Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Lesson on linking verbs aka copular verbs

If you have a good learner's dictionary, it will tell you if a verb is transitive, intransitive or a linking verb. There are only three 'pure' linking verbs be, become and seem. But there are forty or so other verbs which are used as linking verbs as well as being transitive or intransitive. They are mainly to do with appearance, the senses and processes of change.
Explore linking verbs by doing lots of short exercises

How are linking verbs different from other verbs?

Look at these sentences: the first is transitive, the second intransitive:
  • John earns a lot of money. (noun phrase = the object)
  • John works very hard for his money. (adverb phrase)
What does John earn? - a lot of money (the object). How does he work? - Very hard (adverb). Now look at these two sentences:
  • John is a company director. (noun phrase = complement of the subject)
  • John is very rich. (adjective phrase)
In the first pair of sentences, we learnt what John did, and how he did it. In the second pair, the information after the verb relates directly to John himself. We learn not what he does or how he does it, but in both cases what he is. So there are two important things to know about linking verbs:
  • Linking verbs don't take an object. Any noun (phrase) or similar immediately after the verb refers back to the subject, and is known as the compliment to the subject, or the subject compliment.
  • Linking verbs take adjectives, not adverbs, as these too refer back to the subject, not to the verb.
Note 1 - The first point doesn't pose any problems with nouns or gerunds, as they have exactly the same form whether they are the subject or the object. Where we can have problems is when we use pronouns, as they have different subject and object forms. But more of that later.
Note 2 - The use of adjectives with the verb to be is not usually a problem for students. They get used to it very quickly, and the same thing might well happen in their native language, at any rate it does in many European languages. But with other linking verbs this is not usually the case, so this where you need to be careful.

A little terminology

Copular verbs - This is just the term used by grammarians and linguists for linking verbs. As the main linking verb is to be, this is sometimes known by linguists as the copula.
Predicate position - When adjectives are used after a linking verb like this, they are said to be in predicate position, or being used predicatively. This is because linguists divide the sentence into subject and predicate, the predicate consisting of the verb and everything that comes after it.
When an adjective comes before a noun, on the other hand, it is said to be being used attributively. Most adjectives can be used in both positions:
  • He bought a brand new car. (attributive) - This car is brand new. (predicative)
  • A very rich businessman (attributive) - He became very rich (predicative)
  • I know a happy man (attributive) - He seems happy (predicative)
But there are some adjectives which are only or mostly used attributively, for example elder - my elder brother - and others that are only used predicatively, like asleep - He is asleep.. But that's not really the theme of this lesson, so we won't go into any more detail about that today.
Click and Drop - Where you see this sign, mouse over for instructions

Adjective or adverb?

Exercise 1 - Use the adjectives and adverbs in the box to fill the gaps

nice   ·   jealously   ·   stupidly   ·   stupid   ·   nicely   ·   jealous
1.He can be a bit sometimes, which is a shame.
2.He seemed rather . Are you seeing him again?
3.He guarded his secret .
4.The salmon will do , thank you.
5.She became very when he started seeing somebody else.
6.Sorry, but I've left my wallet at home.
Linking verbs can be divided into groups of similar verbs:

Verbs of the senses

look   ·   feel   ·   smell   ·   sound   ·   taste
These can be used as linking verbs and as transitive / intransitive verbs.

Exercise 2a - Fill the gaps with a suitable adjective or adverb from the box

good   ·   smooth   ·   carefully   ·   pungent   ·   loud   ·   appreciatively   ·   knowledgeably   ·   loudly   ·   nervously   ·   nervous
1.That music sounds very . Can you turn it down a bit.
2.The bells sounded from the village church.
3.He felt his way very round the darkened room.
4.This wine tastes so , it's like velvet.
5.That cake looks . Can I have some please.
6.She tasted the wine - 'I would say d'Yquem. 2001 perhaps?.'
6.That cheese smells very .
8.She looked up when she heard the doorbell.
9.She's feeling a bit because of her exam.
10.She smelt the roses and thanked him.

Exercise 2b - Now tick the boxes on the right of those sentences where there is a linking verb.

As well as with an adjective, we can also use these verbs after as if and like
  • It tastes as if it's got alcohol in it.
  • It tastes like honey.
  • It feels as if it's made from some kind of plastic.
  • It smells like newly cut grass.
  • It sounds like the parade has started.
  • It looks like there's no sugar left..
Note - as if is followed by a clause, whereas like is normally followed by a noun. But in informal English, we also follow like with a clause, although some people consider this not to be correct.

Look, seem and appear

1. These are often used in a very similar way to each other:
  • You look happy today.
  • He seems very quiet. Is he OK?
  • She appeared rather surprised when I told her.
2. We can use as if or like after look and seem but not after normally after appear
  • She looks as if she's seen a ghost.
  • It looks like rain
  • It seems as if the thunder's finished now.
  • It seems like the summer's over already.
Note - as if is followed by a clause, whereas like is normally followed by a noun. But in informal English, we also follow like with a clause, although some people consider this not to be correct.
3. We can use seem and appear (but not like) with an infinitive. These two verbs can also be use with a that-clause after an introductory It ...
  • We seem to be lost. Have you got a map?
  • I appear to have forgotten my wallet. Can you lend me some money?
  • It seems that they've just called an election.
  • It appears that he's going to be late.
4. Differences between appear and seem
We use appear to talk about objective facts, but not usually to talk about emotions and subjective impressions. We can use seem to talk about both. So for emotions stick with seem.
  • It appears / seems that has to stay at home all by himself.
  • It appears / seems that she has to work the whole weekend.
  • It seems a shame we can't invite him to stay with us.
  • It seems ridiculous that she has to work the whole weekend.
5. appear and look (but not seem) can also be used as non-linking verbs
  • He suddenly appeared from nowhere.
  • After the rains, mushrooms appeared everywhere.
  • She looked at him inquisitively.
  • I've looked for it everywhere, but I can't find it

Verbs describing change and lack of change.

Here we have one group of verbs describing a change of state and another group describing a lack of change.
become   ·   get   ·   turn   ·   grow   ·   go
remain   ·   stay   ·   keep   ·   rest

Exercise 3. - Use the adjectives in the box to fill the gaps

countrified   ·   violent   ·   calm   ·   easy   ·   furious   ·   warm   ·   awake   ·   impatient
1.Now she's home safe and sound I can rest .
2.The demonstration started off peacefully but turned later on.
3.She got when I told her I couldn't work late.
4.The longer he was kept waiting the more he grew.
5.It may well be an excellent film, but I can't stay a minute longer.
6.When the alarm went off, they all left the building, but everybody remained .
7.The best way to avoid hypothermia is to keep .
8.He moved to a small village and became quite .

The verb get

As a linking verb, get means something like become

Exercise 4. - Solve the anagrams and enter the adjectives into the gaps.

1.I'm getting (y n u h r g), is there anything in the fridge?
2.Come on children, it's time to get (r a y d e) for school.
3.OK, time for bed now, it's getting (a t e l).
4.I got (o e b r d) waiting for you, so I did some window shopping.
5.Come over to the fire and get (r a m w).
6.Still in your pyjamas? Go and get (e s r d s e d) this minute.
7.I must be getting (t a f). I can't fit into these trousers.
8.He got really (g a y r n) when I told him I would be late.
9.My clothes got really (e w t) in the rain. I'm soaked to the skin.
10.How did your T-shirt get so (t r y i d)? Were you rolling in the mud?
11.All the paths in the forest looked the same, and we got (l t o s).
12.After the shower we quickly got (y d r) in the hot sun.
Get with comparatives - often used to express a process of change:
  • It's been getting colder lately.
  • Laptops have got much cheaper.
  • The older I get, the younger I feel.
  • You're getting warmer (nearer to finding something)
  • The storm's getting closer.
  • Your memory's getting worse and worse!
Get somebody/something + adjective - We can also use the some of these adjectives in this construction. Perhaps not exactly a linking verb as it has an object, but closely connected.
  • Can you get the children dressed while I make breakfast?
  • Now don't get your clothes dirty, children.
  • How on earth am I going to get this dry in time?
  • And just how did you manage to get your room so untidy?
There's more on get at my post Getting versatile

The verb turn

Expresses more of a complete change from one state to another than a simple process of change.

Exercise 5. - Match the beginnings and endings.

1. Last week was pretty mild,abut later turned nasty.
2. In the Autumnbturned politician.
3. It's turned deathly shade of white.
4. He used to be an amateurdthe leaves turn gold, then brown.
5. This hot weather hasethen he turned professional.
6. He's only just turned 40fturned the milk sour.
7. He's a lawyergI'm off to bed.
8. Her face turnedhand he's already worrying about the midlife crisis.
9. The situation started off calmly enoughibut now it's turned cold all of a sudden.

The verb grow

Somebody or something begins to 'have a particular quality or feeling over a period of time' (Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary). Notice the adjectives it collocates with.
  • We all grow old, you know.
  • He grew increasingly impatient as no bus came.
  • She found she was growing more and more fond of him.
  • I'm growing rather bored of your constant complaining!

The verb fall

When something happens to you or to something without your volition. It is only used like this with a very few words.
  • She fell ill while on holiday.
  • The room fell silent.
  • Shhh! Dad's fallen asleep on the sofa.
  • He fell victim to a phishing scam.
  • The company fell prey to a corporate raider.

The verb come

Used as a lnking verb in a few situations.
  • And her dreams all came true.
  • The straps holding the luggage on the car roof came loose.
  • In this production, all the characters really come alive.

The verb go

One of the many meanings of the verb go, is to change state or condition, sometimes slowly, sometimes fast, often in a bad or undesirable way. It is especially used about food, the weather etc. Test your vocabulary with this exercise.

Exercise 6 - Fill the gaps using the adjectives in the box.

mouldy   ·   deaf   ·   dark   ·   strange   ·   berserk   ·   bald   ·   sour   ·   stale   ·   off   ·   grey   ·   rancid   ·   bust
1.The company has gone and stopped trading.
2.I don't think this cheese is meant to go as as that!
3.When I told Dad I'd crashed his car, he went .
4.This wine doesn't smell right. I think it's gone .
5.I know I'm going , but I'm happy to grow old gracefully.
6.Not a hair on his head. He's gone completely .
7.Oh no! The milk's gone and I so wanted a coffee.
8.Wrap the bread up or it'll go .
9.She's gone a bit lately, you never know what she's going to do.
10.He went stone at a very early age, can't hear a thing.
11.It's gone very all of a sudden. I bet it's going to thunder.
12.The butter's gone . Throw it out.

Sitting, standing, lying, running etc

Exercise 7. - Fill the gaps with Past simple forms of the verbs in the box.

stand   ·   sink   ·   sit   ·   lie   ·   run   ·  
1.He absolutely motionless on the ground until the enemy had gone.
2.There was a pack of dogs that wild in the town.
3.The car idle in the garage all winter.
4.The boy still in front of his mother while she brushed his hair.
5.She deep into her armchair, pleasantly exhausted.

A few other verbs which can be used as linking verbs.

  • The sun burned high in the sky.
  • At the end of the party everyone left happy.
  • The opossum played dead.
  • The accused pleaded innocent to all the charges.
  • It's proving very difficult to find anybody suitable for the post..
  • The athlete tested positive for forbidden substances.

And now for those pesky pronouns

Exercise 8 - Use your extinct. Click on what you think is the most appropriate of the two choices.

A mother is talking to her children
- And which of you two spilt the milk?
- It wasn't (I / me), Mummy. It was (he / him).
A teacher is talking to her pupils
- Who said that?
- It was (she / her), Miss.
A young woman is phoning her mother.
Hi Mum. It's (I / me).
Now complete this sentence:
In informal English we use (subject / object) pronouns after the verb to be
Now please read this dicussion: Show discussion
The use of pronouns is one of the most controversial topics in English, probably because they are the just about the only words in English which have cases - subjective, objective etc.
As such they are definitely worth a lesson of their own, which I hope to get around to soon.



  • Ex 1 - 1. stupid, 2. nice, 3. jealously, 4. nicely, 5. jealous, 6. stupidly
  • Ex 2a - 1. loud, 2. loudly, 3. carefully, 4. smooth, 5. good, 6. knowledgeably, 7. pungent, 8. nervously, 9. nervous, 10. appreciatively
  • Ex 2b - 1. Yes, 2. No, 3. No, 4. Yes, 5. Yes, 6. No, 7. Yes, 8. No, 9. Yes, 10. No
  • Ex 5 - 1. easy, 2. violent, 3. furious, 4. impatient, 5. awake, 6. calm, 7. warm, 8. countrified
  • Ex 4 - 1. hungry, 2. ready, 3. late, 4. bored, 5. warm, 6. dressed, 7. fat, 8. angry, 9. wet, 10. dirty, 11. lost, 12. dry
  • Ex 5 - 1. i, 2. d, 3. g, 4. e, 5. f, 6. h, 7. b, 8. c,9. a
  • Ex 6 - 1. bust, 2. mouldy, 3. berserk, 4. off, 5. grey, 6. bald, 7. sour, 8. stale, 9. strange, 10. deaf, 11. dark, 12. rancid
  • Ex 7 - 1. lay, 2. ran, 3. sat, 4. stood, 5. sank
  • Ex 8 - 1. me, 2. him, 3. her, 4. me, 5. object

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You can make a teacher copy with answers by clicking on 'Show All'. Make sure you 'Clear All' before printing student copies. Or you can print normally and the answers will appear on a separate page (Page 12). The lesson is on Pages 1-11. I strongly recommend doing a Print Preview first. You might want to change your margins and you certainly won't want to print every page.

1 comment:

hoang tu giac mo said...

Hi,I very appreciate your effort to make such a detailed lesson.Could you please elaborate more about the second sentence of the Exercise 2a, I expected the "loudly"word following the "sounded" verb as a linking verb, but your answer is loudly which makes me confused.Thanks!