All verbs can be categorized as action verbs or linking verbs. Linking verbs are called copulative verbs or copulas. A linking verb differs from an action verb as it does not indicate what the subject does but what the subject is. A linking verb functions as a link between a subject and a complement. A complement can be a word, an adjective, a noun, a pronoun, or a phrase acting as an adjective or noun. For example: She is the boss. In the sentence, is is the linking verb that connects the complement the boss to the subject she. Here, the complement identifies the subject.
All linking verbs are intransitive verbs as they do not take an object, but not all intransitive verbs are linking verbs. The most common linking verbs are the various forms of the auxiliary verb to be: am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been, seem, become, and verbs related to the senses: feel, look, smell, sound, taste, and others that include act, appear, get, go, grow, prove, remain, stay, turn.
Linking verb is not action verb
A linking verb is not an action word. Any verb that takes an object or expresses an action is not a linking verb.
- The last person to leave was my cousin, Tom.
(The word was is a linking verb, not an action verb. It names the last person.)
- 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.)
Linking verb followed by adjective
A linking verb is often followed by an adjective but not a direct object. The adjective is also called a predicate adjective. A predicate adjective is an adjective that follows a linking verb.
- I feel fine.
(Here, feel is not an action verb. It is a linking verb followed by the adjective fine.)
- The meal was really delicious.
(The adjective delicious follows the linking verb was. It describes the subject meal.)
Linking verb followed by noun
A linking verb can be followed by a noun which is called a complement or subject complement or predicate noun (or predicate nominative). The linking verb joins the complement to the subject.
- My uncle is a wrestler.
(The subject complement wrestler describes the subject uncle and is joined to the subject by the linking verb is.)
- She has been a nurse for the past ten years.
(The complement nurse tells us who she is. The linking verb used here is has been.)
Linking verb followed by pronoun
When a pronoun follows a linking verb, it should be in the subjective case, not objective case.
- It was he they were looking for.
(He is a subjective pronoun. The subjective pronoun follows the linking verb was.)
- Not: It was him they were looking for.
(Him is an objective pronoun which cannot follow the linking verb to be [was].)
Linking verb followed by phrase
A linking verb may be followed by a noun phrase, an adjective phrase, or a prepositional phrase.
- His father is a train driver.
(Linking verb is is followed by the noun phrase a train driver.)
- The new drug has proven to be very effective.
(Linking verb has proven is followed by adjectival phrase to be very effective.)
- Only four teams remain in the competition.
(Linking verb remains is followed by prepositional phrase in the competition.).
Identifying a linking verb
We can identify a linking verb by using to be and see if it makes sense. If it does, it is a linking verb. Otherwise, it isn’t. 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 sentence doesn't make sense. The verb is not a linking verb.)
Adverbs are not used 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. Remember regular verbs are followed by adverbs, and linking verbs are followed by adjectives. Some common linking verbs are appear, seem, smell, sound, and taste.
- Andy appears calm.
(Not: Andy appears calmly.)
- 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 sour.
(Not: The drink tastes sourly.)
Linking verb in contraction
The linking verb can be contracted in the following way.
- It is my kitten. = It’s my kitten.
- You are going to meet the boss? = You're going to meet the boss?
The negative word not is contracted with a linking verb.
- It looks like a fish but it is not a fish.
- It looks like a fish but it isn't a fish.
- We are not ready to leave.
- We aren't ready to leave.
- He was not an important person.
- He wasn't an important person.
Differences between linking verb and action verb
Linking verbs are followed by adjectives which are subject complements. Action verbs are followed by adverbs, which are their modifiers. Verbs that can be used as either linking verbs or action verbs include feel, get, grow, look, prove, remain, smell, sound, stay, taste, and turn.
This table shows linking verbs that can be used as action verbs.
Examples of how the verbs are used for both: linking and action.
- Linking verb: She acted dumb to believe his story.
- Action verb: They acted quickly to stop the fire from spreading.
- Linking verb: She appears angry whenever her boyfriend looks at another girl.
- Action verb: I saw a dark figure by the roadside disappear as suddenly as it had appeared.
- Linking verb: You don’t feel cold, but I’m shivering.
- Action verb: He felt a sudden pain in his heart.
- Linking verb: The three of us got seasick, so we lied down.
- Action verb: You need to get someone to help you lose the fat around your waist.
- Linking verb: We went in a cave and found no bats.
- Action verb: Can you give me a lift if you are going my way?
- Linking verb: Weeds grow wild in the untended garden.
- Action verb: He grows a goatee.
- Linking verb: Her new haircut makes her look younger than her twin sister.
- Action verb: You don’t look your age; you look much younger.
- Linking verb: The alternative treatments have proven highly beneficial.
- Action verb: The evidence will surely prove him guilty.
- Linking verb: He kicked the ball around until he smelled of sweat.
- Action verb: I smelled something like burnt toast in his bedroom
- Linking verb: His idea to build a triangular swimming pool sounds good to the other members.
- Action verb: The guard sounded the alarm when he discovered that some prisoners had escaped.
- Linking verb: I tried to stay awake through the whole lecture.
- Action verb: The judge agreed to stay the execution.
- Linking verb: Her chicken soup tastes like vinegar.
- Action verb: Can I taste the soup to see if it is creamy enough?
- Linking verb: The driver turned left twice and lost his way.
- Action verb: The car turned the corner too fast and overturned.