The Only Guide to Linking Verbs You’ll Ever Need

What are linking verbs? Well, they’re sort of like those boring but reliable friends you have. They’re not particularly flashy, but boy are they dependable!

However, unlike boring friends, linking verbs are everywhere. Seriously, they flood our daily speech and appear often in our writing.

So sit back, relax, and check out what linking verbs are, see a few examples, and read our list of linking verbs. (I would say Fasten your seatbelt, but there’s really no need. Linking verbs are tame.)

What Are Linking Verbs Exactly?

To understand linking verbs, let’s first talk about action verbs. These are verbs that, as the name implies, express some kind of physical or mental action that a person, animal, object—or even nature—can do.

Action verbs are words like drink, dance, eat, and swim. (Don’t try all of these at once. It’s very hard, to say nothing of the drowning risk…)

examples of linking verbs, list of linking verbs: swim is not a linking verb

The verb swim is not a linking verb. It’s an action verb. (And also great for your cardio.)

Action verbs are different from linking verbs, which you can think of as “states of being” verbs.

All forms of be are linking verbs: is, am, are, was, were, etc. In addition, verbs that have to do with the five senses are linking verbs: feel, look, smell, sound, and taste.

A linking verb is a verb that connects (links!) a subject to its complement.

Is that clear as mud? OK, then try this linking verb definition on for size:

A linking verb is not an action verb. It tells you something about what the subject is, not what it’s doing.

For example, the word is in the sentence Sarah’s dog is tired is a linking verb.

Contrast this with the word chewed in Sarah’s dog chewed the furniture. (The action verb, ladies and gentlemen!)

But any list of linking verbs ought to come with a disclaimer. And that is that a linking verb isn’t always what it seems to be.

For examples of linking verbs, see the section below.

Examples of Linking Verbs in Sentences

How many English linking verbs are there? Well, I don’t really know—and it depends on how you do the counting—but there are about a dozen and a half common linking verbs.

Examples of linking verbs (and examples of when those same verbs aren’t linking verbs) are below.

This tomato smells rotten.

The professor is absolutely certain.

My brother gets mad when he’s hungry.

Leah was tired until the caffeine kicked in.

The company stays true to its founding principles.

In each sentence above, the word highlighted in blue is a linking verb. They’re all examples of states of being. (Notice, too, that each linking verb is followed by a predicate adjective in bold.)

examples of linking verbs, list of linking verbs: tomato smells rotten

The word smells in The tomato smells rotten is a linking verb.

In fact, speaking of being, you could replace the verbs smells, gets, and stays with the verb is and the core meaning would stay the same. Try it!

This tomato is rotten.

My brother is mad when he’s hungry.

The company is true to its founding principles.

See?

Of course, there’s certainly a nuance in meaning when you say that a tomato smells rotten instead of that it is rotten, but you get the idea.

So when are verbs such as smell, get, and stay not linking verbs?

When they’re transitive verbs, meaning that they take an object. Consider the following:

You should stop and smell the roses.

Get me a roast beef sandwich, please.

The judge stayed the execution.

In each case above, the verbs smell, get, and stay have a direct object (roses, sandwich, and execution, respectively). There’s no state of being involved.

Memorizing a list of linking verbs isn’t enough. You have to understand how they work in order to recognize them.

List of Linking Verbs

Below is a decent list of linking verbs. (Note that the list doesn’t include all possible forms of be.)

list of linking verbs, examples of linking verbs

What’s the Difference Between Linking and Helping Verbs?

Remember when I wrote that a linking verb doesn’t always act like a linking verb? Well, that’s because a word like is can play an auxiliary (or helping) role in a sentence.

For example, in the sentence Malcolm is drawing a picture, the word is isn’t a linking verb. It’s a helping verb. It’s there to “help” the main verb in the sentence (drawing).

English uses helping verbs (there’s even a song for them!), but many other languages don’t. The continuous form of the verb (the -ing form) just doesn’t exist in French, for example. The -ing meaning comes from context.

So how do you tell whether a word on our list of linking verbs above is playing the part in a given sentence?

Easy. Just look at what comes after it. If it’s followed by a predicate adjective or predicate noun, then you’ve got a linking verb. If it’s next to an -ing verb, though, you’ve got a helping verb.

The girls are eating at Stella’s tonight.
(are is a helping verb because the -ing verb follows it)

The girls are happy because they’re eating at Stella’s tonight.
(are is a linking verb because a predicate adjective follows it)

For more information on English grammar, read about restrictive clauses (they sound trickier than they are) or parallel structure in sentences.

If you need help with your writing, check out our post on good word choice and then read “8 Easy Steps to Better Web Content.”