You may have heard auxiliary verbs referred to as “helping verbs,” but what is this type of verb, and what does it do in English? When we say it is “helping” a main verb, we mean it’s helping to clarify it. Auxiliary verbs help to clarify whether or not an action occurs, when the action of the main verb takes place, who or what is responsible for that action, and whether we are making a statement or asking a question.
The “Big Three” auxiliary verbs are “be,” “have” and “do” in all their forms. That includes:
In many languages, changing a statement to a question is as easy as changing your inflection or punctuation. In Spanish, for example, you can say, “Ella habla Inglés,” or you can ask, “¿Ella habla Inglés?” The word order does not change. In English, however, the statement is, “She speaks English,” whereas the question changes to, “Does she speak English?” English questions almost always use an auxiliary verb.
Negative statements in English also generally use an auxiliary verb. We can’t just say, “They liked the soup?” We have to rearrange a bit, adding in the past form of the auxiliary “do” to say, “Did they like the soup?”
In present progressive sentences, the verb expresses action that is in progress as the speaker says it. “I am typing” is an example of present progressive. In it, the main verb is “type” while the auxiliary verb “be” is conjugated according to the subject, “I.”
We also use past and future progressives to explain what was or will be happening when some other event occurred or will occur.
If you can add the phrase, “by a purple monster” to the end of your verb phrase and still have a grammatically correct sentence, you’re probably using passive voice. Here are some examples:
There’s nothing grammatically wrong with passive voice; it’s an excellent use of the verb “be.” It’s just not very exciting writing. It’s more interesting to say:
The perfect tenses in English explain the order of things:
All the perfect tenses use at least one auxiliary verb, “have.”
The future perfect also uses “will.”
And the progressive perfect tenses also use “be.”
A dummy verb is a verb we use in place of a main verb. Usually we use dummy verbs when we’ve already used the main verb once or twice, and we don’t want to repeat it. For example, if someone asks you, “Do you know the muffin man?” you don’t want to respond, “Yes, I know the muffin man.” It’s too long and unnecessary a response when you can simply say, “Yes I do.” In this case, “do” is the dummy verb replacing the main verb “know.”
Or perhaps your wife tells her friend, “My husband wants to help you move your heavy furniture.” You can respond with a simple “Do I?”
We also use auxiliary verbs in tag questions, which are short questions added to the end of a statement. If the statement is negative, the tag question is affirmative, and vice versa.
The auxiliary verbs used in the tag questions are the same as those used in the statement with one exception. In the last sentence, the statement doesn’t have an auxiliary verb, so the dummy verb “does” is used in the tag question.
Modal verbs are a special class of auxiliary verb that is used to express conditionality, necessity, obligation, ability, and wishful desire. The modal verbs in English are:
These little guys have the ability to make big changes in a sentence, so it’s important to know them and use them correctly.
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