What are they?
Linking verbs never express action. Instead, they connect the subject of the verb to a noun or an adjective that either renames or describes the noun (also called the subject complement), pronoun or noun phrase that acts as the subject. Think of them as an equal sign, much like one in a mathematical equation that is resting in the middle of your sentence. These verbs are also called “being verbs” because they describe a state of being. There are true linking verbs and linking verbs that also function as action verbs. The function the verb serves is what determines whether it is a linking verb.
True linking verbs
True linking verbs are verbs that can never function as an action verb; although, many also function as helping verbs. True linking verbs include all forms of the verb “to be” (am, are, are being, be, is, has been, might have been, was, were and more), “become” and “seem.” The important thing to consider when determining if you are dealing with a linking verb is to remember that a linking verb is the same thing as using an equal sign. Consider the following examples that break down the sentence to the subject and the noun or adjective connected to it by the linking verb:
Example 1: Sheila is sad. (Sheila = sad – so “is” is a linking verb that describes Sheila’s state of being.)
Example 2: Lori seems more tired than yesterday. (Lori = more tired than yesterday – so “seems” is a linking verb that describes Lori’s state of being.)
Confusion with helping verbs
Some true linking verbs also serve as helping verbs. It is when this is possible that the function of the verb is considered. If one of these double-duty verbs shows what the subject of the verb is doing, it is a helping verb. If it shows the subjects state of being and is a noun or adjective connected to the subject, it is a linking verb.
Consider the following examples:
Example 1: Sarah is a beautiful dancer. (Sarah=beautiful dancer – “Is” in this case is a linking verb because it links Sarah’s state of being “a beautiful dancer” to Sarah.)
Example 2: Sarah is dancing beautifully. (Sarah is the subject, and the verb is “is dancing.” Dancing beautifully is not a state of being; instead, “is” is a helping verb that helps provide meaning to the main verb, “dancing.” It shows what Sarah is doing.)
Other linking verbs
Some linking verbs have differing personalities depending on how they are used in a sentence. These verbs can also function as action verbs. To determine the difference, you can apply the equal sign check or look at the function of the verb. Common linking verbs of this type include (but not limited to) the following:
Consider the following examples:
Example 1: The pizza tasted terrible. (the pizza = terrible – “Tasted” is a linking verb because it shows the state of being for the pizza.)
Example 2: Sheila tasted the pizza. (Sheila is not the same thing as the pizza; nor does the pizza describe Sheila’s state of being. “Tasted” is an action verb in this use because it shows the state of doing.)
Linking verbs and prepositional phrases
Sometimes, the subject complement (the noun or adjective that renames or describes the subject) is followed by a prepositional phrase. When this occurs, you essentially ignore the prepositional phrase when deciding if the verb is a linking verb. Consider the following example:
Example: The child grew bored with playing the game.
“The child” is the subject, and “grew” is the linking verb because “bored” is an adjective that describes the child’s state of being. “With playing the game” is a prepositional phrase and is essentially ignored when determining whether a linking verb is used, especially when doing the equal sign test. For example, you would ask, does child = bored? The answer is yes because growing is not what the subject is doing, which would make it an action verb.