They write we must use adjectives rather than adverbs after linking verbs. For example https://www.macmillandictionary.com/dictionary/british/taste_2:

Food can taste sweet like sugar.

But here's an adverb https://www.macmillandictionary.com/dictionary/british/smell_2:

The laboratory smelled strongly of chemicals.

"to smell" as "to have a particular smell" can be only a linking verb. Therefore we must say:

The laboratory smelled strong of/like chemicals.

I'm confused in what cases we must use adjectives after linking verbs and in what cases adverbs. Help me please.

  • "Strongly" is a modifier in clause structure here. More specifically it's a degree modifier of "smell".
    – BillJ
    Aug 31, 2018 at 8:09
  • Not really and for concepts such as "The laboratory smelled strong of/like chemicals" you might find more appropriate responses in English Language Learners. Aug 22, 2021 at 22:04

3 Answers 3


In your first sentence the copular verb (or linking verb) is followed by an adjective complement. It links the subject 'food' to its adjective complement 'sweet'.

The food tastes sweet.

Other examples might be

She is happy. (not happily)
The laboratory smelled awful. (not awfully)
He seems nice (not nicely) etc.

So the point your grammar book is making is that the copula is followed by an adjective complement, unlike other verbs which are followed by adverbs (e.g. The dog ran happily.)

In a further step you could modify the adjective 'salty' with an adverb and write:

The food tastes intensely salty.

Here 'salty', the adjective, is modified by the adverb 'intensely'. If you change the adjective 'salt' into a noun, then you need to say:

The food tastes intensely of salt.

This is the same structure as your last sentence:

The laboratory smelled strongly of chemicals.

  • Thanks for answer. I didn't understand the sentence "To link the verb to the noun, a prepositional phrase is needed -- in this case 'smelled of'" - you want to say "smelled of" is a prepositional phrase?
    – Loviii
    Aug 31, 2018 at 1:10
  • Could you tell me please, we can say "The laboratory smelled strongly." ? I mean, despite it's odd, is it grammatically correct?
    – Loviii
    Aug 31, 2018 at 1:45
  • For example sentence that has understandable meaning: "The flower smells strongly." Is it grammatically correct?
    – Loviii
    Aug 31, 2018 at 1:55
  • I'd expect it to be followed by a prepositonal phrase "smelled strongly of something". In the meantime I've edited it again in an effort to make it clearer.
    – S Conroy
    Aug 31, 2018 at 4:02
  • Can we say "The food tastes very of salt." instead of "The food tastes very salty." by your logic?
    – Loviii
    Aug 31, 2018 at 4:34

In English the primary copular verb is be. The function of a copula is to link the subject of the sentence with its complements. The subject will always be a noun or noun equivalent and its complement an adjective. There are certain other verbs such as become, get, feel, look, taste, smell, and seem that can have this function.

We can always replace these copular verbs with the primary copula be, if they are functioning as a copula and this process can also be used as a test method to ascertain whether an adjective or adverb should be used.

E.g. The food tastes sweet. (The food is sweet.)

The laboratory smells strongly of the chemicals. (We cannot say that *'the laboratory is strongly. So, the verb smells is not a copula here. It is an action verb.)

He became a student. (He was a student)

They look tired. (They are tired)

The milk smells good. (The milk is good)

(This usage should be distinguished from the use of some of these verbs as "action" verbs, as in They look at the wall, in which look denotes an action and cannot be replaced by the basic copula are.)


  • Thanks for answer. Could you tell me please, we can say "The laboratory smelled strongly." or "The flower smells strongly." without "of something" at the ending?
    – Loviii
    Aug 31, 2018 at 4:40
  • Yes, we can say so. Smell meaning to have a particular quality that people can notice with their noses can function as an intransitive verb as in your example sentences. More examples: "[ I ] My hands smell of onions. [ I ] It smells like you’ve been baking in here. [ L ] That soup smells good. [ I ] Your feet smell (= have an unpleasant smell)". Smell is a transitive verb in sentences such as "Just smell this perfume! She smelled something burning". {dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/smell} Aug 31, 2018 at 5:41
  • "the verb smells is not a copula here." It is a copula. See S Conory's answer.
    – Mori
    Aug 30, 2020 at 15:30

"to smell" as "to have a particular smell" can be only a linking verb.

The verb smell can take a prepositional phrase headed by of as its complement in order to express that something has a certain smell. For example, "The laboratory smelled of chemicals" is a valid sentence that expresses the idea that the laboratory had a particular smell: the smell of chemicals.

In "the laboratory smelled strongly of chemicals", the adverb "strongly" simply serves to emphasize the extent to which the laboratory smelled of chemicals.

(Neither "The laboratory smelled strongly" nor "The laboratory smelled strong" make much sense to me. I guess you could say "The laboratory had a strong smell." It's true that we say "The laboratory smelled bad" and not "The laboratory smelled badly".)

  • Thanks for answer. In the link of "smell" example ( macmillandictionary.com/dictionary/british/smell_2 ) we are written that "smell of/like" is also one of cases of using "smell" as a linking verb. And you write that it is not so. Do you consider there is the mistake in the dictionary?
    – Loviii
    Aug 31, 2018 at 4:52
  • @Loviii: I'm not sure. I might be wrong. I think it might depend on how exactly you define the term "linking verb".
    – herisson
    Aug 31, 2018 at 4:57
  • you think the verb smells is copula but the verb smells of is not? I mean, I don't think *The lab smells strongly bad is valid English
    – minseong
    Feb 12, 2023 at 19:15
  • 1
    @theonlygusti: probably the adverb goes with the following prepositional phrase, as S. Conroy suggests: english.stackexchange.com/questions/462441/… "strongly bad" isn't a common collocation in any context.
    – herisson
    Feb 12, 2023 at 21:14
  • @theonlygusti: Note that we can say "he is strongly of the opinion that..." but we wouldn't say *"He is strongly bad."
    – herisson
    Feb 12, 2023 at 21:15

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