• I am eating an apple that tastes strange.
  • I bought a house in this neighbourhood, because I know it will sell for a lot of money in the future.
  • I followed your cooking instructions, but still the onions browned strangely.

Are these bolded words verbs? Because there seems to be something strange about them:

  • "I taste too much salt, when I eat your food" seems to be me actively doing something (tasting). What the heck does it mean for an apple to "taste", then?

  • "I sold you a car" seems to be me actively doing something (selling). What the heck does it mean for a house to "sell", then?

1. Are the bolded words verbs?
2. Is my observation correct that these bolded words seem strange, almost "not active"? Is there a linguistic concept for these kind of words?


2 Answers 2


Yes, "sell", "taste" and "brown" are verbs.(taste = a linking verb)

I am eating an apple that tastes strange.

It means:

I am eating an apple that gives a strange taste.

If something tastes strange, it means that you feel strange when you taste it.

"Taste" is not an active verb, it is a linking verb.

The other question, "sell" is an active verb.

If something sells for 5 dollars, it means that you can sell it for 5 dollars.

"Brown" is also an active verb it means getting ready to be eaten. You can have a look its definition on the Cambridge dictionary.


The difficulty you have seems to be that you imagine that only living creatures can become the subjects of verbs or, at least, the verbs you mention.

But think of a few exceptions (to your imagined rule) that we use all the time.

When you say the car looks new, the car is not doing the looking. It's the viewer who is looking at the car.

When the say the meal smells wonderful, the meal is not doing the smelling, it's your nose - or, at least, it's you.

So when we say an apple tastes sweet we mean that the apple causes a sweetness reaction in our taste buds. Of course it's not the apple that is tasting the eater.

And when we say an object sells for X amount we mean that X amount is the market value of the object. It doesn't matter that a person is doing the selling and not the object.

This is a way of speaking that we use constantly.

If you are in doubt about what parts of speech a word can form, look it up. There are several classes of verbs but they are not important to these illustrations.

  • it's not so much that i am thinking that only living creatures can be the subject. it's that the subject is not doing the "verb"-ing, but instead someone else is doing the verb to the subject, (as you point out: "the car looks new" - the car is not doing the looking). this seems like a very strange category of verbs. i'm wondering if there is a linguistical category / word to describe these kinds of verbs. i also notice that these verbs seem to take an adjective ("new", "wonderful", "sweet"). there is a pattern here, and i want to know the lignuistical category behind it.
    – silph
    Commented Jun 13, 2018 at 12:19
  • @silph Most of the verbs that work this way are stative verbs. Take a look at: learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/en/intermediate-grammar/… Commented Jun 13, 2018 at 15:40

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