Jose Carillo's Forum


GYEWE CoverChapter 43

Verbs to Tie Up Loose Ends

One common reason why some foreigners sound funny or confusing when speaking in English is their missing linking verbs. For instance, even well-educated Japanese, Korean, or Chinese executives, impeccable in most other respects, make English remarks like the following without realizing that there is something wrong with them: "This really good product." "Books very expensive." "Mr. Alberto here now." "She coming office today." They don't sound right, of course, because the linking verbs are missing—and often the articles and prepositions, too! This happens even if they think they are scrupulously following the regular English subject-verb-predicate routine: "Miss Reyes taking taxi airport." "Travel agent sending Akira ticket." "Driver getting car now." Linking verbs are simply not part of the speakers' mindset, so they unconsciously skip them and come up with incomplete English sentences without blushing.

This erroneous manner of English speech is understandable because the Japanese, Korean, and Chinese languages—and surely a great many other languages as well—do not need or provide for the use of linking verbs. They are configured such that their sentences can work perfectly without this form of grammar to prop them up. English, on the other hand, is greatly dependent on linking verbs. Otherwise known as copular verbs, linking verbs connect the subject to a complement, which you will remember is the word or group of words that complete the predicate. Linking verbs do not act on an object but simply make English sentences flow correctly and smoothly. Without them, in fact, English may still work but will be like a paraplegic dragging itself around a room.

There are two groups of linking verbs in the English language: current linking verbs, and resulting linking verbs. Current linking verbs indicate a state of the subject, while resulting linking verbs indicate that the verb complement's role is a result of the process described in the verb. We will discuss these two groups in more detail in a little while, but first we need to understand one very important aspect of linking verbs: they must be followed by a complement to make the sentence complete. The complement may either be a subject complement, which follows the subject-verb-complement (SVC) sentence pattern, or an adverbial, which follows the subject-verb-adverbial (SVA) pattern.

Now let's see how linking verbs function in these two sentence patterns. In the SVC pattern, the complement can be any of these: (1) a noun phrase or a noun clause, (2) an adjective, and (3) a noun phrase connected to another linking verb by "to be." What follows are examples of how the linking verb "be" works in its various forms.

When the complement is a noun phrase or a noun clause: "This is a perfect vacation getaway." "Our conclusion is that the thief used the backdoor to enter the house." "Jonathan became a vagabond."

When the complement is an adjective: "Emma stayed unruffled." "The painting looks very impressive." "Danilo became very happy when he heard the news."

When the complement is a noun phrase connected to another linking verb by "to be": "Everything seems to be in order here." "That proved to be the last straw." "The judge appears to be flustered."

The use of "to be" is not absolutely needed in the preceding three sentences. "Everything seems in order here." "That proved the last straw." "The judge appears flustered." but Standard English prefers an infinitive construction with "to be" rather than a stand-alone noun phrase. Also, American English is partial to constructions where the linking verb is followed by the adjective "like": "It seems like Greg does not wish to be disturbed." "They look like they are doing very well." "It feels like it's summer now."

In the subject-verb-adverbial or SVA pattern, the verb "be" acts as the main linking verb between the subject and the adverbial, the most common of which are place and time adverbials. Examples: "Your bedroom is in the basement." "Their cousins are in Laguna." "The reunion will be at 9:30 tomorrow." Notice that this pattern is the normal, day-to-day way of describing the state or condition of things. You know, of course, that creative writers are under pressure to veer away from such passive usage and to use more active verbs, like "lies" instead of "is" in the first sentence ("Your bedroom lies in the basement."), "live" instead of "are" in the second ("Their cousins live in Laguna."), and "starts" instead of "will be" in the third ("The reunion starts at 9:30 tomorrow."). We will take up this very important aspect of actual English usage in a future chapter.

Now that we know how linking verbs work, we can now discuss current linking verbs and resulting linking verbs in more detail. As you may have already noticed, the verb "be" in all its forms is the unchallenged star of the linking verbs. It holds a special place in the English language because it is an all-around—some say overused—verb that can function as the main verb of the sentence, instead of just acting as an auxiliary verb. Look at the ways it works in the following sentences: "I am at home evenings from 6:30." "This is a flawed contract." "Her dresses were very flashy." "The workers have been idle since mid-afternoon." "The store inventory will be in the last day of March."

It should also be clear by now that "be" is by no means the only linking verb in the English language, as mentioned in a previous chapter. There are 11 common current linking verbs in all, including "be," and seven resulting linking verbs, for a total of 18. The current linking verbs are the following: appear, be, feel, lie, look, remain, seem, smell, sound, stay, and taste. The resulting linking verbs, on the other hand, are become, get, grow, fall, prove, run, and turn. You must already be very familiar with them, so we will only give a few examples of how they are used. Current linking verbs: "Their suggestion seems fishy." "Adele appeared happy when she came out of the room." Resulting linking verbs: "The toad became a prince." "Justine fell in love in autumn." "The strategy proved useful."

As you can see, linking verbs are at your beck and call when you don't need a hyperactive verb, or when you are more interested in describing an unfolding process rather than its consequences. Use them so there won't be loose ends in your sentences.


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