A linking verb resembles an equal sign in math, linking the subject to a noun, pronoun or adjective, called a subject complement. For example, in the sentence "Linking verbs are confusing," the verb "are" links the word "confusing" to the subject "linking verbs." Mathematically, the sentence means "Linking verbs = confusion." Although a linking verb serves a useful function by identifying or describing the subject, it lacks action. Its overuse can lead to wordiness and monotony in writing.
Identify linking verbs. Often, the "be" verbs (is, am, are, was, were, be, being) act as linking verbs. Other linking verbs include sensory verbs: look, smell, taste, feel and sound. To remember these words, insert each verb in this sentence: "The popcorn _(s) good." The Guide to Grammar and Writing also identifies less obvious linking verbs: appear, become, grow, prove, remain, seem and turn. Note, however, that when "be" verbs assist action verbs, they no longer act as linking verbs. In this sentence "I was running," the "was" accompanies the action verb "running," rather than linking information to the subject.
Differentiate sensory verbs that show action from those that merely link. Note the linking verb in this sentence: "Sandra appears upset"; however, if you write, "Sandra appeared from nowhere," she has actively made her presence known. Just as this sentence "He looks perplexed" demonstrates a linking verb, the next sentence uses "look" actively: "He looked in my direction." If you can substitute the word "seems" for a sensory verb like "appears" or "looks," you have a linking verb. The Utah Valley State College Writing Center notes that "seem" and "become" always function as linking verbs.
Substitute active verbs for linking verbs. Instead of writing "Professor Saxby is the coordinator of the Faculty Development Team," state that "Professor Saxby coordinates the Faculty Development Team." By eliminating "is" and substituting "coordinates," you gain a stronger and shorter sentence.
Eliminate linking verbs in simple sentences, and combine related sentences. By omitting the "is" in "My daughter is a computer tech" and combining it with the sentence "My daughter works for the state prison system," you create a more succinct statement: "My daughter, a computer tech, works for the state prison system."
Remove linking verbs in clauses beginning with "who," "that" or "which." For example, you could easily eliminate both the "who" and the linking verb "is" in this sentence: "Greg Allen, who is an accounting professor, earned his CPA forty years ago." Similarly, you could omit "that is" in this sentence: "The building that is adjacent to Walmart needs renovation." By omitting some linking verbs, your writing will improve.