Linking Verbs in English! What are linking verbs? Learn the definition and useful list of linking verbs in English with example sentences and ESL printable worksheets.
We use many parts of speech in language to express our ideas. In English, verbs are used to express actions. Even though verbs have one job, they can perform it in a variety of ways. For example:
- Mary picked a bouquet of flowers.
Here “Mary’ is the subject of the sentence, “picked” is the verb, and “a bouquet of flowers” is the object. This type of verb is known as an action verb. Action verbs are popular in writing because they sound direct. Alternatively, we can use a different form of the verb like this:
- Mary is picking a bouquet of flowers.
“Mary” is still the subject, but “is picking” sounds more like a state of being than just the action itself. “A bouquet of flowers” is still our object. This is a gerund, presenting Mary as currently doing the action now. We can also use verbs to associate the subject of a sentence to a specific identity. When used this way, they are called linking verbs.
What Is A Linking Verb?
Linking verbs, also called copulas or copula verbs, connect the subject of a sentence with an adjective, noun, or descriptive phrase. To distinguish a copula verb remember that they do not indicate action in a sentence. Rather they describe a state of being, a result, or one of the five senses. In other words, linking verbs do not have an object.
In grammar we understand that the object is whatever is receiving the action of the subject. Since linking verbs do not suggest action, there is no receiver. Instead, what follows a linking verb is known as the subject complement.
The subject complement is the descriptive word or phrase that the linking verb connects to the subject of the sentence. It can be a noun, adjective, or phrase. Generally, the structure of a sentence with a linking verb will be:
(Subject) + Linking Verb + Subject Complement
Let’s take a look at a quick example:
Example 1: Harold is sleepy.
“Harold” would be the subject, “is” would be the linking verb, and “sleepy” would be the subject complement. Notice how “is” refers to Harold’s state of being, rather than an action he is performing.
Example 2: Everything seemed normal.
This example is very similar to the first sentence. “Everything” is the subject, “seemed” is our linking verb, and “normal” is the subject complement, describing “Everything.”
Starting to get it? How about this next one:
Example 3: Ice feels cold to the touch.
“Ice” is the subject here, “feels” becomes our copula verb, and the phrase “cold to the touch” would be our subject complement. Working with linking verbs really is that painless.
List of Linking Verbs
These are a few common linking verbs found in English:
- is/was/will be
Some of these verbs can be used as action verbs. It’s important to be able to distinguish between action verbs and linking verbs so you can understand what the author is trying to convey.
Testing for Linking Verbs
Remember that linking verbs are themselves not action words. Compare the usage of “appeared” in both the sentences below:
- Sentence A: Daisy appeared onstage in a princess’s attire.
- Sentence B: Daisy appeared troubled by the commentator’s remark.
In both A and B, “Daisy” is our subject.
Look at how “appeared” is being used in sentence A. It’s describing an action that Daisy has accomplished. “Onstage” is where Daisy appeared, and the prepositional phrase afterwards adds some more detail of the scene.
However, “appeared” in sentence B is describing Daisy’s current state of being, how she is perceived by others. The subject complement, “troubled” describes more about how Daisy appears.
A simple way to identify a linking verb is to replace the verb in question with “seems.” If the idea makes sense, then the verb is a copula; if not, then the verb is something else. Let’s try this technique with the above sentences:
- Sentence A: Daisy seems onstage in a princess’s attire.
- Sentence B: Daisy seems troubled by the commentator’s remark.
Although sentence A makes sense grammatically when we use “seems,” this verb is not a linking verb because “onstage” is not modifying Daisy’s identity. Instead “onstage” is a location and Daisy took action, or “appeared”, to get there, which is the proper idea of sentence A. With sentence B, the original idea of the sentence is kept intact. “Seems” links Daisy’s state of being to “troubled.”.
This is an easy way to identify what you should be looking for after the verb. For more complex sentences, you can replace the verb with any of the linking verbs from the list above and read to see if it clarifies its status.
Try it out
Now’s the time to practice what you have learned so far. See if you can identify which words in the following sentences are the subject, the linking verb, and what the subject complement is. Check the end of the article for the answers.
- A. Our backyard became a playground for the children’s entertainment.
- B. The speaker appeared confident but stumbled on her points.
- C. Jackie became a master at dancing because he practiced every day.
- D. Mistletoe Jack was a very mild-tempered fellow.
- E. Distilled water tastes refreshing and clean.
- F. Even after all the training, the final physical exam remains a challenge to the veterans.
Practice with finding out whether the verb is a linking verb first, then find the subject complement. If you can do this, you’ll feel more confident in reading and writing in one of the hardest languages to learn.
- A: “backyard” = subject; “became” = linking verb; “playground” = subject complement
- B: “speaker” = subject; “appeared” = linking verb; “confident” = subject complement
- C. “Jackie” = subject; “became” = linking verb; “a master at dancing” = subject complement
- D: “Mistletoe Jack” = subject; “was” = linking verb; “a mild-tempered fellow” = subject complement
- E. “water” = subject; “tastes” = linking verb; “refreshing and clean” = subject complement
- F. “exam” = subject; “remains” = linking verb; “a challenge” = subject complement