Since linking verbs, also referred to as copulas or copular verbs, don't function in the same way as typical verbs in showing action, it can sometimes be tricky to recognize them. These types of verbs show a relationship between the subject and the sentence complement, the part of the sentence following the verb. They connect or link the subject with more information – words that further identify or describe the subject. While standard verbs are indicative of action, linking verbs identify a relationship or existing condition. These are sometimes described as performing the function of an equal sign because they provide the connection between a subject and a certain state.
Some words are always linking verbs. These are considered "true." They do not describe the action, but always connect the subject to additional information. The most common true linking verbs are forms of "to be," "to become" and "to seem."
Forms of "to be"
Forms of "to become"
Forms of "to seem"
Any time you see these words in a sentence, you know they are performing a linking or connective function in showing a relationship or describing a state. For example:
In addition to true linking verbs, there are also many verbs that can exist either as action verbs or linking verbs. These are also called resultative verbs. Verbs related to the five senses often function in this way.
Common verbs that can exist as either action verbs or linking verbs include:
Since these verbs can function as either action verbs or copular verbs, how do you make the distinction? A common test is to replace the verb you suspect in the sentence with an appropriate form of a true linking verb. If it makes sense, it is linking. If it isn't logical with the substitution, it's an action verb.
For example, take these two sentences:
Substitute the copular verb "are" for the word "looked" in both sentences. In the first sentence, it makes sense: "The flowers are wilted." In the second sentence, however, it doesn't make sense: "She are for wildflowers."
The sentence: "The spaghettis sauce is delicious" works, but "She is the delicious spaghetti sauce" is illogical. The verb in the first sentence is copular, and in the second sentence it is not.
Teachers in upper elementary and middle school may need to include lessons on linking verbs in their curriculum. ESL students may also be learning about distinguishing this verb type. Along with repetition, identification worksheets and quizzes work well for many teachers. There are many online grammar exercises and resources available for teaching, learning, and understanding copular verbs, including: