action verbs vs linking verbs

Difference Between Action and Linking Verbs

VerbOpens in new window is traditionally defined as “a word used to express action or describe a state of being.” As the definition implies, there are two different types of verbs: action verbs and linking verbs that describe the subjects. The chart below illustrate the form of verbs under each.

Verbs

Action verbsLinking verbs
  • transitive
  • intransitive
  • be
  • appear, seem, tend
  • make, find
  • tend, become, grow, turn, prove, remain
  • feel, look, smell, sound, taste
What's this?

The distinction between action verbs and linking verbs is determined solely by the nature of the subject-verb-complement relationship.

If the complement describes the subject, the verb is a linking verb. If the complement does not describe the subject, then it is an action verb.

Survey the differences in the examples below.

Action Verbs
  • Edmund laughed.
    →In this sentence, Edmund is engaged in the action of laughing.
  • Julian wrote a book.
    →In this sentence, Julia is engaged in the action of writing a book.
  • Kim cooked some soup.
    In this sentence, Kim is engaged in the action of cooking soup.
Linking Verbs
  • Edmund is funny.
    → In this sentence, the predicate adjective funny describes Edmund’s personality.
  • The book became a bestseller.
    →In this sentence, the noun phrase a bestseller tells us something about the success of the book.
  • The soup smelled wonderful.
    → In this sentence, the predicate adjective wonderful tells us something about the nature of the soup.

The term “linking” verb refers to the fact that linking verbs connect or “link” the words following the linking verb back to the subject (See Linking VerbsOpens in new window).

In the linking verb sentences above,

  • is links the predicate adjective funny back to the subject (Edmund);
  • became links the noun phrase a bestseller back to the subject (book);
  • smelled links the predicate adjective wonderful back to the subject (soup).

The subject in linking-verb sentences is the topic of the sentence as opposed to action verb sentences where the subject is the doer of any action.

Linking verbs and Action verbs differ in relation to their complements

Linking Verbs have a unique grammatical feature that distinguishes them from all action verbs: only linking verbs can have predicate adjectives as complements. If a verb can be used with a predicate adjective complement, then we know for certain that the verb is a linking verb.

This extremely useful fact gives us a simple way to distinguish linking verbs from action verbs. If a verb can take a predicate adjective as a complement, then it must be a linking verb.

Linking verbs (as we observed in the beginning of this study) can also be followed by noun phrases. But even here, predicate nominatives, the type of noun phrase that follows a linking verb, are functionally different from the type of noun phrase that follows an action verb. Here is a pair of examples:

Linking verb
  • Alice became a successful writer.
Action verb
  • Alice met a successful writer.

The same noun phrase a successful writer follows the verbs in the two examples, so how can the complements be different?

The complements are completely different in their relationship to their subjects. In the linking verb example, the predicate nominative a successful writer and the subject Alice must be one and the same person:

  • Alice = a successful writer

In the action verb example, the object a successful writer and the subject Alice cannot be the same person:

  • Alice ≠ a successful writer

By definition, predicate nominatives have two distinctive characteristics:

  1. They are always complements of linking verbs.
  2. They must identify or rename the subject—i.e., they must refer to the same person or things as the subject.
Important Hint!  

Action verbsOpens in new window can be either transitiveOpens in new window or intransitiveOpens in new window (See Transitive vs Intransitive VerbsOpens in new window). In the next entry, we explore their differences.