Copula (linguistics)

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In linguistics, a copula (plural: copulae) is a word used to link the subject of a sentence with a predicate (a subject complement). The word copula derives from the Latin noun for a link or tie that connects two different things.[1]

A copula is often a verb or a verb-like word, though this is not universally the case.[2] A verb that is a copula is sometimes called a copulative or copular verb. In English primary education grammar courses, a copula is often called a linking verb. Other copulae show more resemblances to pronouns. This is the case for Chinese and Guarani, for instance. In highly synthetic languages, copulae are often suffixes attached to a noun that may still behave otherwise like ordinary verbs, for example -u- in Eskimo languages. In some other languages, such as Beja and Ket, the copula takes the form of suffixes that attach to a noun but are distinct from the person agreement markers used on predicative verbs.[3] This phenomenon is known as nonverbal person agreement or nonverbal subject agreement and the relevant markers are always established as deriving from cliticised independent pronouns.

The term copula is generally used to refer to the main copular verb(s) in a language. In the case of English, this is the verb to be. The term can also be used to refer to some other verbs in the language which fulfill similar functions. Other English copulae include to become, to get, to feel, and to seem. Other verbs can have secondary uses as copulative verbs. In the following example, the past tense of the verb to fall is used as a copula: "The zebra fell victim to the lion." These extra copulae are sometimes called "semi-copulae" or "pseudo-copulae".

Most languages have one main copula, but some languages, like Spanish or Thai, have more than one, and some have none.


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