Yet another grammar question.

I know that 'remains' can be a linking verb in many contexts, but I'm undecided on whether it is linking in the sentence "Xenophobia remains in our society".

I feel that "in our society" doesn't restate or rename xenophobia, and I feel it answers the question "Where does xenophobia remain?", making "in our society" an adverb of place. But certainly you can describe some societies as xenophobic.

So what characterization is appropriate in this case?

  • 1
    English may be hard, but you're making it harder than it has to be by over-thinking it. And where did you get the notion that a linking verb can't be intransitive? That contention seems rather difficult to prove.
    – Robusto
    Feb 29, 2012 at 20:12
  • 3
    I think you're agonising between categorisations that are actually fairly pointless...! Feb 29, 2012 at 20:15
  • @Robusto: ...but an instance of a verb can normally not be both at the same time. Feb 29, 2012 at 20:30
  • @NeilCofey: I think the distinction is in many cases quite useful, though I agree that it is less useful in borderline cases like this one. Feb 29, 2012 at 20:30
  • @Cerberus: My point is simply that I can't think of a single exclusively transitive verb that can function as a linking verb. Can you?
    – Robusto
    Feb 29, 2012 at 21:10

3 Answers 3


Good question. A sentence like this shows how imperfect the distinction between a regular verb and a linking verb (copula) is: there are arguments for calling it either in your example.

On the one hand, you could say that "xenophobia remains here" is much like "xenophobia is bad", which is clearly a copula plus subject complement: the last word is a property that is assigned to the subject.

However, the somewhat artificial convention defining copulae says that an adverbial phrase is normally not considered a subject complement: only nominal phrases (basically adjectives, pronouns, and nouns) can be subject complements. For that reason, one would normally say remains is not a copula in your example, but an ordinary intransitive verb.

  • Does this remain true even with an adjective predicate like true? Feb 29, 2012 at 20:22
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    @JohnLawler: Heh, does what remain true exactly? In your example, I'd call it a copula + subject complement, and I believe that is the conventional label. But I would personally have no problem with calling it a regular verb with a predicative adjective, like "he came in first". Feb 29, 2012 at 20:28
  • I don't think there's any real copula in English, beyond perhaps be, which is, gods know, unusual enough in every way to deserve its own category label. There are several hundred verbs, for instance, that govern There-Insertion, which is supposed to require a "copula". That seems like too much copulation to me. Feb 29, 2012 at 20:40
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    The criteria that are essentially would presumably be those that are most reliable in distinguishing verbs/categories exhibiting different behaviours, whilst at the same time being as simple/succinct an inventory of criteria as possible. (Or put another way, "doing good science".) Feb 29, 2012 at 22:22
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    There-insertion is one criterion proposed for helping to distinguish "unaccusative" vs "unergative" verbs. It's certainly more reliable than the original poster's criterion, but it may run into problems in that the grammaticality of 'there' insertion may not depend solely on the identity of the verb (e.g. "*There worked three children" seems overtly odd, but "?There now worked thousands of women and children at the factory" seems a bit more acceptable). Feb 29, 2012 at 22:29

As I understand it, a linking verb connects the subject to a noun that redefines it OR to an adjective that describes it. In this case, "in our society" does not "rename" xenophobia, but it does describe it.

For example, "Bob is the chairman." "Bob" and "the chairman" are two ways of identifying the same person, so "is" is a linking verb here.

"Bob is hungry." "Hungry" is not another name for "Bob", but it is an adjective that describes Bob. "is" serves as a linking verb.

An interesting rule of thumb I just stumbled across is, Try replacing the verb that you think may be a linking verb with "is". Does the sentence still make sense and convey a similar idea? If so, it probably is a linking verb.

"Bob feels hungry." Replace "feels" with "is": "Bob is hungry." Yes, it's still basically the same idea. "Feels" is working as a linking verb.

"Bob feels a pain in his foot." Replace "feels" with "is": "Bob is a pain in his foot." No, that doesn't make sense, definately not the same idea. "Feels" is not working as a linking verb.

In this case, "Xenophobia IS in our society." Yes, that makes perfect sense and is a similar idea. "Remains" is working as a linking verb.

  • People walk in the park. People are in the park. (I.e. I don't think this test works: noöne would call "walk" a copula; you're rather testing against transitive verbs.) Feb 29, 2012 at 22:13
  • @cerberus: That's why it's a "rule of thumb" and not an absolute rule! You could argue it works because the meaning is not "similar", you've lost the idea of perambulating here, in a way that you don't lose meaning when going from "feels" or "becomes" to "is". But sure, "similar" is a vague test.
    – Jay
    Mar 1, 2012 at 15:15
  • Right, OK, "without much loss of meaning" makes sense. But "she became a teacher" and "she was a teacher"? Oh, well, we are essentially agreed. Mar 1, 2012 at 15:27

You seem to be agonising over a categorisation that may be a bit pointless in the first place.

In your dichotomy between "intransitive" vs "linking" verbs: (a) what grammatical phenomena are inherent to each of these categories? (b) what grammatical tests are there to decide on the categorisation in a given instance? If your categorisation is too woolly to have answers to (a) and (b), I wonder how useful it is...?

The categorisation of verbs according to "transitivity" is quite a complex issue. As an example of the kind of complexity at stake, I'd recommend e.g. Legendre & Sorace, "Auxiliaries and Intransitivity in French and in Romance" in Godard (ed), "Fundamental Issues in the Romance Languages". They're obviously concerned mainly with Romance languages rather than English, but the underlying issues potentially apply beyond the Romance languages.

  • I believe the hard-though-perhaps-arbitrary criterion is that a subject complement should be nominal, not adverbial like here. Feb 29, 2012 at 20:35

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