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Linking Verbs

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In point of fact, the verb to be is also a linking verb. But I prefer to put be in a category all by itself and then treat linking verbs separately. We learned above that the verb to be can connect a grammatical subject to a noun (predicate noun) (Mary is president), to an adjective (predicate adjective) (John is big), or to a phrase (Nancy is in financial trouble).

Linking verbs do the same thing: They link a subject to a predicate adjective, a predicate noun, or a phrase modifying the grammatical subject. Broadly, the be’s and the linking verbs are called copulative verbs. (See? I told you these pages would sizzle! Should be worth a few reviews about two thumbs being up, way up!) In addition to the eight forms of be (am, is, are, was, were, been, being, be), the linking verbs include:

Linking Verbs Sentence
appear He appears awkward.
become (always linking) She became  nervous.
feel He feels bad about that.
get He got very angry about that.
go When he fainted, he went limp.
grow He has grown weary.
look She looks smashing.
prove This procedure proved difficult.
remain She remains fatigued.
seem (always linking) She seems an honest woman.
smell The stale milk smells foul.
sound He sounded very sick.
taste The steak tasted delicious.
turn She turned green with envy.


The linking verbs link a subject to a predicate adjective, to a predicate noun, or to a phrase modifying the subject.

Please notice that the verb to be, seem, and become are always linking verbs. Others in the list above can serve as action verbs. For example, if you say, “He appears quick,” you’ve used appears as a linking verb. But if you say, “Superman appeared on Lois Lane’s balcony,” you’ve used appeared as an intransitive action verb.

Linking Verbs - “Feel Bad”

Watch Out

One problem often arising with linking verbs is the tendency some people have of following a linking verb with an adverb, not an adjective. In the table above, you’ll find the correct use of feel as a linking verb. Some people insist on incorrectly saying:

He feels badly about that.

Notice that badly is an adverb, not an adjective (though there is a colloquial definition of badly as an adjective to mean sick or unwell). If the person really does feel badly (the adverb), it means he has deficient tactile abilities or perhaps a calloused soul incapable of doing a very good job of feeling.

The linking verb feel must link noun to adjective, not adverb. The person feels sorry or regretful. Thus:

He feels bad about that.

Action Verbs Serving as Linking Verbs

When Action Verbs Link

Actually, many verbs that are otherwise action verbs can, in certain sentences, serve more as a linking verb than as a transitive or intransitive verb. And when they do, you should be careful to link them to adjectives, not to adverbs.

For example, should you say:

Let him do whatever comes naturally?

Or should you say:

Let him do whatever comes natural?

Isn’t the verb comes really saying is? As in whatever is natural? If so, and I think it is, you should say:

Let him do whatever comes natural.

Similarly, consider the action intransitive verb stands in this sentence:

The men stood silent.

Isn’t silent meant to describe the standers, not the act of standing? If so, then stood serves as a linking verb, or in grammatical lingo, as a copula. As such, it should link to adjective (silent), not adverb (silently).

Does an army travel light? Or lightly? The light modifies the army, not the action of traveling. Thus:

The army travels light.

The above examples appear in the earlier edition of Wilson Follett’s, Modern American Usage, pp. 50-53 (1966).

When faced with these dilemmas, insert the verb to be into the sentence and see if that is your intended meaning. If so, the verb is a linking verb, which links to an adjective, not an adverb.

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