What Is a Copula Verb?

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

copular verb
A copula functions as the cylinder connecting these two discs.

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In English grammar, a copula is a verb that joins the subject of a sentence or clause to a subject complement. For example, the word "is" functions as a copula in the sentences "Jane is my friend" and "Jane is friendly." The primary verb "be" is sometimes referred to as "the copula." However, while forms of "being" (am, are, is, was, were) are the most commonly used copulas in English, certain other verbs (identified below) have copular functions as well. Copular verbs can occur in both main and subordinate clauses." Unlike auxiliary verbs (also called helping verbs), which are used in front of other verbs, copular verbs function by themselves in the manner of main verbs.

Fast Facts: Copular Verbs

  • Etymology: From the Latin for "link"
  • Pronunciation: KOP-u-la.
  • Adjective: copular
  • Also known as copular verbs or linking verbs
  • Contrast with: lexical verbs and dynamic verb

Examples of Copulas

  • The weather is horrible.
  • That car looks fast.
  • The stew smells good.
  • I do feel a fool.
  • She became a racehorse trainer.
  • It's getting late.

Copular Verbs in Common Usage

Some of the most frequently used copular verbs are: be, feel, seem, appear, look, sound, smell, taste, become, get. Adjectives follow copular verbs, not adverbs.

  • He looks intelligent. (Intelligent is an adjective in a predicative position. It tells you about the person himself. You're making the assumption "He is intelligent" based on observation. Here, the "look" is a copular verb.

Copular verbs are complemented by a subject predicative in a sentence or clause structure. A copular prepositional verb is a prepositional verb (the combination of a verb plus preposition) that is complemented by a subject predicative. For example:

  • That doesn't sound like him.
  • Don't turn into a glutton.
  • Let that serve as a warning.

Copulas that describe the condition the thing or person referred to by the subject is in include: be, remain, seem, and appear. Copulas that describe the result of change affecting the thing or person referred to by the subject include: become, turn, grow, and get.

Further Study

Sources

  • Swan, Michael. "Practical English Usage." Oxford University Press, 1995)
  • Hurford, James R. "Grammar: A Student's Guide." Cambridge University Press, 1994
  • Greenbaum, Sidney. "Oxford English Grammar." Oxford University Press, 1996