Curious English Phenomenon: Linking Verbs

Actually, I’m not so sure how curious [tag]linking verbs[/tag] are in English as opposed to other languages, but they seem to trip up a lot of English users, native or otherwise.

Basically, a linking verb is neither a transitive verb, which can take an object (“I ate a hamburger”), nor an intransitive verb, which cannot take an object (“I ran to McDonald’s for a hamburger”).  To eat in any of its forms takes an object–one has to eat something.  To run in any of its forms cannot take an object–it’s a complete action in and of itself.

Now for linking verbs–they don’t take objects, but they do take nouns and adjectives as their complements, or fulfillments.  For instance, consider the sentence, “The hamburger tastes good.”  Taste is a linking verb and is complemented by the adjective good (or bad).  If you say something “tastes,” it has to have some word to complete the thought, usually an adjective. 

“I am Phillip” shows probably the most common use of a linking verb, that being any form of the verb to be, in this case am.  So, linking verbs can show state of being (“I am so and so”) as well as complete linking statements such as, “I feel great today.”

A section from the University of Calgary Web site does a good job of explaining this and drawing distinctions among transitive, intransitive and linking verbs.

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