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What Is a Linking Verb? | List, Definition & Examples

Verbs updated on  January 10, 2024 5 min read
Linking verbs (aka copular verbs) link the subject of a sentence to a subject complement, which indicates the condition, state of being, or identity of the subject.

A linking verb describes or redefines the subject, while an action verb describes something the subject does or has done to it (e.g., “throw,” “dance,” “swim”).

Examples: Linking verbs
The show was incredible.
The frog became a prince.
You seem upset.

What are linking verbs?

Linking verbs indicate the condition, state of being, or identity of the subject. That is, they describe the subject itself rather than something the subject does or has done to it.

Linking verbs are always followed by subject complements. To complement something means to make it complete, and linking verbs require subject complements to make the sentence complete.

Subject complements are usually predicate nominatives (aka predicate nouns) or predicate adjectives.

Examples: Predicate nominatives and predicate adjectives
She became a world-renowned actress.
The meal tasted divine.

Adverbs of place or time and prepositional phrases can also function as subject complements, but only with forms of the verb “be.”

Examples: Other types of subject complement
My birthday is tomorrow.
Dinner is on the table.

Note
Adverbs of manner (e.g., “happily,” “sadly”) cannot be used as a subject complement. Use the adjective form instead (e.g., “happy,” “sad”).

The children were loudly.
The children were loud.

They can, however, modify the verb.

Leslie quickly became indispensable to the team.

The QuillBot Grammar checker can help ensure you use adjectives and adverbs correctly.

Linking verbs and stative verbs

Stative verbs (aka state verbs) describe the subject’s feelings, opinions, senses, physical qualities, composition, or what it possesses. That is, they describe the state, condition, or perception of the subject rather than what it does or has done to it.

Linking verbs are also stative verbs, but not all stative verbs are linking verbs.

Stative verbs that aren’t linking verbs are often transitive, that is, followed by a direct object (e.g., “fish” in “I hate fish”). They can also be intransitive (e.g., “I understand”).

Linking verbs, on the other hand, are never followed by a direct object and cannot stand alone like an intransitive verb. They are always followed by a subject complement that tells us more about the subject.

Examples: Linking verbs and stative verbs
He has a nice car. [stative]
His car is red. [stative and linking]
I love you. [stative]
The crowd seemed amazed. [stative and linking]

Note
To determine whether a verb is a linking verb, you can replace it with a conjugated form of “be” to see if it still makes sense. If so, even if the meaning is slightly different, it’s probably a linking verb as well as a stative verb. If not, it’s a stative or action verb.

The cookies tasted amazing. → The cookies were amazing.
Simone tasted the cookies. → Simone was the cookies.

When “appear” is followed by a prepositional phrase and you replace it with “be,” it might sound correct even when it’s an action verb. For “appeared,” use “seem” to check whether it’s a linking verb or an action verb.

A lion appeared at the watering hole. → A lion seemed at the watering hole. [action verb]
The lion appeared thirsty. → The lion seemed thirsty. [linking verb]

Linking verbs vs auxiliary verbs

Auxiliary verbs (aka helping verbs) are verbs that are used alongside the main verb to change its tense, mood, or voice.

For example, “be” as a main verb is almost always a stative and linking verb, but it’s often used as an auxiliary verb to an action verb (e.g., to form the present progressive tense or the passive voice).

Examples: Linking verbs vs auxiliary verbs
The study was overseen by the board of directors.
The study was comprehensive.

The duck is swimming.
The duck is in the pond.

Linking verbs vs action verbs

Action verbs (aka dynamic verbs) describe an action performed by (or on) the subject (e.g., “run,” “eat,” “sell”), while linking verbs describe, identify, or redefine the subject (e.g. “be,” “become,” “seem”).

Most linking verbs can also be action verbs depending on what they are describing.

Examples: Linking vs action verbs
Everyone looked excited.
Everyone looked at the stage.

Joaquin grew bored with the movie.
Joaquin grew vegetables in his garden.

One difference between action verbs and linking verbs is that many linking verbs shouldn’t usually be used in continuous tenses, such as the present continuous.

Examples: Linking verbs and continuous tenses
Jara is Spanish.
Jara is being Spanish.

Jermaine has a nice house.
Jermaine is having a nice house.

Exceptions to this include the linking verbs “feel” and “look” and some linking verbs meaning “become”; it’s common for these to be in continuous tenses.

Examples: Linking verbs in continuous tenses
I am feeling sad.
You are looking well.
He is becoming very difficult to work with.
It is getting dark.

You might hear some other stative verbs used in continuous tenses in casual speech, often for emphasis (e.g., “I am loving this book”).

Note
When “be” is used as the main verb in a continuous tense, it means to behave in a certain way temporarily. For example, “Freddie is being very naughty” means he is not always naughty, but he is behaving that way at the moment.

Linking verbs list

There are only a few “true linking verbs”: verbs that are always linking verbs when used as the main verb. Most linking verbs can also be action or stative verbs depending on the context.

Here’s a list of common linking verbs.

Category/type

Linking verbs

Examples

True linking verbs

Be Become Seem

I am hungry. They became friends. He seems nice.

Sensory verbs (when describing a quality of something)

Look Sound Smell Taste Feel (when describing how someone feels or a quality of something)

The dress looks beautiful. That sounds fun. The cake smells amazing. This sauce tastes salty. I feel refreshed. The cat’s fur feels soft.

Verbs meaning “become”

Fall (ill or silent) Get Go Grow Turn

Their dog fell ill. She gets impatient easily. The leftovers went bad. The woods grew dark. His blood turned cold.

Verbs meaning “continue in the state of being …” (not “to stay in one place” or “keep something in one’s possession”)

Keep Remain Stay

I will keep calm. He remained angry. Stock prices stayed low.

Other linking verbs

Appear (meaning “seem”) Equal Prove (meaning “turn out to be”)

You appear upset. A foot equals 12 inches. The rumors proved true.

Do you want to know more about commas, parts of speech, email, or other language topics? Check out some of our other language articles full of examples and quizzes.


Verbs

Nouns

Rhetoric

Present participle

Concrete noun

Oxymoron

Participial phrase

Common noun

Double entendre

Auxiliary verb

Abstract noun

Sibilance

Simple present tense

Proper noun

Cliché

Modal verb

Appositive

Paraprosdokian


Frequently asked questions about linking verbs

What is the most common linking verb?

The most common linking verb is “be” (e.g., “Abel is a painter,” “the McKays were at the party”). 

It’s one of three “true linking verbs” along with “become” and “seem.” These are always linking verbs when used as the main verb, and “be” is the most commonly used of the three.

Is “look” a linking verb?

“Look” is a linking verb when it is describing a quality of the subject (e.g., “you look happy” or “the food looks good”).

When it is describing the act of looking at something, “look” is an action verb (e.g., “he looked at the TV”).

What are some common linking verbs?

The most common linking verbs are “be,” “become,” and “seem.” These are also known as “true linking verbs.”

Other common linking verbs include “appear” when it means “seem” and sensory verbs such as “taste,” “feel,” and “smell” (e.g., “this coffee tastes bitter,” “I feel good”).

Apart from “be,” “become,” and “seem,” all linking verbs can also be action verbs depending on whether they’re describing the state of the subject or an action.

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Sophie Shores

Sophie has a BA in English Literature, an MA in Publishing, and a passion for great writing. She’s taught English overseas and has experience editing both business and academic writing.

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