What Is a Linking Verb? | Definition & Examples

A linking verb (or copular verb) connects the subject of a sentence with a subject complement (i.e., a noun, pronoun, or adjective that renames or describes the subject). For example, in the statement ‘Max is excited’, the verb ‘is’ links the subject ‘Max’ to the adjective ‘excited’.

Linking verbs are used to indicate conditions or states of being. They’re often contrasted with action verbs, which describe physical or mental actions (e.g., ‘run’). Some verbs can be classed as either linking or action verbs, depending on how they’re used.

Linking Verbs

Examples: Linking verbs in a sentence
Vera was my favorite aunt.

Kishwar seems bored.

The finished painting will look great.

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How are linking verbs used in sentences?

Linking verbs must follow subject-verb agreement and be conjugated for tense.

A linking verb is always followed by a subject complement (i.e., a word or phrase that identifies or describes the subject). There are two main types of subject complements:

  • Predicate nominatives (or predicate nouns) identify the subject using a noun or noun phrase.
  • Predicate adjectives describe the subject using an adjective or adjectival phrase.
Examples: How to use linking verbs
Jessie became a respected physician.

This coffee tastes bitter.

The linking verb ‘be’ can also be used along with an adverb or prepositional phrase to indicate time or location.

Examples: Other types of subject complement
The party was yesterday.

The book is on the shelf.

Note
If you’re unsure whether a verb is a linking verb, try replacing it with a conjugated form of the verb ‘be’. If the sentence still makes sense (even if it has a slightly different meaning), it’s likely a linking verb.

  • Peter seems tired.
  • Peter is tired.

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Linking verbs and stative verbs

Stative verbs describe states of being or perception. Many verbs can be classed as both linking verbs and stative verbs (for example, the sense verbs ‘taste’, ‘sound’, ‘smell’, ‘feel’, and ‘look’). However, not all stative verbs are linking verbs.

While linking verbs always connect a subject with a subject complement, some stative verbs do not. For example, in the statement ‘I recognise that woman’, ‘that woman’ is not a subject complement; it is a direct object receiving the action of the stative verb ‘recognise’.

Examples: Linking verbs and stative verbs
I am a vegetarian. [linking and stative]

They seem unimpressed. [linking and stative]

I appreciate your time. [stative]

Mark dislikes algebra. [stative]

Note
With the exception of ‘feel’ (e.g., ‘I’m feeling good’) and ‘look’ (e.g., ‘you’re looking well’), linking and stative verbs are not typically used in the continuous tense.

  • The flowers are smelling nice.
  • The flowers smell nice.

Linking verbs vs auxiliary verbs

The verb ‘be’ can be used as either a linking verb or an auxiliary verb, depending on the context.

When used as a linking verb, ‘be’ connects the subject of a sentence to a subject complement that identifies or describes it. When used as an auxiliary verb, ‘be’ helps another (main) verb to indicate tense, mood, or voice.

Examples: Linking verbs vs auxiliary verbs
The cat is asleep. [linking]

The cat is sleeping. [auxiliary]

Linking verbs vs action verbs

Linking verbs are often contrasted with action verbs (also called dynamic verbs).

  • Linking verbs indicate conditions or states of being.
  • Action verbs refer to specific physical or mental actions or events.

Some verbs (including all sense verbs) can be classed as either linking or action verbs, depending on the context.

Examples: Linking vs action verbs
The cake tastes good.

I tasted the cake.

That man looks interesting.

Ross looks at his phone when he is bored.

Note
Adverbs are sometimes mistakenly used as subject complements in sentences that contain linking verbs. As the subject of a sentence will always be a noun or pronoun, it should be modified by an adjective rather than an adverb.

  • I feel badly about the accident.
  • I feel bad about the accident.

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Other interesting language articles

If you want to know more about commonly confused words, definitions, common mistakes, and differences between US and UK spellings, make sure to check out some of our other language articles with explanations, examples, and quizzes.

Frequently asked questions

What is a subject complement?

A subject complement is a noun or adjective that renames or describes the subject of a sentence. Subject complements are necessary in sentences that contain linking verbs.

For example, in the statement “Lina is a singer,” the linking verb “is” links the subject “Lina” to the subject complement “a singer.”

Is “look” a linking verb?

The verb “look” can be used as either a linking verb or an action verb, depending on the context.

When used as a linking verb, “look” links the subject of a sentence with an adjective that describes the subject (e.g., “Ava looks happy”).

When used as an action verb, “look” describes a specific action the subject is performing (e.g., “Dan looks at his watch”).

What are some common linking verbs?

Many verbs can function as linking verbs, including:

  • Appear
  • Be
  • Feel
  • Look
  • Seem
  • Smell
  • Sound
  • Taste

Sources for this article

We strongly encourage students to use sources in their work. You can cite our article (APA Style) or take a deep dive into the articles below.

This Scribbr article

Ryan, E. (2023, December 19). What Is a Linking Verb? | Definition & Examples. Scribbr. Retrieved 10 July 2024, from https://www.scribbr.co.uk/verb/linking-verbs/

Sources

Aarts, B. (2011). Oxford modern English grammar. Oxford University Press.

Butterfield, J. (Ed.). (2015). Fowler’s dictionary of modern English usage (4th ed.). Oxford University Press.

Garner, B. A. (2016). Garner’s modern English usage (4th ed.). Oxford University Press.

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Eoghan Ryan

Eoghan has a lot of experience with theses and dissertations at bachelor's, MA, and PhD level. He has taught university English courses, helping students to improve their research and writing.