Verb Review #2: Linking Verbs

By Maeve Maddox

Linking verbs, also called “copulative verbs,” “being verbs,” and “state of being verbs,” do not describe an action. This type of verb links a subject and the noun, pronoun or adjective that restates it or describes it.

The verb most commonly used as a linking verb is the verb to be in its various forms.

I am happy.
You are my friend.
The soldiers were brave.
This has been a wonderful day.
The dockworker might have been a contender.

The next most common verbs used as linking verbs are seem and become. Seem is always a linking verb. Become usually is, but not always:

Our new neighbor seems strange. (linking: connects neighbor and strange)
Every month, he becomes a werewolf. (linking: connects he and werewolf)

As an action verb, become means “to befit, to look well on”:

That hat certainly becomes you.

Ten verbs that may be either action verbs or linking verbs are: appear, feel, grow, look, prove, remain, smell, sound, taste, and turn:

Those oranges appear rotten. (linking)
The genie suddenly appeared. (action)

He feels bad because of the death of his dog. (linking)
Here, just feel the nap on this velvet jacket! (action)

I grow old … I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled. (linking)
My grandmother grows lima beans. (action)

After the plane trip, she looked rather ill. (linking)
Dorothy looked behind the curtain. (action)

Unfortunately, the researcher’s theory proved wrong. (linking)
The student proved her answer the old-fashioned way. (action)

After all our efforts, the situation remains grave. (linking)
Although much is taken, much remains. (action)

The air in the pub smells stale. (linking)
I can always tell when our terrier smells a rat. (action)

Much modern classical music sounds discordant to me. (linking)
If you anticipate a tornado, sound the alarm. (action)

These pecans taste divine. (linking)
I think I can taste anise in these cookies. (action)

When he drinks, he turns mean. (linking)
When you reach the end of this corridor, turn left. (action)

If you are uncertain whether a verb is linking or action, try one of the following:

1. Replace the verb with a form of the verb “to be”
The air in the pub smells stale.
The air in the pub is stale.
The original thought remains; smells is a linking verb.

The terrier smells a rat.
The terrier is a rat.
A new meaning or nonsense is the result; smells is an action verb.

2. Reverse the order of the sentence
The air in the pub smells stale.
Stale smells the air in the pub.
It’s a little odd, but if you remember that stale is an adjective and not someone’s name, the original thought remains; smells is a linking verb.

The terrier smells a rat.
A rat smells the terrier.
A new meaning or nonsense is the result; smells is an action verb.

These tests work most of the time.

With practice, you will learn to distinguish a linking verb from an action verb by noting the relationship between subject and verb.

Linking verbs form a bridge between the subject and a word that restates it or describes it.

Action verbs involve the subject in an action. The subject of an action verb is doing something or–if the sentence is in passive voice–is having something done to it.

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