Linking verbs also called copulative verbs (or copulas) do not tell us what the subject does, but what the subject is. A linking verb links the subject to the complement, which states something about the subject. The complement can be a word, phrase, or clause. The most common linking verbs are the various forms of the auxiliary verb be (am, is, are, was, were). Linking verbs do not take a direct object, and any verb that expresses an action is not a linking verb.

Characteristics of a linking verb

A linking verb is not an action word.

  • He looked at me. (It tells us what he did; looked is an action verb)
  • She looked as if she was going to cry. (It doesn’t tell us what she did, only how she appeared to be; looked is a linking verb.)

A linking tells us what state the subject is in, what the subject is, etc.

  • He was tired. (It tells us the state - tired - the subject was in.)
  • She is a nurse. (It tells us she is a nurse.)

A linking verb is often followed by an adjective, but not a direct object.

  • He feels fine. (Feel is not an action verb because it is followed by an adjective.)
  • He feels the fine sand of the beach. (Feel is an action verb.)

A pronoun following a linking verb should be in the subjective, not objective.

  • It was he they were looking for. (He is a subjective pronoun.)
  • Not: It was him they were looking for. (Him is an objective pronoun.)
  • Correct: They were looking for him. (Him is an object.)

We can identify a linking verb by replacing it with to be and see if it makes sense. If it does, it is a linking verb. Otherwise, it isn’t. Let’s use the following two sentences and replace the verb feels with is.

  • He feels fine. = He is fine. (The sentence makes sense, so the verb is a linking verb.)
  • He feels the fine sand of the beach. = He is the fine sand of the beach? (The verb is not a linking verb.)
 

Using adverbs instead of adjectives with linking verbs

Adverbs modify action verbs, not linking verbs. Using adverbs instead of adjectives with linking verbs will result in incorrect sentences, as shown here. Some common linking verbs are appear, become, feel, grow, look, seem, smell, sound, taste.

Examples:

  • Andy appears calm. (Not: Andy appears calmly.)
  • He became anxious about working for the first time. (Not: He became anxiously about working for the first time.)
  • She feels sad. (Not: She feels sadly.)
  • Cindy grew impatient with his strange behavior. (Not: Cindy grew impatiently with his strange behavior.)
  • Diane looked beautiful in her new dress. (Not: Diane looked beautifully in her new dress.)
  • Eddy seemed angry to me. (Not: Eddy seemed angrily to me.)
  • The pizza smelled delicious. (Not: The pizza smelled deliciously.)
  • The idea sounds bad. (Not: The idea sounds badly.)
  • The drink tastes sweet. (Not: The drink tastes sweetly.)

(See List 4 - Verbs: Different Verb Types for more examples of linking verbs.)