Auxiliary Verbs in English with Examples
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Auxiliary verbs, also referred to as helping verbs, are one of the most common verbs in the English. Generally, they are used together with a main verb.
Together with a main verb, auxiliary verbs show tense or can be used to form a negative or a question. They add important functional and/or grammatical meaning to sentences, usually in the form of three common verbs:
We will discuss these in more detail below, with some examples.
Helping verbs or auxiliary verb?
Helping verbs, which are sometimes called "auxiliary verbs,” are verbs that are used together with the main verb of the sentence to express the action. They “help” the main action verb. They can also be used to indicate tense; this can be continuous tense, as in the example, “He is working as a teacher.” They are also frequently used when forming a question (for example: “Do you like movies?”) and when forming a negative (“I do not know her.”)
Helping or auxiliary verbs follow this basic formula, although the order may vary: Main verb + helping verb = a complete idea
The main helping verbs are be, am, is, are, was, were, do, did, have, has, had. But there are 23 helping verbs in total, including being, been, can, could, does, may, might, must, shall, should, will, and would.
Here are some examples of helping verbs in sentences:
- Ahmed is eating lunch late today because he was so busy.
- Was she allowed to enter the chess tournament?
- I do not expect that we will be able to attend the wedding.
- Juanita has been waking up at 6 every morning to go to the gym.
- It must have rained overnight.
- My daughter can swim faster than I can.
- They will be coming over for dinner tonight promptly at 8pm.
- You might give that Spanish class another try.
Some learners memorize the 23 helping verbs with a short song:
Helping verbs, helping verbs, there are 23!
Am, is, are, was and were, being, been, and be,
Have, has, had, do, does, did, will, would, shall and should.
There are five more helping verbs: may, might, must, can, could!
How to Identify an Auxiliary Verb? 🧐
- Auxiliary verbs can have several functions in a sentence:
- They can express tense by referencing past, present, or future
- They can express modality, or how many things are related to the verb
- They help us understand voice, that is, the relationship between verb and the subject or object
- They can add emphasis to a sentence
As you know, every sentence must contain at least one verb. It is important to first recognize that there are two kids of verbs:
- Action verbs:
An action verb is used to describe a specific activity that is being done.
- Linking verb
A linking verb helps by explaining the conditions under which the activity is done.
Both of these kinds of verbs can be accompanied by an auxiliary verb (especially one of the common ones, do, be, and have).
To help illustrate this, consider these examples of verbs and their auxiliary (or helping) verb.
- Angela is studying to become a doctor.
- The dog was waiting for me to feed him.
- I hope you don’t expect me to stay for the entire party.
- Tomas had told me about the plans they have this weekend.
Be, Do, and Have: The Three Most Common Auxiliary Verbs
Let’s take a look at the three most common auxiliary verbs, be, do, and have, with some example to help with understanding their role.
The Auxiliary Verb “Be”
The verb “to be” is frequently used in the English language and has a number of functions. Among other uses, it can be used by itself as an action verb, with its respective tenses be, to be, been, am, are, is, was, were, was not, are not, and were not. For example, you can simply say, “That is a yellow cat 🐱.”
However, “to be” can also be used as an auxiliary verb. In that case, it must be paired with another main verb. It can be used in either the singular or plural, and a negation can easily be formed using the word “not.” Here are some examples:
- Even when he is eating, Tom talks a lot.
- They were not planning to go out tonight.
The Auxiliary Verb “Do”
The verb “to do” is also frequently used in the English language. Among other uses, it can be used by itself as an action verb, with its respective tenses do, do, does, done, did, didn’t, doesn’t or did not. For example, you can simply say, “That big dog does not like me.🐕”
However, “to do” can also be used as an auxiliary verb. In that case, it must be paired with another main verb. It can be used in either the singular or plural, and a negation can easily be formed using the word “not.” It can easily be used to add emphasis to a sentence, as in: “I did go to school today!” This auxiliary verb is also used to form questions, including negative ones, such as, “Jonathan sings well, doesn’t he? 🎤 🎼”
Here are some additional examples:
- Jonathan didn’t take singing lessons as a child.
- We do not plan to go on vacation this summer, because it will be too expensive.
The Auxiliary Verb “Have”
The verb “to have” is quite common in the English language as well. Among other uses, it can be used by itself as an action verb, with its respective tenses has, have, having, had, hadn’t or had not. This very is often used to show ownership, ability, or to describe appearance. For example, you can simply say, “That cat has yellow fur. 🐈" It is also frequently used to stand in for or substitute the verbs “eat 🍔” and “drink,” as in “Let’s have some coffee. ☕️”
However, “to have” can also be used as an auxiliary verb. In that case, it must be paired with another main verb. It can be used in either the singular or plural, and a negation can easily be formed using the word “not.” Here are some examples:
- Anthony has eaten more cake than anyone else here.
- I hadn’t thought about the fact that it will be June in 2 days already.
Modal Auxiliary Verbs
There are additional auxiliary verbs in English beyond the three primary ones we introduced here (be, do, and have). These never change form. These additional verbs are called modal auxiliary verbs (see list below):
- Ought to