What Are Auxiliary Verbs?
To learn the differences between auxiliary verbs, modals, and main verbs, take a look at this table:
|modals||auxiliary verbs||main verbs|
|making the tense/voice||✔|
|contributing to the meaning||✔|
|making the inversion/negation||✔||✔|
|being used more than once||✔|
In the example above, 'have' is an auxiliary verb that makes the present perfect tense and it is used with negative markers. On the other hand, 'done' is the main verb that adds meaning to the sentence and it has use limitations.
We are not allowed to use more than one main verb in a sentence.
Auxiliary verbs have two functions:
'Am' is an auxiliary verb that makes the present progressive tense.
'Are' as an auxiliary verb is used to make a question.
Position in a Sentence
Auxiliary verbs have different positions in a sentence depending on the presence of modals or other auxiliary verbs. As a result, there is this structure that defines the position of auxiliary verbs. Look:
Modals + the tense makers 'have' or 'be' + (the voice maker 'be') + main verb
Note that the voice maker 'be' can be left out if the sentence is in active voice.
'Will' is a modal, 'have' is an auxiliary verb that makes a tense, and 'been' is making the passive voice.
'Should' is a modal and 'have' an auxiliary verb.
If modals head an auxiliary phrase, they can be negated, inverted, or conjugated, otherwise, the auxiliary verb itself must be negated or inverted. Look:
'Should' as a modal in negated.
There is not any modals here, so to make negation or interrogation, we use the auxiliary verb 'have.'
There can be more than one auxiliary verb in a sentence. For example:
Here, 'Will' and 'be' both are auxiliary verbs.
English Auxiliary Verbs
The English language has four auxiliary verbs:
Now, let's go through them one by one and see the functions of these auxiliary verbs:
1. The Verb 'Be'
The verb 'be' can be either the main verb or the auxiliary verb of the sentence. Take a look:
1.1. 'Be' as the Main Verb
When be is the main verb, it can have a meaning by itself. It can be used in two ways:
Here, 'be' is the main verb of the sentence and it links the subject 'Max' with the subject complement 'happy'.
'At my room' is a prepositional phrase.
1.2 'Be' as the Auxiliary Verb
Be as the auxiliary verb does not have a separate meaning. It is used to show the tense or the voice of the main verb.
Be as an auxiliary verb has two functions:
This sentence is in the 'present continuous tense.'
This sentence is in the 'present perfect continuous tense'. Here, we have two auxiliary verbs: 'has' and 'be' and the main verb is 'study.'
This sentence is a passive sentence and the main verb of the sentence is 'stolen.'
2. The Verb 'Have'
The verb 'have' can be either the main verb or the auxiliary verb.
2.1 'Have' as the Main Verb
Have as the main verb can mean 'to possess, to own' or 'to eat, to drink.' For example:
Here, 'have' is the main verb of the sentence and it means 'to eat, drink or smoke something.'
2.2 'Have' as the Auxiliary Verb
Have as an auxiliary verb does not have a specific meaning. It is used to show the tense of the main verb. As an auxiliary, have is used to form perfect tenses. Look:
'Has' is used to make present perfect tense, here.
'Has' is used to make a passive present perfect tense, here.
3. The Verb 'Do'
The verb 'do' can be either the main verb or the auxiliary verb in a sentence.
3.1 'Do' as the Main Verb
Do as the main verb means 'to perform, to act, or to behave.' Look:
Here, 'do' is the main verb of the sentence and it means 'to act or behave'.
Here, 'do' is the main verb of the sentence and it means 'to work at or to perform an activity or a task.'
3.2 'Do' as the Auxiliary Verb
Do as the auxiliary verb does not have a specific meaning and it can be used for the following functions:
- in negative sentences
- in questions
Here, 'do' is an auxiliary verb used before a main verb to form negative sentences.
Here, 'do' is an auxiliary verb used before a main verb to form questions.
4. The Verb 'Get'
The verb 'get' can be either the main verb or the auxiliary verb of the sentence.
4.1 'Get' as the Main Verb
Get as the main verb means 'to obtain, to receive.' For example:
4.2 'Get' as the Auxiliary Verb
The verb get is used instead of the verb 'be' in the passive voice in informal spoken English. The get-passive usually indicates an undesirable or negative or unexpected action.
English Auxiliary Verbs
|main verb||auxiliary verb||example as a main verb||example as an auxiliary verb|
|be||is a linking verb or an intransitive verb||makes the progressive tense or the passive voice||
|have||means 'to own, to eat'||makes perfect tenses||
|do||means 'to perform, to act'||is used in simple tenses||
|get||means 'to obtain, to recieve'||is used in the passive voice||