Have you felt sad, been elated, or been a good friend lately? If so, a sentence describing you would refer to your state of being, or directly connect you to the thing you were. Such a sentence includes what is called a copular verb or linking verb. When the subject of a sentence is directly linked to its object, the verb used to form that connection is a linking verb.
The most common linking verb comes in the forms of the verb to be. The sentence Fred is a good father links Fred, the subject, with the predicate nominative of the sentence, good father. The verb is provides the essential link. Verbs like to seem and to appear are other common linking verbs.
Though a linking verb may most often come in the form of the aforementioned verb forms, there are a variety of verbs that may be either action verbs or linking verbs, depending upon the context in which they are used. The key difference in determining whether you are dealing with a linking verb or an action verb is whether or not you can substitute a form of to be or sometimes to seem for the verb you are using.
Consider these examples of linking verbs:
- She looked terrible this morning.
He felt overjoyed at the prospect of a new job.
Lemon meringue pie tastes delicious.
The perfume smelled heavenly.
All of these verbs above (to look, to feel, to taste, to smell) can be used in action contexts, which means each can serve double duty as both action and linking verbs. Here are these same verbs used as action verbs:
- He looked through the book and decided not to buy it.
She felt the touch of the cat’s tongue on the back of her hand.
The chef tastes all the food before it leaves the kitchen.
He smelled a terrible odor coming from the back of the room.
These examples can show how difficult it can be to sometimes determine whether a verb in question is an action or linking verb. There is a simple test that can be done to check, as mentioned above. Check whether a form of the verbs to seem or to be will substitute. In the first four examples, you can easily substitute such verbs in each sentence: She seemed terrible; he was overjoyed; lemon pie is delicious; perfume is heavenly. In the second group, other linking verb forms won’t work.
Instead substituting in other linking words renders the sentences ridiculous:
- He is a book.
She is the cat’s tongue.
The chef is all the food.
He is a terrible odor.
Remember that direct connection between subject and object, and specific relationship is almost always implied when a linking verb in any form is used.