What Is a Copulative Verb?

They're Also Known as Linking Verbs

Bananas
Las bananas son amarillos y verdes. (The bananas are yellow and green. In this sentence, "son" is a copulative verb.). Ian Ransley/Creative Commons.

Copulative verbs are among the most useful verbs in Spanish. Unlike verbs that are used to express an action, copulative verbs are used to indicate that a noun coming before the verb is equal to or has characteristics of the word or words following the verb.

Definition of Copulative Verb

A copulative verb is one that connects the subject of a sentence with a noun (or noun phrase) that is the equivalent of the subject or an adjective that describes the subject. Copulative verbs denote a state of being and, with the exception of verbs such as "to become" that express a change in state of being, usually don't express action.

You can think of a copulative verb as something like an equals sign: What comes before the verb refers to the same person or thing that comes after it. Note that in Spanish, the subject of a verb doesn't have to be explicitly stated. In the sentence, the subject in "Nosotros estamos felices" (We are happy) can be deleted without any change in meaning, making "Estamos felices." The copulative verb for both sentences is estamos.

A copulative verb is also known as a linking verb, copular verb, or copula. The equivalent terms in Spanish are verbo copulativo or verbo de unión.

The Three Main Copular Verb of Spanish

In Spanish, traditionally the three main copulative verbs are ser, estar and parecer. Ser and estar are usually translated as "to be," while parecer usually means "to seem." Both "be" and "seem" often are copulative in English as well.

These verbs are copulative verbs only when they performing a linking purpose. All three, especially estar, have other uses as well.

Copulative verbs can be used in all tenses and moods.

Examples of the three verbs being used as copulas:

  • Mi hermana es estudiante. (My sister is a student.)
  • No somos una república bananera. (We're not a banana republic. In this example, the subject nosotros isn't explicitly stated.)
  • Los mexicanos fueron superiores a nosotros. (The Mexicans were superior to us.)
  • Espero que la comida esté sabrosa. (I hope the food will be tasty.)
  • Mi madre estuvo casada. (My mother was married.)
  • Estamos muy agradecidas. (We're very grateful.)
  • La casa parece triste y vacía sin ella. (The house seems sad and empty without her.)
  • Me parece muy difícil. (It seems very difficult to me. The subject is not explicitly stated.)
  • Pablo me parecía muy guapo. (Pablo seemed very handsome to me.)

Other Copulative Verbs

Other verbs, such as those that express feelings, appearances, or the action of becoming, can also act as copulas:

  • Sus ojos semejan los de un perro. (Its eyes resemble those of a dog.)
  • Los pobres permanecen pobres y los ricos permanecen ricos. (The poor stay poor and the rich stay rich.)
  • Me siento enojado cuando no me hablas. (I feel angry when you don't speak to me.)
  • El senador se mostraba complaciente. (The senator seemed complacent.)
  • A los 40 años, Elena se volvió doctora. (At the age of 40, Elena became a doctor.)
  • La oruga se convirtió en mariposa. (The caterpillar became a butterfly.)