Auxiliary Verbs

Auxiliary Verbs also called the helping verbs, are used with the main verb where the main verb helps to form the semantic content of the clause. For example, I have finished my homework for today. In this example, the main verb “finished” and the auxiliary verb “have” together combine to form the perfect aspect. There can be more than one or chain of two or more auxiliary verb in a sentence. Auxiliary verbs provides functional and grammatical meaning to a sentence, demonstrate verb’s tense, or form negative or question in the sentences in which they are present. It helps to express. There are various ways auxiliary verbs can function.

By providing tense (by giving a time reference to past present or future)

By demonstrating a grammatical aspect of how a verb can be related to the time flow.

It can function as a modality that quantifies verbs.

It can provide emphasis or force to a sentence.

It can act as voice by describing a relationship between the actions described by a verb and the participant identified by a verb’s object, subject, etc.

The most common Auxiliary verbs are “be, so and have.” The auxiliary verb “to be” is used form forming present and past continuous sentences and all the passive form sentences. The auxiliary verb “to do” is used for forming questions in the past simple and present tense. The auxiliary verb “to have” is used for forming present and past perfect tense based sentences. There are other forms of tenses such as the present perfect continuous that requires more than one auxiliary verb. For example:

  • She is writing an assignment given to her by her Professor.
  • The students haven’t written their assignments yet.
  • Does Jennifer write all her assignments in one day?

Example Sentences

  • I am writing a few articles.
  • Would you help me to prepare dinner?
  • She will be here in a minute.
  • She has done her homework.
  • Can you close the windows?
  • Did you find your lost ring?
  • Do you like ice-cream?
  • We must get there before the movie starts.
  • Does your mother know that you skipped school?
  • I was washing clothes when you called!
  • Have you finished your dinner?
  • A new mall is being built in the town.
  • Why are you so quiet today?
  • How long have you been living in Australia?
  • Jennifer is taking her mom to the airport.
  • Our dinner has been spoiled by the time we arrived at home.
  • I have bought a new dress to replace the old one.
  • She was cooking dinner for the party tonight.
  • Sarah doesn’t play guitar or piano.
  • Did she bring the notes today?

Contracted auxiliaries

Auxiliary verbs are often contracted while using in a sentence. For example, “I am playing chess with my best friend” can be written as “I’m playing chess with my best friend.” Contracted forms are used in spoken language and general conversations. For example, a friend will ask another friend “why didn’t you join us in the party yesterday” instead of “Why did you not join us in the party yesterday.” However, in formal writings such as reports, essays, etc. contracted form of auxiliaries is avoided. There are two types in which the auxiliaries can be contracted

For example:

  • He’s not going to the movie.
  • He isn’t going to the movie.
  • I haven’t seen her since last week.
  • I’ve not seen her in last five days.

List of auxiliary verbs used in English Language

  • be (amareiswaswerebeing)
  • do (diddoesdoing)
  • have (hadhashaving)
  • can
  • could
  • should
  • may
  • might
  • must
  • shall
  • will
  • would

How to recognize an Auxiliary Verb?

All of us have read at some point that at least one verb is required in a sentence. There are two primary types of verbs- action verb and linking verbs. Action verbs are used for expressing doable activities whereas linking verbs are used for expressing conditions. Both these types of verbs can be joined together with auxiliary verbs. The most common verbs that are accompanied by action and linking verbs are: do, be and have.

In certain cases, action or condition verbs are used once in a sentence and then they have not used again in that sentence. In such cases, auxiliary verbs are instead of action or linking verbs. “Is” is one of the most common auxiliary verbs but sometimes when it stands alone then “is” functions as a linking verb and not an auxiliary verb. For example:

Henry slammed the door in his hand. He is in extreme pain. (Here “is” is the linking verb)

In certain cases, an action or condition is ongoing or happening as predicted or happening about another set of events. In these type of cases, single words verbs (such as  is, are) cannot accurately express what happened. Therefore phrases that include auxiliary verbs are used. These auxiliary verbs are formed from anywhere between two to four words.

Therefore to recognize an auxiliary verb the reader should always keep in mind that the main verb, also known as the base verb, expresses the kind of action taking place where as an auxiliary verb accompanies the base verb and helps to describe other aspects that help a reader to understand the event that is taking place.

For example:

Stella caught her thumb in the door curtain and spilled the coffee from her cup onto her favourite dress.

Stella is very clumsy and is often spilling things.

Stella is so accident prone she should have been drinking coffee very carefully which would not have spilled on her favourite dress.

In the above example sentences caught and spilled are single-word verbs that express quick and one-time actions of Stella and her coffee. This sentence does not have an auxiliary verb. “Spilling” in the above sentence describes the clumsiness of Stella and how frequently she spills things. “should have been drinking” and “would not have spilled” evaluates Stella’s actions and also expresses time relationships.

Three Most Common Auxiliary Verbs

Three most common auxiliary verbs are Have, do, and be.

Have

It is one of the most important verbs that can be used alone in different forms of tenses. Its different forms include has, have, had, having, had not. It helps to describe ownership in a sentence. It can also be used to express ability or describe appearance. It is also used as a substitute for the verbs eat and drink. For example “Did you have dinner?”

When “have” is utilized as an auxiliary verb it is accompanied with another verb to form a complete verb phrase. Therefore, it can be easily differentiated according to the uses. Below example will further clarify the meaning of the above sentence.

Stella has a large coffee stain on her white dress (Has- action verb)

Stella has bought a new white dress to replace her ruined white dress. (Has- auxiliary verb, bought- past participle, together “has bought complete the verb phrase”)

Stella should have been more careful with her white dress. (Have- auxiliary verb, should have been- phrase, should have been more- expresses time and evaluates Stella’s actions.)

Do

“Do” functions as an action verb that can stand alone in all form of tenses. Different forms of “do” include does, done, do, to do, did,  didn’t (did not), doesn’t (does not).

When “do” function as an auxiliary verb it is always used with another verb to complete the verb phrase. In other cases “do” can also be used to add emphasis or form question and negatives. It is used along with elliptical sentences where the main verb is omitted because it is understood.

Emphasis: “I did wash my clothes today!” 

Questions and negative clauses: “She plays guitar well, doesn’t she?”

Elliptical sentences- “They all had breakfast, but I didn’t.”

Examples:

Because she is so clumsy and spills things very often, Stella does more laundry than most of her friends. (Does-action verb)

Stella didn’t put her food in a box with a lid. (Didn’t- auxiliary verb)

Stella doesn’t always spill coffee but it happens often. (Doesn’t- auxiliary verb)

Be

“Be” or “to be” is another of the important verb which has many different uses in the English Language. It is used as an action verb that can stand alone in all of its tense forms. The various tense forms of “be” include be, to be, am, are, been, is, were, was, wasn’t (was not), aren’t (are not) and weren’t (were not).

When this verb is used as an auxiliary, it is always grouped with another verb to form a complete verb phrase. It can be present in singular, plural, past, present. It can also be used in a negative sentence by adding “not” to any of its forms.

For example:

Stella is clumsy. (Is- action verb)

Although she is always complaining about the mishaps, still Stella fails to be careful. (is- auxiliary verb)

Stella is destined to be doing extra laundry because of her clumsiness. (To be- Auxiliary verb)

Modal Auxiliary Verbs

Other than the most common and primary auxiliary verbs (have, to, be), there are other auxiliary verbs known as modal auxiliary verbs. These types of verbs do not change their form. Modal auxiliary verbs include can, could, must, ought to, might, may, will, would, should, and shall.

Example of Auxiliary verbs and their different tenses

Do / does / did

Do is used for forming questions and creating negatives. Did is used in the form of past tense for do and does. However, do and does is never used for forming sentences in the past tense.

Statements

  • I do my assignment regularly.
  • You do your laundry and I will do mine.
  • We do the cleaning of house every weekend.
  • They do exercise.
  • She/he does her/his work.

Questions

  • Do you stay here?
  • Do we need more time to complete this?
  • Do they always behave this rudely?
  • Do we know each other?
  • Do I know you?
  • Does he/she always clean her kitchen before cooking?

Negative sentences

  • I did not (didn’t) finish my dinner.
  • I do not (don’t) know you.
  • You do not (don’t) get to have an ice-cream daily.
  • We do not/ they do not/ (He/she) does not.

Be (am / is / are )

“Be” function as an auxiliary verb or the main verb. “Is” describes an action that is happening or is about to happen in the future. “Be” can also be used for forming passive sentences. “Are” is used in a sentence along with “they” and “we.” “Was” is used for forming past tense based sentences of “am” and “I.” “Were” is used as a past tense for “you, we, and they.”

Statements

  • I am going to Australia.
  • I am 25.
  • She is an Indian.
  • We are waiting for our friends.
  • They are excited for the road trip.
  • He/she is cool.

Questions

  • Am I moving in the right direction?
  • Are you our new neighbors?
  • Are we close to our destination?
  • Is she/he old enough to vote?
  • Are they the best musicians in the town?

Negative sentences

  • I am not moving from this place.
  • You are not (aren’t) talking till I ask you to talk.
  • We are not (aren’t) going to watch movie today.
  • They are not (aren’t) here yet.
  • He/she is not (isn’t) ready for the surprise test.

Have (has / had)

“Have” is used to form present perfect tense sentences and is always accompanied by the past participle.  “Has” is used for form forming sentences with third person singular. Had is used for forming past tenses based sentences especially sentences with past perfect tense.  “Have” describes a particular action that started in the past and is continuing in the present or any action that has happened in the recent past.

Statements

  • I have a pet.
  • You have not done your homework.
  • We have seen this act before.
  • They have not responded to my queries.
  • He/she has lived here for the past ten years.

Negative sentences

  • I have not (I haven’t/ I’ve not) finished my dinner.
  • You have not (you haven’t/you’ve not) returned her book yet.
  • We have not (we haven’t/we’ve not) started our business.
  • They have not (they haven’t/they’ve not) helped you with the preparations.
  • He/she has not (he/she hasn’t) studied for her math’s test.
  • Example sentences of common modal auxiliary verbs are:

Modal auxiliary verbs include can, could, must, ought, may, might, should, and would. They are used for expressing necessity, possibility and obligation.

For example:

  • I must wear neat shoes and uniform to school every day.  (Necessity)
  • He might be late to school today. (Possibility)
  • I should clean by wardrobe every week. (Obligation)

Answering questions

Auxiliary verbs can also be used as a short reply to questions. In this type of cases the answers end with an auxiliary verb. They are natural and acceptable way of answering questions.

For example:

  • Do you like this novel?
  • Yes, I do (like this novel)
  • Can you speak French?
  • Yes, I can (speak French)
  • Do you have any sibling?
  • No, I don’t (have sibling)