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Chapter 5: Link Verbs

In this book, we use the term link verb to refer to verbs like be, become, and seem which need to be followed by a Complement. Complements can be noun groups, adjective groups, adverb groups, prepositional phrases, or clauses. They describe the person or thing indicated by the Subject. Verbs of this kind have the label V-LINK in the Collins Cobuild English Dictionary.

There are other verbs which are sometimes followed by Complements, but they are not generally considered to be link verbs because they have a complete meaning in themselves, for example they indicate an action such as moving or leaving. These verbs are dealt with in Chapter 1, Sections 2 and 6 (see page xxx and pages xxx-xxx).

When verbs such as be and stay are followed by prepositional phrases and adverbs indicating place, they are not considered to be link verbs: see page xxx Ch2 Sec1 mg 9.

Some link verbs are used in various patterns with introductory it as Subject: see pages xxx-xxx. Ch9 Sec1

Link verb meanings

Link verbs can be divided into three main meaning groups.

1 The `be' group

These verbs indicate that a person or thing is something, or has a particular quality. The verb be is by far the most frequent of these. We include here keep, remain, and stay, which indicate that a person or thing remains something, or continues to have a particular quality.

A few of these verbs have passives. These are given in the list below.

average be compose be composed of comprise be comprised of constitute be constituted by/of cover equal extend feel form be formed by go keep lie make measure number pass prove rank rate remain represent be represented by stand stay total weigh
make up be made up of work out

A few verbs are used with the general meaning `be' only when talking about the level of share prices or currencies:

close end finish open
2 The `become' group

These verbs indicate that a person or thing becomes something, or comes to have a particular quality.

451 become come fall form be formed by get go grow make turn
come out come over end up finish up turn out wind up

A few verbs are used with the general meaning `become' only when talking about the level of share prices, currencies, or other amounts:

creep drift edge inch move
3 The `seem' group

These verbs indicate that a person or thing seems to be something, or seems to have a particular quality. We include here act and play, which indicate that someone pretends to be something.

act appear feel look play seem smell sound taste
Prepositional link verbs

The following combinations of verbs and prepositional phrases can be considered to be link verbs followed by Complements. See the sections on V as n, V to n, etc in Chapter 2.

act as sth amount to sth begin as sth come to sth come as sth consist of sth consist in sth continue as sth convert into/to sth double as sth end as sth figure as sth finish as sth function as sth lie in sth masquerade as sth operate as sth originate as sth parade as sth pass as/for sth pose as sth serve as/for sth rank as sth rate as sth remain as sth reside in sth resolve into sth run at sth run into sth shade into/to sth stand at sth start as sth transmute into sth turn into/to sth
add up to sth average out at/to sth clock in at sth come across as sth come over as sth double up as sth end up as sth finish up as sth go down as sth shape up as sth start off as sth start out as sth weigh in at sth work out at sth
Link verb patterns

Link verbs have the following patterns. Many of these patterns are dealt with in other chapters because they also occur with verbs that are not link verbs.

1 V n

The verb is followed by a noun group.

  • His father was an accountant.
  • I felt such a fool.
See pages xxx-xxx. Ch1 Sec2 mg I.1, I.2, I.3, I.4. 452
2 V amount

The verb is followed by a word or phrase indicating an amount.

  • Twenty-four minus five is nineteen.

Other related patterns are:

V amount adj
  • The tunnel is six hundred metres long.
V amount adv
  • The parasols measure 3 metres across.
V amount in n
  • Each aviary will be 5 metres in width and 3.5 metres high.
See pages xxx, xxx, and xxx. Ch1 Sec5 mg I.1 I.2 `Oth rel patt'.
3 V adj

The verb is followed by an adjective group.

  • All the lights were out.
  • She looked worried.
  • It smells nice.

Other related patterns are:

V colour
  • Her lips were turning blue.
V -ed
  • The style became known as art deco.
See pages xxx-xxx and xxx. Ch1 Sec6 mg 1, 2, 3, 4, `Oth rel patt'.
4 V to-inf

Some verbs which are link verbs are also followed by a to-infinitive, as in She seemed to be looking for someone. However, here the verbs are considered to be in phase, rather than to be a link verb and its Complement. See page xxx. Ch1 Sec8 mg I.2.

5 V as if, V as though

The verb is followed by a clause beginning with as if, as though, or, in informal English, like.

  • He looked as if he hadn't slept for a week.
See pages xxx-xxx. Chap1 Sec15.
6 V prep

The verb is followed by a prepositional phrase that describes the Subject and is therefore similar to an adjective in function.

  • Her husband is from Guyana and they have one son.
  • If you are in debt, you can get practical help from the Citizens Advice Bureau.
  • I was out of work for three months.
453 Many of them will need retraining to cope with new technology if they are not to end up on the human scrapheap.
  • He had fallen in love with another woman.
  • Within two years the pact lay in ruins.
  • The neck looks a bit on the long side to my way of thinking.
  • Drug therapy had proved of little value and Jackie's only relief was to go to bed and try to sleep.
  • Franks joined us and seemed in a worse mood than usual.
appear be come fall feel get go keep lie look prove remain seem sound stay
come out end up finish up wind up
7 V like n

The verb is followed by a prepositional phrase consisting of like and a noun group.

  • It looks like a small bear.
See page xxx. Ch2 Sec22 Structure I.
8 V of n

The verb is followed by a prepositional phrase consisting of of and a noun group.

  • The kitchen smelled of onions and bad meat.
See page xxx. Ch2 Sec23 mg 4.
9 Clause as Complement

The verb be can be followed by a variety of clauses which identify the Subject. The Subject indicates something abstract such as a problem or an aim. This structure is often used to focus on a fact or situation.

These patterns are V -ing, V to-inf, V that, V wh, and V wh-to-inf. The verbs become and remain also occasionally have these patterns.

  • The biggest problem was getting them close enough to the wall.
  • Our broad aim is to raise people's visual awareness and appreciation of life.
  • The important thing is that the book comes out.
  • The question is whether or not it is cost effective.
  • The problem is where to start looking.
  • The most pressing question for Mr Brooke remains how to find a formula that will satisfy all parties and allow the talking to begin.
be become remain
10 Complement followed by to and a noun group

With verbs meaning `seem', a prepositional phrase beginning with to is sometimes used after the Complement to indicate or emphasize whose viewpoint you are giving.

454 These patterns are V adj/n to n and V like n to n.
  • It sounds crazy to me.
  • Life seemed a great joke to her.
  • He didn't look like a fisherman to me.

Sometimes the prepositional phrase beginning with to comes directly after the verb.

  • This is a situation which seems to me extraordinary.
11 Link verbs used without a following Complement

Verbs meaning `seem' can be used by themselves, without a following Complement, in comparative clauses beginning with as or than. This structure is used when you are making a comparison between what someone or something appears to be like and what they are really like.

  • He is much more astute than he seems.
  • This is not as simple as it sounds.

The verb be is used by itself in comparative clauses, and also when confirming or contradicting a statement and in short answers to questions.

  • He's smarter than I am.
  • `Pat Norton is your brother-in-law?' `Yes, he is.'
Be is also used to form question tags, which ask the hearer or reader to confirm a statement. The verb follows a clause and is followed by a noun group, which is its Subject.
  • You're not from here, are you?
  • It's very difficult, isn't it?
Be is also used after so, nor, or neither to indicate a situation that is similar to one mentioned in a previous clause. The verb is followed by a noun group, which is its Subject.
  • They're strong, yes, but so are we.
  • `I'm not worried about Mrs Parfitt.' `Neither am I.'