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Action Verbs and Linking Verbs

A verb may describe an action or activity, or an event or happening.

  • The dogs barked loudly.
  • Cats and dogs always fight.
  • My grandmother knits beautiful scarves.
  • We waited for you for over half an hour.
  • Johnny ate a cheese sandwich.
  • No-one spoke.
  • Tommy leapt over the wall.
  • Mrs. Lee had a cup of coffee.
  • She closed the book and shut her eyes.
  • The car crashed into a lamppost.

Verbs that describe actions, activities, events and happenings are called action verbs.

An action verb may equally well describe a mental process such as thinking, knowing or wanting:

  • Anyone who knows anything about computers knows that.
  • ‘How very strange,’ she thought.
  • remember her face but I forget her name.
  • She immediately realized her mistake.
  • They fear the loss of their good reputation.
  • The police suspect a terrorist plot.
  • ‘What next?’ he wondered.
  • want a new carpet.
  • We need a bigger house.

An action verb may also describe something that happens to a person or thing:

  • Johnny got first prize in the painting competition at school.
  • She received an unexpected gift.
  • The couple sustained severe injuries in the accident.

Some verbs do not describe actions, thoughts, events, etc, but are used in descriptions of what someone or something is or what they are like. Such verbs are known as linking verbs.

The main linking verbs in English are appear, be, become, feel, get, go, grow, keep, look, make, prove, remain, seem, smell, sound, stay, taste and turn:

  • The idea may appear sensible, but I think it has some drawbacks.
  • My mother is very keen on art.
  • We became firm friends.
  • feel so tired these days.
  • Her mother got very anxious when she didn’t arrive on time.
  • She went as white as a sheet when she saw him.
  • We all grow old eventually.
  • Keep quiet until they’ve gone.
  • You look worried.
  • She would make an excellent teacher.
  • What we planned to do unfortunately proved impossible.
  • They remained bitter enemies from then on.
  • Your plan seems OK to me.
  • That cake smells nice.
  • A week off work sounds good to me.
  • stayed awake all night worrying about it.
  • That soup tastes awful.
  • The weather turned very cold on Monday.

Most words that function as linking verbs can be action verbs as well:

  • The soup smells good, (linking verb – ‘smells good’ describes what the soup is like)
  • She leant over the pot to smell the soup, (action verb – ‘smell the soup’ says what she did)
  • The weather suddenly turned very wet and windy, (linking verb -‘turned very wet and windy’ describes what the weather was like) She turned and walked out. (action verb – ‘turned’ says what she did)
  • John made an excellent chairman, (linking verb – ‘made an excellent chairman’ describes what John was like as a chairman) John made an excellent apple pie. (action verb – ‘made an excellent apple pie’ says what John did)
  • The woman suddenly appeared very anxious, (linking verb -‘appeared very anxious’ describes what the woman was like)
  • The woman suddenly appeared round the corner, (action verb – ‘appeared round the corner’ says what the woman did)

The person or thing doing the action described by the verb is the subject of the verb:

  • We [subject] waited [verb] for you for over half an hour.
  • The dog barked loudly.
  • She immediately realized her mistake.
  • Cats and dogs always fight.
  • If only we had some rope!
  • The police came at once.
  • The boy kicked the stone over the wall.
  • They smiled to one another.

The person or thing that the action described by the verb is done to or affects is the direct object of the verb:

  • The boy kicked [verb] the stone [direct object] over the wall.
  • The police soon caught the burglars.
  • The dog was chasing a cat.
  • Her mother was reading the newspaper.
  • She immediately realized her mistake.
  • We need a bigger house.

The word or phrase that follows the linking verb and says something about the subject of the verb is called a complement:

  • That cake smells [verb] nice [complement].
  • You look very worried.
  • We all forget things when we get old.
  • Roses are red, violets are blue.
  • His father is a teacher, but he really wants to be a farmer.
  • felt a bit of a fool.
  • Their son became a doctor and their daughter became a nurse.
  • They remained good friends from then on.

Some complements are phrases formed with prepositions (such as in or on):

  • It looks in good condition.
  • She seems very on the ball.

Some linking verbs may be followed not by a complement but by an adverb, an adverb phrase or a prepositional phrase. Such words and phrases do not describe what someone or something is like, but say where the subject of the verb is, when it is, etc:

  • The boys are here.
  • Our car is right outside.
  • The only way over the river was across a narrow bridge.
  • The meeting is at nine o’clock.
  • These books are for you.

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