What Are Linking Verbs? (with Examples)

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What Are Linking Verbs? (with Examples)

A linking verb is a verb which connects a subject to its predicate without expressing an action. A linking verb is used to re-identify or describe its subject.

The word, phrase, or clause which follows a linking verb to re-identify or describe the subject is called the subject complement.

A List of Linking Verbs

The most common linking verb is the verb to be. Other common ones relate to the five senses (to look, to feel, to smell, to sound, and to taste). Here is a list of common linking verbs:
  • to be
  • (In all its forms, e.g., am, is, are, was, were, will be, was being, has been.)
  • to appear
  • to be
  • to become
  • to feel
  • to look
  • to seem
  • to smell
  • to sound
  • to taste

Examples of Linking Verbs Used to Re-identify the Subject

Here are some examples of linking verbs (shaded) re-identifying the subject:
  • Alan is a beast.
  • His father was the headmaster.
  • This project is a disaster.

Examples of Linking Verbs Modifying (Describing) the Subject

Here are some examples of linking verbs (shaded) modifying the subject:

  • Alan seems drunk.
  • The soup smells delicious.
  • His voice sounds flat.
  • Linking Verbs Are Not Action Verbs

    The verbs to be, to become, and to seem are always linking verbs. They always link the subject to the predicate to re-identify or describe it. However, the other verbs in the list above are not always linking verbs. Remember, linking verbs do not express an action. However, some of the verbs in our list can express an action. For example:
    • He smells the soup.
    • (In this example, smells is not a linking verb. This time, it is an action verb. It has taken a direct object. He is doing something to the soup.)
    • Tony smells awful.
    • (In this example, smells is a linking verb. It links the subject Tony to the adjective awful to modify Tony.)
    Here is another example:
    • The inspector will feel the fabric.
    • (In this example, will feel is not a linking verb. This time, it is an action verb. It has taken a direct object. The inspector will do something to the fabric.)
    • The fabric will feel soft.
    • (In this example, will feel is a linking verb. It links the subject The fabric to the adjective soft.)

    Linking Verbs in the Passive Voice and Progressive Tense

    The verb to be is used to form the passive voice and the progressive tenses. For example: As past participles (here, painted) and present participles (here, frustrating) are classified as adjectives, the constructions above are no different from these:
    • He was happy.
    • He is happy.
    Therefore, the "to be" part of a passive construction (here, was painted) and a verb tense (here, is frustrating) can be considered a linking verb.

    "IT IS I" OR "IT IS ME"?

    A subject complement ought to be in the subjective case. This is important when the subject complement is a personal pronoun (e.g, I, he, they). Look at these examples (subject complement in bold):
    • It is I.
    • It is she.
    • It's they!
    Compare the examples above to these with the complement object in the objective case:
    • It is me.
    • It is her.
    • It's them!
    Technically speaking, we should mark these as incorrect, but we haven't. The overwhelming majority of people will use these in place of the "correct" versions.

    We have to accept that, since time immemorial, common usage has been re-writing our grammar rules, and it will continue to do so. We're already a long way down the road to re-writing the subjective case for subject complements ruling. For most people, the "correct" versions sound pretentious or wrong. Look at this again:
    • It is they! They have arrived.
    • (This is right. Really? Who would say this naturally?)
    Final advice: If you're speaking, do whatever comes naturally to you. If you're writing, restructure your sentence to avoid both versions. For example:
    • "It was her." becomes "She was the one."