The easiest way to analyze a clause is to look first at the predicate. The most important part of the predicate is the verb.

1. Action VerbsVisible and Invisible

You probably know that most verbs show some kind of action. Sometimes this is visible action, as in she swims or they kissed. At other times, it is invisible action, as in he forgot or we decided.

The verb in our original example sentence shows visible action. Draw a line beneath the verb and write υ above it.

People’s noses grow throughout their entire lives.

If you identified grow, you’re correct. That’s the word that shows the visible action of the subject. What’s the subject doing? In this sentence, it’s growing.

2. Linking Verbs

Other verbs, such as is and seem, don’t show an action; instead, they show a subject to be in a certain condition or state of being. They do this by linking the subject to a word or words in the predicate. These verbs are linking verbs.

Let’s look at two example sentences:

The woman is an intern.

The students seem confident.

In these sentences, the woman and the students are not performing actions, but they are in a state of being or a condition. We might say that, in the first case, the woman is in the state of being an intern and, in the second case, the students are in the condition of being confident.

There are many linking verbs, such as additional tenses of the verb to be (am, are, was, were, will be, has been, have been, had been, and others) and various forms of the verbs appear, become, feel, look, smell, sound, and taste.

3. The Role of Context

Some verbs are action verbs in one context and linking verbs in another. In sentence (a), is the italicized verb describing an action or a condition?

(a) I smelled the familiar fragrance of Chanel No. 5 in the living room.

In (a), the verb from smelled is describing an action, the action of the subject (I) smelling. Now notice the very different meaning of the same word in sentence (b).

(b) The rotten chicken smelled terrible.

In (b), the subject (chicken), is not performing an action. The verb in (b) shows that the chicken is in a certain condition—the condition of smelling bad.