving a reminder being "snippy"?
    – listeneva
    May 18, 2019 at 1:09
  • 1
    Well, subjectively, "Did you not see the first line of the question?" came across to me as snippy or cheeky, like talking down to someone - slightly presumptious, assuming I'd misread or not understood the query.
    – user218195
    May 23, 2019 at 10:08

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