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Linking Verbs or Copulas

Sofia Coppola directing a film.A linking verb links the subject of the sentence to more information about that subject (the predicate). A linking verb is also known as a copula (plural copulas or copulae.)

In English most verbs‏‎ describe an action. For example:

Sofia directs her new film

The verb here tells us what the subject does. However, a linking verb doesn’t describe an action, it describes the subject and gives us more information about it:

Sofia is Francis’ daughter.

In this example, is is a linking verb; it doesn’t tell us what Sofia does, it tells us what Sofia is.

True Linking Verbs

Some verbs always work as linking verbs. That is to say, they never describe an action, but always connect the subject to additional information.

The most common “true” linking verb is be (in all its forms: be, is, are, was, were, being, been, etc) with less common verbs being become and seem.

He is happy.
They are content.

The film became better in the second half.

The audience seem well satisfied.

Again, we are not describing what the subject does but what the subject is like.

Note that when we use the verb be to form other verb forms‏‎ (e.g. the present simple‏‎) then it is not regarded as a linking verb but an auxiliary verb.

Other Verbs as Linking Verbs

Other verbs can also be used as linking verbs although they have a “normal” use as well. Common ones include:

appear, become, feel, grow, look, prove, remain, seem, sound, smell, stay, taste, turn

For example:

This perfume smells fantastic!

My lunch tasted awful.

She felt unwell.

They look miserable.

She seems well.

Note that these other verbs can also work as normal verbs (i.e. not linking).

Will you smell this and tell me if it is moldy?

Look at this mess!

We can also use some other verbs as linking verbs. When a verb can work as either a linking verb or a normal verb then it’s known as a semi-copula or a pseudo-copula.

Linking Verbs and TEFL Teaching

Do you need to teach your class about linking verbs? There’s a strong chance you could get through your entire teaching career without mentioning linking verb in the classroom.

Unless your students need to know the name for this kind of verb, or unless it is brought up by one of the students, it is probably not worth bringing this information into the classroom. It might well just serve to confuse your students who could end up trying to work out what kind of verb they are dealing with when, grammatically, it doesn’t really change anything.

However, if you do need to teach it then simply make sure your students understand that

  • a non-linking verb describes an action
  • a linking verb describes the subject

And that’s pretty much it!

Image: Sofia Coppola whose surname is a bad pun on Copula which is why we have this picture.

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