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Studying Sentence Patterns to Improve Your Writing: Part Two

Studying Sentence Patterns to Improve Your Writing: Part 2
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In a previous Everyday Grammar story, we discussed two common sentence patterns using the word “be.”

This week, we are going to give you more information about another common pattern in English: the linking verb pattern.

To get you started with linking verb patterns, consider this passage from a story called “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz,” by the American author F. Scott Fitzgerald:

"As he approached the end his sentences became broken, became short and uncertain, and his body seemed tense, seemed strained to catch the slightest pressure or whisper of life in the spaces around him."

By the end of this story, you will be able to recognize one major linking verb pattern that Fitzgerald uses many times in this sentence.

An important point about sentences and clauses

Remember: a sentence has a subject and a predicate. A clause has a subject and a predicate, too.

The predicate is the verb phrase. It has a main verb, such as a linking verb, and other words, such as a subject complement, that give more information about it.

When you capitalize the first word of a clause and put a period at the end of it, a clause becomes a sentence. Keep this idea in mind, because it will help you understand sentences that use several clauses.

What is a linking verb?

In the book "Rhetorical Grammar," Martha Kolln says that the term “linking verbs” applies to verbs that are completed by a subject complement – the adjective or noun phrase that describes the subject.

Many grammar experts consider the verb BE to be a linking verb, but Kolln says BE verb patterns are sometimes different from other linking verb patterns. This is because adverbial information often follows BE verbs, such as in the following sentence:

My sister is at the store.

In this case, an adverbial structure, a prepositional phrase, tells about the location of the subject, “my sister.” This BE pattern is one we discussed in a previous Everyday Grammar story.

A common BE sentence pattern
A common BE sentence pattern

In contrast, the usual linking verb structure is this:

A common linking verb pattern
A common linking verb pattern

Examples of linking verbs 1: verbs of the senses

Some of the most common linking verbs are verbs of the senses. They include “taste,” “smell,” “feel,” “look,” and “sound.

These verbs often link an adjective to a subject.
For example, consider these memorable lines from “Dirty Harry,” a famous American film. Clint Eastwood, the actor who plays the character of Dirty Harry, says:

“You've got to ask yourself one question: 'Do I feel lucky?' Well, do ya, punk?”

In the sentence "Do I feel lucky?", the adjective “lucky” acts as the subject complement. It describes the subject, “I.”

If you were to answer the question, you might say this:

Linking verb pattern
Linking verb pattern

Examples of linking verbs 2: “remain” and “become”

Verbs of the senses are not the only linking verbs. Two other common examples of linking verbs are “remain” and “become.” These verbs often link a noun or noun phrase to a subject.

Consider the opening lines from “Casablanca,” another classic American film:

"With the coming of the Second World War, many eyes in imprisoned Europe turned hopefully or desperately toward the freedom of the Americas. Lisbon became the great embarkation point."

In the second sentence — “Lisbon became the great embarkation point”— you can see the basic linking verb pattern, even though the subject complement has several words.

“Lisbon” is the subject of the sentence.

The predicate has the linking verb “became,” as well as the noun phrase “the great embarkation point.

Examples of linking verbs 3: “prove,” “seem” and “appear”

Aside from the verbs of the senses and “become” and “remain,” there are three other common linking verbs. They are “prove,” “seem” and “appear.”

Like other linking verbs, these verbs link an adjective or noun phrase to the subject. All these verbs use the same basic pattern: Subject + Linking Verb + Subject Complement.

What do linking verbs have to do with F. Scott Fitzgerald?

Think back to this passage from "The Diamond as Big as the Ritz":

"As he approached the end his sentences became broken, became short and uncertain, and his body seemed tense, seemed strained to catch the slightest pressure or whisper of life in the spaces around him. "

Fitzgerald uses some phrases that do not fit into the linking verb pattern. But, if you look closely, you will see that he uses the Subject + Linking Verb + Subject Complement pattern in the sentence. Consider these clauses:

Fitzgerald then repeats the linking verb pattern, but does not say the subject. The repeated subject is understood:

This sentence contains other structures that are more complicated than the basic linking verb pattern. But you can still see that these basic patterns can serve as the starting point for very long, complicated sentences.

What can you do?

Learning how to use linking verb patterns will help you improve your writing.

You can think about creative ways to use them, or you can learn to recognize when you use them too often.

To start practicing this pattern, try finding the linking verb in the sentences at the end of this story. Identify the subject of the sentence, the linking verb, and the subject complement. Be careful, because one or more sentences may be tricky!

We will give you the answers next week in the comments section and on our Facebook page.

The lake became a clear pool, pale and quiet. – "Winter Dreams" by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Her slight unsteadiness seemed part of an enchanted dream. – "The Jelly Bean" by F. Scott Fitzgerald

John T. Unger was on the eve of departure. – "The Diamond as Big as the Ritz" by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I'm Jonathan Evans.

I'm John Russell.

And I'm Jill Robbins.

John Russell wrote this story for Learning English. Kelly J Kelly was the editor.

Do you like learning about sentence patterns? Is there a pattern you'd like us to explain here?


Words in This Story

strained – adj. feeling or showing the effect of too much work, use, effort, etc.

complement – n. a word or group of words added to a sentence to make it complete

adverbial adj. like or relating to an adverb.

analyze – v. to learn the nature and relationship of the parts of (something) by a close and careful examination

phrase – n. a group of two or more words that express a single idea but do not usually form a complete sentence

adjective – n. a word that describes a noun or a pronoun

prepositional phrase – n. a phrase that begins with a preposition and ends in a noun, pronoun, or noun phrase

embarkation – n. a place where a journey begins

tricky – adj. difficult to do or deal with