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A Verb With No Action But a Lot of Importance: Linking Verbs

What exactly are linking verbs? How do you identify them? Read to find all the answers...
Omkar Phatak
Last Updated: Mar 12, 2018
For a language to describe the complexity of the real world, it has to be sufficiently complex itself. Grammar provides a language with order and provides laws to help depict all the subtle complexities of the world in detail. The English language is no exception to this, enriched with one of the most plentiful vocabularies and an intricate grammar. Of all the eight parts of speech that help create a meaningful sentence in the language, one of the most important is the 'Verb'.
What are Linking Verbs?
Clearly defining a concept makes it easy to understand, while examples of usage make it easier to grasp the application of the concept.
A linking verb, despite being a verb, depicts no action. In a sentence, the role played by a linking verb is that of a connector of a subject with the subject complement, that holds nothing but the description of the subject. These verbs are particularly used when the task of a sentence is to provide the description of the existing state of the subject, rather than depict changes or actions. Linking words may also connect a subject, with a pronoun, adjective or another noun. An example will serve to amplify the point I have made here.
Life is what we make it to be.
Here the highlighted verb 'is' connects the subject 'life' with the subject complement 'what we make it to be'. All forms of the verb 'to be' are always linking verbs. However, there are other verbs like feel, appear, turn, grow, taste, etc. that may act as transitive, intransitive or linking verbs.
Linking Verb Examples
Grammar describes the structure of language and helps you construct meaningful sentences. The key to writing grammatically correct English is practice. Going through some examples of linking verb usage, will help identify their usage in other sentences. Some of the other linking verbs are continue, remain, sound, etc. Here are some examples of such verbs used in sentences, with them highlighted in red.
  • She turned green with envy, when Benjamin walked away with all the credit.
  • Love is the most difficult thing to describe.
  • Things are as they always were.
  • Jealousy appeared to be the primary cause of their strained relationship.
  • I am very sorry.
How to Identify Them?
It can get dicey when transitive or intransitive verbs are used as linking verbs. In such cases, how do you identify the linking verb? Well there are more than one ways in which you can do that.
In some cases, the simplest way of determining whether a verb is of the linking kind, is by substituting the verb with the appropriate form of 'to be'. If the sentence still makes sense after substitution, you have identified a linking verb. Another way you can identify a linking verb is by exploring whether any action is being actually attributed to the verb. If it's purely aiding the description of a subject or denoting its state, its guaranteed to be a linking verb. Also check if the subject that is linked by the verb is actually participating or engaging in the action described by that verb. If it isn't, then it's bound to be a linking verb.
Thus, these verbs provide the much-needed connectivity between a subject and its complement. Using some of the tricks that I described above, you can distinguish them from transitive and intransitive words that are primarily focused on depicting actual actions. Remember that all forms of the verb 'to be' (are, is, was, has been, etc.), are always linking verbs.
If you find it difficult to judge a verb to be transitive, as discussed previously, just analyze if it's depicting any action in the sentence or purely aiding the description of the subject, by linking it with the subject complement. With practice, you will surely get better at understanding the intricacies of English grammar.