Are You Feeling It?

I’ve never been a huge McDonald’s fan (my loyalties lie with Wendy’s), but lately the Golden Arches have become a particular bugbear. Many of you will recognize the chain’s slogan of almost a decade, “I’m lovin’ it,” and some will find its grammar grating. Traditionally, after all, English stative verbs—those that describe a state of being, what we think or how we feel—are not conjugated in the present continuous form. Before the lovin’ it campaign, a tasty Filet-O-Fish would have prompted most English speakers to testify, “I love it.”

In some countries, the slogan has been given an approximate translation: me encanta, c’est tout ce que j’aime, or, apparently, 麥當奴 公司. But in many, the English is used, and this adds to my language students’ confusion over present simple vs. present continuous forms—confusion that is already considerable since, in German, I run and I’m running both translate to ich laufe, or maybe ich laufe gerade in the latter case, if you really want to emphasize that you’re doing it at this very minute.

Nonnative English speakers, then, have to learn which form is appropriate when. A simplified set of rules dictates that we use present simple when talking about things that are always true (“I’m from the U.S.”) or habits (“I brush my teeth every morning”), and present continuous for things that are true at that moment (“Can’t talk now—I’m watching TV”) or which have both a beginning in the not-so-distant past and a foreseeable end (“My book club’s reading a good book this month”).

And then there’s that other rule—that you avoid present tense for stative verbs. Here’s where a student in the back invariably pipes up: “What about I’m lovin’ it?”

“It’s wrong,” is the easiest answer, qualified by a discussion of how English adapts and evolves. In my experience, language students accept that, but they also crave hard and fast dictates, and so they like it when I take the following attitude: yes, language evolves, but in this classroom we’ll stick to the older, “correct” forms.

And yet in the case of I’m lovin’ it, I find it difficult to adopt this slightly superior tone. Because unlike with, say, if I was you instead of if I were you, or can I rather than may I—shifts encouraged by many English-language textbooks—with stative verbs in present continuous, I’m very much part of the change. I’ll email a friend to say “I’m finding” another friend irritating. I’ll mention that “I’m liking” a certain TV series at the moment. And I won’t blink an eye upon hearing, “I’m thinking we should order Chinese tonight.” Now that you mention it, I’m thinking so, too.

So, then, fellow language-watchers: what changes in English, or even just tics, have you not only observed but embraced? Like as a conjunction? Enjoy! whenever food is served? Or—dare I say ithopefully as a sentence adverb?

As for stative verbs in the continuous, what do they say about us? I’ll throw out a theory: that opinions and feelings have become more mercurial of late, and I’m lovin’ and its ilk simply reflect that.

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