Linking Verbs

Linking verbs link or connect the subject of a sentence with an adjective, noun, or pronoun that follows the linking verb. This occurs most frequently with the verb to be:

  • I am lonely. We are teenagers.
  • You are correct. You are the winner.
  • He is a soccer player. They are careful.
  • She is a Baptist. The man is a doctor.
  • It is you. The girls are talented.

As the linking verb changes tenses, it has no effect on the other elements in the sentence:

  • Present: He is spoiled.
  • Past: He was spoiled.
  • Present perfect: He has been spoiled.
  • Past perfect: He had been spoiled.
  • Future perfect: He will have been spoiled.
  • Future: He will be spoiled.

 

In informal or casual style, it is common to use an objective-case pronoun after to be. In formal style, subjective-case pronouns are used. This is true in all tenses:

Subjective Case 

  • That’s he.
  • It was I.

 

Objective Case

  • That will be him.
  • It is me.

Other linking verbs work in the same manner as to be: they combine the subject of a sentence with an adjective that follows the verb. Some of these linking verbs can also be combined with nouns and pronouns that follow the verb. The verbs that are followed only by adjectives are:

appear

seem

feel

smell

grow

sound

look

stay

prove

taste

Each of these ten verbs can be followed by an adjective that modifies the subject of the sentence, and this can occur in any tense and with auxiliaries:

  • The man appears ill.
  • She feels unhappy.
  • The sky has grown dark.
  • His skin will look better tomorrow.
  • Their theory proves wrong.
  • The man seemed impatient.
  • The cookies smell so good.
  • The piano will sound better after tuning.
  • She wants to stay young.
  • The soup tasted delicious.

 

Two linking verbs (to become and to remain) can be followed by adjectives, nouns, and on rare occasions pronouns and can be used in any tense and with auxiliaries. For example:

  • The weather became awful. (adjective)
  • Betty wants to become a lawyer. (noun)
  • The lake remained calm. (adjective)
  • Bill hoped to remain an architect. (noun)

The verb to seem can sometimes be followed by a modified noun rather than just an adjective:

  • That seems a strange statement to me.

 

Some of the linking verbs can also be used as transitive verbs. That is, they do not combine a subject with an adjective that follows them, but, instead, they take a direct object. Compare the following sentences:

 

Linking Verb:  She feels happy.

Transitive Verb >> She feels the fabric. (direct object)

Linking Verb: The cake smelled burned.

Transitive Verb >>  Bill smelled the fl owers. (direct object)

Linking Verb: It grows dark.

Transitive Verb >> They grow tropical plants. (direct object)

Linking Verb: The music sounds loud.

Transitive Verb >>  He sounds the alarm. (direct object)

Linking Verb: It proved wrong.

Transitive Verb >> She proved the theory. (direct object)

Linking Verb: The soup tastes salty.

Transitive Verb >> Mom tastes the soup. (direct object)

It is easy to determine whether these verbs are used as linking verbs or as transitive verbs. Replace the verb with an appropriate form of to be. If the sentence still makes sense, the verb is a linking verb. If it makes no sense, the verb is a transitive verb. For example:

  • Jim felt very lonely. → Jim was very lonely. (makes sense =linking verb)
  • Jim felt a pain in his arm. → Jim was a pain in his arm. (makes no sense = transitive verb)
  • The jam will taste sweet. → The jam will be sweet. (makes sense = linking verb)
  • I will taste the jam. → I will be the jam. (makes no sense = transitive verb)

The verb to appear must be mentioned specially. Although it does not function as a transitive verb, it can be used as a verb that shows the action of appearing and is in such a case not a linking verb. Compare the following pairs of sentences:

 

  • She appeared refreshed and alert. (linking verb = Refreshed and alert modify she.)
  • A strange man appeared at the door. (action verb = At the door shows a location.)
  • He appears stunned by the news. (linking verb = Stunned modifi es he.)
  • The same bird always appears at dawn. (action verb = At dawn expresses time.)

 

Something similar can occur with the verbs to stay or to remain:

  • Despite the pain, her smile stayed fi xed on her face. (linking verb = Fixed modifi es smile.)
  • John stayed in the tent. (action verb = In the tent shows a location.)
  • I remained confi dent. (linking verb = Confi dent modifi es I.)
  • We remained at home last night. (action verb = At home shows a location.)

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