Linking Verbs

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

  • Connect or link the subject with more information - words that further identify or describe the subject

  • Identify a relationship or existing condition

These types of verbs are sometimes described as performing the function of an equal sign because they provide the connection between a subject and a certain state.

Words That Are True Linking Verbs

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"

  • Am

  • Is

  • Is being

  • Are

  • Are being

  • Was

  • Was being

  • Were

  • Has

  • Has been

  • Have been

  • Will have been

  • Had been

  • Are being

  • Might have been

Forms of "to become"

  • Become

  • Becomes

  • Became

  • Has become

  • Have become

  • Had become

  • Will become

  • Will have become

Forms of "to seem"

  • Seemed

  • Seeming

  • Seems

  • Has seemed

  • Have seemed

  • Had seemed

  • Will 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:

  • "I am glad it is Friday." Here the linking verb "am" connects the subject (I) to the state of being glad.

  • "Laura is excited about her new bike." Here "is" links the subject Laura to the emotional state of excitement.

  • "My birds are hungry." The word "are" identifies that the birds currently exist in a physical state of hunger.

Determining Other Linking Verbs

In addition to true linking verbs, there are verbs that can exist either as action verbs or linking 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:

  • Grow

  • Look

  • Prove

  • Remain

  • Smell

  • Sound

  • Taste

  • Turn

  • Stay

  • Get

  • Appear

  • Feel

Testing for Linking Verbs

Since some linking verbs can function as either action verbs or copular verbs, how do you make the distinction? A quick and easy test is to replace the verb you suspect in the sentence with an appropriate form of a true linking verb.

If the sentence still makes sense, it is a linking verb. If it isn't logical with the substitution, it's an action verb.

Take these examples:

  • "The flowers looked wilted."

  • "She looked for wildflowers"

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 spaghetti sauce tasted delicious."

  • "She tasted the delicious spaghetti sauce."

The first sentence, "The spaghetti 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.

For more information, check out Examples of Linking Verbs.

Online Resources for Teaching Linking Verbs

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:

  • Quia offers an interactive online quiz to identify linking and action verbs.

  • Lesson Tutor has simple hints for verbs and assignment to test your knowledge.

  • Using English, a site designed for ESL students, has a short section on linking verbs. You can also use their forum to ask questions.

  • The Verb Song, Songs for Teaching, is a fun way for younger students to learn this concept.

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