Difference Between Phrasal Verbs and Linking Verbs


Phrasal Verbs and Linking Verbs have different roles and functions in English Grammar.

Phrasal Verbs:

Let’s take a look at Phrasal Verbs first. Phrasal verbs are idiomatic phrases that usually consist of two or three words. One of these words must be a verb and can be followed with an adverb or prepostion.
Such as: break in, calm down, fall out, hang on, show off, etc.
Phrasal verbs can be misleading as the meaning of the verb changes when it is used in a phrasal verb. If we look at the verb to break, on its own it means to split or fracture something into pieces.
For example: the glass fell and broke into pieces on the ground.
However, phrasal verbs such as break into, break down and break out have completely different meanings.
For example: car thieves break into cars, people can break down if they are under a lot of stress and teenagers break out in zits due to unbalanced hormone levels.
As you can see from the examples above, phrasal verbs can have unexpected meanings. It is really important as a language learner to learn a variety of phrasal verbs as they are very often used by native speakers. Learning the most common phrasal verbs will help you understand the conversation or written piece and it will also help you to be part of the conversation and sound like a native English speaker.
Linking Verbs:
So what are Linking Verbs?
Linking Verbs differ from Phrasal Verbs and other verbs as they don’t suggest an action. Instead, Linking Verbs connect or link the subject with information about the subject. Linking verbs are used to show the relationship between the subject and the additional information about the subject. The linking verb comes after the subject and before the complement. 
For example:

  • He is disappointed about his exam results.
  • They seem tired.
  • The girl looked sad.
  • Dinner smells delicious!
  • The cake feels spongey.


You may be looking at some of these examples and thinking that some of the verbs used in the examples above, do express action, and you are correct. There are not many verbs in English that are “true” linking verbs like to be, to become and to seem, these verbs all have the same function; to connect the subject to its complement. Most of the other linking verbs can also function as normal verbs that express an action.
If we look at the example “dinner smells delicious”. In this sentence the linking verb is smells as it links the subject dinner to the complement delicious. The verb to smell can also express the action of smelling something, therefore the verb smell in the sentence “she smelled the pasta dish” is describing the action of the woman smelling the dish of food. It is not a linking verb, it is a normal verb.
Let’s look at another example “the cake feels spongey” here feels is a linking verb. However, if we say “he felt the cake and it was spongey” we can see that the verb feel is an action in this sentence.

A useful trick to determine whether a verb is a linking verb or not is to see if you can substitute the verb with a true linking verb such as to be, to become or to seem.

For example:

  • The girl looked sad / The girl seemed sad (this is a logical sentence and therefore look is a linking verb in this situation.
  • She smelled the pasta dish / She was the pasta dish (this is illogical, therefore smelled isn’t functioning as a linking verb in this sentence.


As you can see Phrasal Verbs and Linking Verbs are very different from one another.

  • Phrasal verbs are usually made up of two or three words whereas Linking Verbs aren’t.
  • Phrasal Verbs function as action verbs whereas Linking Verbs are responsible for connecting elements in a sentence (the subject to information about the subject).
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