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Auxiliary Verbs - Called “Helping Verbs”

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Some people refer to auxiliary verbs as helping verbs.

The main verbs we use in the English language break down into the four major verb types:

1. action transitive verbs 2. action intransitive verbs 3. the verb to be 4. linking verbs

When we conjugate these verbs into the various tenses, we’ll need some help from the fifth category of verb:

5. auxiliary verbs, also called helping verbs.

Every verb (that is, every one-word verb) has a one-word present tense and a one-word past tense. Thus:

He runs. (present tense) He ran. (past tense)

But try out any other tense, and you’ll have to use helping verbs. Try future tense:

He will run. (future tense)

Try present-perfect tense:

He has run. (present-perfect tense)

Try past-progressive tense:

He was running. (past-progressive tense)

Thus, in basic verb conjugation, we see the need for this fifth type of verb, the helping verb.

Helping verbs also enable us to express various conditions:

If he could type, he would write the next great American novel.

Helping verbs help us express permission:

You may go to the movie.

Helping verbs help us express one’s ability to do something:

She can play golf extremely well.

Helping verbs enable us to ask questions:

Do you think he cares? Will he win the race?

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Primary Auxiliaries

Be, Do, and Have

In the English language, we have 16 auxiliary verbs. The three primary auxiliaries are (1) be, (2) do, and (3) have, which we use to accomplish the following:

The verb to be forms

1. the progressive tense (I am writing.) 2. the passive voice (This issue was decided last week.)

The verb to do

1. asks questions (Do you care?) 2. negates actions (He does not run very well.) 3. and intensifies the action of the verb (We do hope you’ll come to dinner.)

The verb to have

1. forms the perfect tenses (I have seen the movie.)

Hard Copy

You may download our entire discussion of the Parts of Speech. Simply download the Grammar eBook Understanding the Parts of Speech.

Click page 3 below.

Modal Auxiliaries

The Modals

Thirteen modal auxiliaries enable us to show various conditions, abilities, and obligations: can, could, dare, may, might, must, need, ought (to), shall, should, used (to), will, and would.

And then we have other words that sneak in and act as auxiliary verbs. How else to classify the word better in that famous song:

You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not shout, I’m telling you why. Santa Claus is coming to town.

Some renditions of these lyrics, revealed through Google®, appear this way:

You’d better watch out, you’d better not cry, you’d better not shout, I’m telling you why. Santa Claus is coming to town.

The “you’d” is a contraction for “you had.” So there the auxiliary verb is “had better.”

Seems to me that better and had better act as auxiliary verbs.

Hard Copy

You may download our entire discussion of the Parts of Speech. Simply download the Grammar eBook Understanding the Parts of Speech.

Click page 4 below.

Auxiliary Verbs - What They Do

How Helping Verbs Help

Here’s a partial list of the roles auxiliaries play:

Helping Verb Function
can He can score at will. shows ability
may You may go to the movie. He may want a new career. grants permission also shows a condition
might He might want a new career. shows a condition
must You must file the document on time. shows obligation
have, has, had, will have We have seen this movie before. We had finished dinner when they arrived. The court will have decided this issue by the time Congress acts. forms perfect tenses

 

be We are studying grammar. forms progressive tenses
be The ball was hit by John. forms passive voice
should You should read this book. shows compulsion

would They would come if they had a car.
expresses a condition
would He said that he would review the plan later. expresses the future in a past statement
could You could do it if you tried. expresses a possibility
will He will profit from this relationship. forms future tense
do Do you care?  Please do come for coffee. He does not write very well. forms questions lends emphasis negates

 

Please notice that these verbs have various meanings, so all possibilities do not appear above. Also notice that some of these verbs serve not only as auxiliary verbs but as main verbs. Thus:

He has over one million dollars. He willed his fortune to charity. She does good work.

Incidentally, when you use an auxiliary verb to produce one of these two-word (or more) verb forms, it is called a compound verb. An issue that will arise when we study adverbs is the proper placement of adverbs when they modify a two-word (or more) verb form. Thus, which is it?

1. I definitely have decided to buy the book. 2. I have decided definitely to buy the book. 3. I have definitely decided to buy the book.

Which one is correct? Number 3. You’ll learn more about the placement of adverbs in the Grammar.com section on adverbs. Click here for the beginning of that discussion.

Hard Copy

You may download our entire discussion of the Parts of Speech. Simply download the Grammar eBook Understanding the Parts of Speech.

 

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