Linking Verbs and Action Verbs
Verbs are divided into two functional categories: copular verbs and action verbs. This post discusses their differences.
Copular, or linking, verbs, which express a situation or a state rather than an action or a process (and thus are among the class of verbs called stative verbs), consist of several types of verbs. The basic ones are forms of the verb phrase “to be”: am, are, be, being, is, was, were, and been. However, become, get, grow, turn, and similar terms, and their tense forms (for example, became and “will become”), also perform this function, as do those in two other small groups.
First, there are the words such as appears and seems, and second, there are what are called the sensory verbs, referring to impressions based on the five senses: feels, looks, smells, sounds, and tastes. (These, of course, also have their tense forms, such as appeared and “will feel.”)
The default for use of copular verbs is that each clause has only one, as in “I am here, and you are there.” Some languages allow a zero copula — omission of a copular verb — but in American English, this is an informal usage recommended only in colloquial dialogue, as when one character drops the copular verb when asking another character something such as “Where you going?”
The double copula (for example, “What it is, is a disaster”) is also common in casual speech but is also discouraged in most writing; such constructions are organized that way for emphasis, but in formal prose, the sentiment is easily expressed more concisely: “It is a disaster.”
A variation of the copular verb is the copular prepositional verb, which includes a verb and a preposition, as in “feels like” and “gets into.”
Action verbs, by contrast, are the ones that actually describe an accomplishment, achievement, or activity. Accomplishment verbs describe the result of an effort, as in “He solved the problem just in time.” Achievement verbs describe an instantaneous action, as in “I saw the dog.” (Although one can continue to see a dog, the initial occurrence — the transition from not seeing the dog to seeing it — takes place in an instant.) An activity can be definite in duration (“I walked while I waited for him to get ready”) or indefinite (“I walked along the road.”)
One significant difference in sentence constructions that feature a copular verb and those that include an action verb is the part of speech that might follow the verb. If an action verb is modified, the modifier is an adverb (“She sifted carefully through the pile of documents”), while a copular verb is followed by an adjective (“I was careful as I sifted through the pile of documents”).
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