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Do You See What I See?


Everyday Grammar: Sense Verbs
Do You See What I See?
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It was beautiful in Washington, DC, this morning! I could see the sun shining and hear birds singing. So, I decided to walk to work. As I walked down 6th Street, I smelled a delicious scent. I followed it and found a lovely French bakery! There, I saw all kinds of baked goods. So, I bought a delicious croissant and it tasted wonderful.

Now that I’m here, I can tell you all about sense verbs – verbs related to the five senses: smell, hearing, sight, taste and touch.

Some senses have more than one verb. We’ll see examples of many of them today.

But first, let’s learn what makes these verbs so special.

Why are they special?

To start, sense verbs can act as linking verbs or action verbs, giving each verb two or more meanings.

Linking verbs connect the subject to a word or group of words that describe or identify it. Take the sentence “My forehead feels hot.” Here, “feels” is a linking verb. It connects the subject (my forehead) to the description of it (hot).

But, as action verbs, sense verbs describe a physical or mental action. For example, “I felt my forehead” and “I touched my forehead” use action verbs. They express having put one’s hand on the forehead, which is a physical action.

Making sentences

Second, linking verbs and action verbs have different sentence structure.

For linking verbs, the structure is subject + linking verb + more information about the subject.

As linking verbs, sense verbs are often followed by adjectives or the word “like” plus a noun phrase. They are not followed by objects or adverbs.

In the sentence, “My forehead feels hot,” the word “hot” is an adjective that describes the subject (my forehead). We do not use adverbs – such as hotly – after linking verbs.

And, if I say, “My forehead feels like a frying pan,” I am using the linking verb structure like + a noun phrase. The noun phrase is “a frying pan.”

For action verbs, the structure is subject + action verb + the rest of the sentence.

As action verbs, sense verbs are often followed by objects. In the sentence, “I touched my forehead,” the words “my forehead” are the object.

Happening now?

Third, we do not usually use sense linking verbs in continuous forms – the be + -ing verb forms. We would not say, for example, “My forehead is feeling hot” even if it is happening right now.

But, as action verbs, we sometimes do use sense verbs in the continuous form. For example, someone might ask by phone, “Did you taste the food?” And, the other person might answer, “I am tasting it right now.”

croissants with chocolate
croissants with chocolate

A little verb game!

Okay, now let’s play a game! I will give you two examples for each sense. Your job is to think about which uses a linking verb and which uses an action verb. Then, write your answers in the comments area.

Here’s a hint: If you can replace the verb with “is” and the sentence still makes sense, it is probably a linking verb.

For example, if I replace “feel” with “is,” the sentence “My forehead is hot” still makes sense.

Touch

We will start with the sense of touch. One example is about physical touch. The other is a description of a physical state:

  • Feel my skin. It’s so dry.
  • Your skin does feel dry! Here – use my lotion.

Smell

Now, let’s try the verb “smell.” One meaning is about using the nose to physically take in a smell. The other is about noticing the smell of something.

  • She leaned over and smelled the food.
  • Your food smells delicious. Can I have some?

Taste

Next is the verb “taste.” One meaning is to take a small amount of food into the mouth to learn its flavor. The other describes the flavor of something.

  • Can you taste the fish? I added more lemon.
  • I just tried it. It tastes like a big lemon!

Sight

For the sense of sight, we can use the verb “see” or “look,” depending on what we want to say.

  • It’s really dark in here. I can’t see anything!
  • I just found the lights. Wow, you look frightened.

Hearing

And, finally, we move to the sense of hearing. We can use the verb “hear” or “sound,” depending on what we want to say. Now for examples.

  • I hear singing outside my window. I wonder who it is.
  • Your voice sounds lovely! Where’d you learn to sing?

Well, we hope you liked what you heard. See you next week! And don’t forget to tell us your answers in the comments area.

I’m Alice Bryant.


Alice Bryant wrote this story for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.

You can also try writing your own sentences with these verbs. Remember that linking verbs and action verbs follow different structures.

subject

linking verb

more about subject

My forehead

feels

hot.

The chocolate croissant

tasted

wonderful.

It

smells

like a flower.

subject

action verb

object

I

felt

my forehead.

She

tasted

the chocolate croissant.

The woman

smelled

the flowers.

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Words in This Story

scentn. a pleasant smell that is produced by something

croissantn. a type of bread roll that has a curved shape and is usually eaten at breakfast

foreheadn. the part of the face above the eyes

objectn. a noun, pronoun or noun phrase which indicates the person or thing that receives the action of a verb

pann. a usually shallow and open metal container that has a handle and that is used for cooking or baking

lotionn. a liquid that is rubbed onto your skin or hair

flavorn. the quality of something that you can taste

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