Copulative Verbs

What the heck are copulative verbs?

Until last night, I didn’t have a clue. But thanks to The Copyeditor’s Handbook, by Amy Einsohn, I now know that copulative verbs are “verbs that express a state of being, rather than an action.” A few examples are be, become, feel, seem, smell, sound, taste.

Like good meditators, copulative verbs don’t just do something; they sit there and be. And because they express being rather than doing, they are unique among verbs in that they are modified by adjectives, not adverbs.

Here are some examples of modified copulative verbs, taken from The Copyeditor’s Handbook:

I am fine; he became sad; she feels bad; they felt ill; you seem happy.

This fish smells bad; the band’s new song sounds good; the souffle tastes delicious.

This next example, also from the Handbook, shows the dissonance that can result when an action verb winds up in the same sentence with copulative verbs:

Identical twins may look different, sound different, and walk differently.

See? Look and sound are copulative verbs, so they are modified by the adjective different. Then along comes walk, an action verb that requires the adverb differently. Jarring, isn’t it?

Amy’s advice:

For euphony [harmony] change the final item to “have different ways of walking.”


Tara Treasurefield

Tara’s Writing Studio


About 123clear

I translate foggy information into plain English.
This entry was posted in parts of speech, Uncategorized, usage. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Copulative Verbs

  1. Thanks, Tara. I’ve wondered about those verbs that were neither linking nor action verbs and had no idea what they were called and why I knew the subject needed to be modified by an adjective.

    I just found your blog…I’ll keep reading. Thanks again.

  2. Sandeep Singh says:

    Perfectly explained!!!

  3. 123clear says:

    I appreciate your comments, Dina and Sandeep! It’s great to learn that at least to the two of you, this post is clear.


  4. melina says:

    thanks!!!such a clear explanation! i’ll keep coming to this blog.

  5. trimmnt says:

    If I could I’d throw a 77 year old hug at you. Can’t help but love folks who can make life simple. Thank you so much.
    ref: copulative

  6. george wu says:

    Are copulative verbs same as linking verbs?

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