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What Is a Copula Verb?

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The copula verb is a verb that connects a noun or subject directly to another word without the use of prepositions. In some books and other sources, this type of verb also been called a “copular” verb, because it connects. Some linguists and others find the phrase “copula verb” to be a bit more innocuous.

Examples of copula verbs include the verbs “be” and “look.” Other copula verb examples include verbs that correspond to the five senses, such as taste, smell or sound. Some other copula verbs have become relatively obsolete in use. One example is the word “prove.” While English speakers in past times may have used phrases like, “these efforts prove difficult,” modern English speakers are likely to use other alternatives to describe something that is hard to do.

Often, copula verbs link the subject of a sentence to an adjective. For example, the English speaker might say, “this smells good,” or alternately, “this is good.” Both of these are simple uses of the copula verb that include the positive general adjective “good.”

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It’s important to note that some copula verbs also function as what’s called an auxiliary verb. The verb “be” is an example of this. The auxiliary verb, also called a helper verb, is a verb that complements another verb. For example, if an English speaker says “I am flying” the first person singular form of the verb “be” assists the primary verb “flying,” which describes the actual activity. As a copula verb, the word “be” could be used in a sentence like “this fruit is rotten.”

One challenge that beginners in the English language might have with copula verbs is the issue of subject and verb agreement. Speakers and writers need to be sure that the subject and the verb both use the right singular or plural forms. Non-native English speakers may feel the need to consult references to apply the right forms of copula verbs and their subjects.

While the copula verb often links to an adjective, some may link to adverbs. An example is the phrase “This smells horribly.” This phrase may be grammatically incorrect, but phrases like these are somewhat common usage in some English speaking communities. Another prime example is the use of “awfully” as an interjection in a copula verb phrase: if an English speaker says “This steak is awfully rare,” the linking of the adjective rare to the subject has been supplanted in a sense by the word “awfully,” which is acting as an adverb, modifying the adjective.

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matthewc23
Post 5

@stl156 - I am trying to think of examples, but I am not completely sure of the rules. One simple example I can come up with is, "He hates apples." It isn't explicitly stated, but I don't think "hate" in this sentence would be a copula verb, because "apples" do not directly describe "he."

I get the sense that the word in the predicate needs to be a predicate nominative describing the subject. Luckily, I learned English from birth, so many of the rules have been ingrained in my head, and I don't have to think about the right usages. Something like this, though, could be very difficult for a new English speaker.

One of the things many other

languages have and English doesn't is noun declension. In those languages, like Latin, German, and Russian, the nouns get various endings depending on what role they play in the sentence. In languages like that, I think it would be much easier to determine whether a copula verb was being used.
kentuckycat
Post 4

@JimmyT - One of the little tips I have picked up about when to use words like "bad" or "badly" is just to determine if it is a true linking verb being used in the sentence. A linking verb is described with adjectives and an action verb gets adverbs.

The easiest way to do that is to substitute a definite linking verb like "be" into the sentence and see if it makes sense. For example, if you feel bad about hurting someone, you can substitute "am" into the sentence to make "I am bad." This sentence of course makes sense, so "feel" is a linking verb in that instance and gets the adjective "bad."

On the other hand, if

you hurt your hand and lost some of the sensation in your fingertips, you can say "I feel badly," because feel is an action verb in this sense. Despite all the rules, I still think there are usually less confusing and awkward ways to say that sentence.
JimmyT
Post 3

@MissDaphne - I guess if an English teacher doesn't know the term, I don't feel too bad about it. At least from the article, it seems that a copula verb would be a specific type of linking verb. My reasoning behind that is because the article says that copula verbs avoid using prepositions.

I think in a sentence like "John went to the store," the word "went" would still be considered a linking verb because it connects John and where he is going, but since the sentence includes a prepositional phrase, I don't think it would be a copula verb. Obviously, I'm not an expert on the rules, so I could be mistaken about that.

I do agree, though

, about people using incorrect grammar to try to sound proper. I think a lot of the problems come about from linking verbs that express emotions. Technically, "I feel badly" can be a grammatically correct sentence, just not in the scenario you alluded to.
stl156
Post 2

I don't think I have ever heard of a copula verb before. I guess I have noticed that some words are able to join subjects to adjectives, but didn't know there was a special term for them.

From looking at the example sentences in the article, is it safe to say that an action verb can never function as a copula verb and still be grammatically correct? At least of all the sentences I can come up with off the top of my head, the only things I can think of that use an action verb are the ones that link the subject to an adverb like "horribly."

MissDaphne
Post 1

I've been teaching English for years and I've never actually heard this term -- the textbook I use calls them linking verbs, so that's what I call them. But then I'm a middle school teacher, so we definitely want to use "innocuous" phrasing. Hard enough getting them to focus on grammar with using suggestive terminology!

Putting an adverb after a linking verb is one of those mistakes people make when they are trying to sound "proper," kind of like saying "between you and I" (in this case, it's "you and me"). The most common example, I think, is to say "I feel badly." No, you feel *bad.*

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