What Are Linking Verbs? List And Examples

Here are some neat facts: even though it lays eggs, an echidna is a mammal. Grass looks green because it has chlorophyll. Tadpoles lose their tails when they become frogs or toads. Let’s stop learning about nature for a moment and take a closer look at the verbs we used to state these cool facts. As you may know, a verb is a word that we use to refer to actions or states of being. Although we use different types of verbs in our sentences and clauses, all of the italicized verbs we used in our fun facts are all the same specific type of verb: a linking verb.


What is a linking verb?

A linking verb is a verb “that serves as a connecting link or establishes an identity between subject and complement.” For example, the sentence The blanket is green uses the linking verb is to link the subject the blanket with the adjective green that provides information about the subject. A linking verb is also known as a copula, directly from a Latin word referring to a “tie, bond,” hence linking.

The secret to linking verbs is revealed in their name: they link information together rather than express actions. We refer to the word, phrase, or clause that is being linked to the subject as a subject complement. A subject complement is “a word or a group of words, usually functioning as an adjective or noun, that is used in the predicate following a copula (linking verb) and describes or is identified with the subject of the sentence.”

The subject complement can take a variety of different forms. Let’s look at some sentences that use linking verbs to show what subject complements can look like.

  • My favorite food is pizza. (noun)
  • She looks pale. (adjective)
  • He was a man on a mission. (noun phrase)
  • It smelled stinkier than a skunk. (adjective phrase)
  • The soda tasted like oranges. (prepositional phrase)
  • It seems as if it might rain any moment. (subordinate clause)

While all of these subject complements look pretty different, they all perform the same job: they describe the subject. Generally speaking, there are two major types of information provided by a subject complement:

  1. Qualities, attributes, or descriptions: Bill is lazy. (Lazy is an adjective that describes Bill.)
  2. Identity: Diana is a good student. (A good student is a phrase that re-identifies the subject Diana. The person you are identifying is both Diana and a good student.)

Linking verbs do not refer to physical or mental actions, which means they are not action verbs.

Because they do refer to a subject’s state of being, though, linking verbs are considered to also be stative verbs. However, not all stative verbs are linking verbs. Let’s look at the different ways we use these two types of verbs to explain why:

  • Linking verb: This method seems inefficient.
  • Stative verb: Nick knows the answers.

In the first sentence, the verb seems links two pieces of information together: the subject complement inefficient describes the subject, this method. However, the verb in the second sentence is clearly not linking information: Nick is not “the answers” nor does “the answers” describe Nick in any way. The second sentence instead uses the stative verb knows to describe Nick’s state of being. In this sentence, the word answers is a direct object rather than a subject complement: answers are what Nick knows.

Need to know more about stative verbs? We’ve got you covered with our article on them.

List of linking verbs

Many commonly used verbs are linking verbs. There are three verbs in particular that are generally used as linking verbs:

  1. the verb be and all of its forms (am, is, are, was, were, been, being)
  2. the verb become
  3. the verb seem

Some other verbs commonly used as linking verbs include verbs that refer to the five senses. It is important to remember that these verbs may not always be used as linking verbs in a specific sentence:

  • look, appear, sound, taste, smell, feel

Some other verbs that refer to states of being can also be used as linking verbs. Again, these verbs may not always function as linking verbs:

  • grow, turn, remain, prove, act, stay, get

Linking verb examples

The following sentences all use linking verbs. In order to tell if a verb is being used as a linking verb, look if the sentence has a subject complement. Remember, linking verbs are used to link information so there must be a subject complement that is describing or identifying a subject.

  • My grandfather was a mischievous boy when he was my age.
  • We became very scared after the bridge started to wobble.
  • If you ask me, the friendly man’s offer seems suspicious.
  • The audience grew silent when the actors took the stage.
  • This mushy bread tastes terrible.
  • All it took was one wrong word to make the situation turn ugly.
  • Based on the results of the experiment, her hypothesis proved true.
  • My daughter acts shy around strangers.

Linking verb rules & best practices

Linking verbs act differently than many other others, so it is important to know how we typically use them in sentences and clauses.

  1. Linking verbs can function as intransitive verbs, which do not take direct objects. Linking verbs do not take direct objects.  The presence of a direct object in a sentence/clause will alert you that the verb used with it is not a linking verb.
  2. Linking verbs never refer to actions, which means they are never action verbs. All linking verbs are also stative verbs, however not all stative verbs are linking verbs.
  3. Because linking verbs are stative verbs, we are less likely to use them in continuous verb tenses. For example, you are more likely to hear the sentence The game looks like a lot of fun than The game is looking like a lot of fun.
  4. Linking verbs can be irregular verbs. For example, the verbs be and become are irregular verbs. Make sure you correctly conjugate these verbs when you use them in sentences.
  5. Like all other verbs, linking verbs must follow subject-verb agreement. A singular subject uses a singular linking verb, and a plural subject uses a plural linking verb.
  6. You must be careful when using adverbs with linking verbs. Linking verbs do not refer to actions, so using an adverb may change the meaning of your sentence. For example, the sentences The boy looked weak to me and The boy looked weakly to me have two different meanings. If we do use an adverb with a linking verb, we typically put it before the linking verb as in The caterpillar slowly became a beautiful butterfly or She definitely seemed angry.

There is a lot to know about linking verbs, so let’s see if you have them figured out. Take a look at each of the following sentences and see if you can determine if each bolded word is a linking verb.

  1. William’s mom is a doctor.
  2. Jessica sings in a rock band.
  3. Dmitri lives in Russia.
  4. The soup tastes delicious.
  5. The chef tastes each dish before he serves it to customers.
  6. The king’s brother became a monk.
  7. The dirty dog smells bad.
  8. The dirty dog smells badly because his nose is clogged.
  9. The magician appeared happy after he appeared out of thin air.
  10. Stephanie felt the toy, and it felt weird because it was covered in felt.

Broaden your understanding of verbs even more with this explainer on irregular verbs.

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Answers: 1. Linking verb 2. Not a linking verb 3. Not a linking verb 4. Linking verb 5. Not a linking verb 6. Linking verb 7. Linking verb 8. Not a linking verb 9. Linking verb (first), not a linking verb (second) 10. Not a linking verb (first), linking verb (second), noun (third)

Need a helping hand with your verb knowledge? Check out this article on helping verbs then!

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