Linking verbs don't function in the same way as typical verbs in showing action, so it can sometimes be tricky to recognize them. Review a list of linking verbs so you will be able to recognize words that always function as this type of verb and those that can serve as either linking or action verbs.
Linking verbs are sometimes described as performing the function of an equal sign because they provide the connection between the subject of a sentence and a certain state. This type of verb:
- shows a relationship between the subject and the sentence complement, the part of the sentence following the verb
- connects or links the subject with more information — words that further identify or describe the subject
- identifies a relationship or existing condition
Linking verbs can be referred to as copulas or copular verbs.
Some words are always linking verbs. These are considered "true" linking verbs. 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."
The many forms of to be are linking verbs.
will have been
shall have been
should have been
might have been
may have been
must have been
The various forms of to become are linking verbs.
will have become
Forms of to seem also function as linking verbs.
Any time you see the words or phrases above, you know they are performing a linking or connective function in showing a relationship or describing a state.
- 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.
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 function as action verbs or linking verbs include:
Since some linking verbs can function as either action verbs or linking verbs, how do you make the distinction? A quick and easy test is to replace the verb in the sentence that you suspect is a linking verb with 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. (linking verb)
- She looked for wildflowers (not a linking verb)
Substitute the linking verb "are" for the word "looked" in both sentences. The first sentence still makes sense: "The flowers are wilted." The second sentence, however, would not make sense with that substitution: "She are for wildflowers."
To further illustrate.
- The spaghetti sauce tasted delicious. (linking verb)
- She tasted the delicious spaghetti sauce. (not a linking verb)
The first sentence, "The spaghetti sauce is delicious", works, but "She is the delicious spaghetti sauce" is illogical. The verb tasted is functioning as a linking verb in the first sentence, but not in the second one.
Download and save or print the list of linking verbs below for a resource that you can keep handy. Just click the image for access to the PDF file. Use this guide to printables if you need assistance with the file.
It’s so important for students to start mastering proper verb usage early in their language arts education. Whether you are teaching upper elementary, middle school or ESL students, you’ll need to cover this topic as part of your verb lesson plans. Help students learn how to distinguish this verb type by incorporating these examples of linking verbs into your lesson plans.