Auxiliary Verbs

Auxiliary verbs help the main verb to express tense or voice or help make questions and negative sentences. That's why they're also called 'helping verbs'.

"Auxiliary Verbs" in English Grammar

What Are Auxiliary Verbs?

Auxiliary verbs (also called the helping verbs) are small words that come with the main verb to create different tenses and voices. They also help in making questions or negative sentences.

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

For example:

I haven't done so much work.

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.

I will be studying chemistry next year.

We are not allowed to use more than one main verb in a sentence.

Use

Auxiliary verbs have two functions:

  1. To make tenses or voices
  2. To make interrogation or negation

For example:

I am studying hard.

'Am' is an auxiliary verb that makes the present progressive tense.

Are you studying hard?

'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.
For example:

It will have been made.

'Will' is a modal, 'have' is an auxiliary verb that makes a tense, and 'been' is making the passive voice.

I should have gone there.

'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:

I shouldn't have gone there. → Shouldn't you have gone there?

'Should' as a modal in negated.

I haven't gone there. →Have you gone there?

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:

Michael will be living in Mexico.

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:

  • It can act as a linking verb and link the subject of a sentence and the subject complement. For example:

Max is happy.

Here, 'be' is the main verb of the sentence and it links the subject 'Max' with the subject complement 'happy'.

Martin was a student.

I will be there.

She is at my room.

'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:

  1. Making continuous tenses
  2. Making the passive voice

Sam is watching TV.

This sentence is in the 'present continuous tense.'

Ben has been studying the whole night.

This sentence is in the 'present perfect continuous tense'. Here, we have two auxiliary verbs: 'has' and 'be' and the main verb is 'study.'

My car was stolen last night.

This sentence is a passive sentence and the main verb of the sentence is 'stolen.'

Using the Auxiliary Verb 'Be' to Form the Present Continuous Tense

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:

Mark has a baby sister.

I had breakfast with my friend.

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:

She has arrived.

'Has' is used to make present perfect tense, here.

The house has been built in 1989.

'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:

Do as you're told!

Here, 'do' is the main verb of the sentence and it means 'to act or behave'.

I do aerobics once a week.

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:

  1. in negative sentences
  2. in questions

I do not know Brian.

Here, 'do' is an auxiliary verb used before a main verb to form negative sentences.

Do you know Brian?

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:

I got lots of presents for my sweet sixteen party.

I'll get you a drink.

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.

I got rubbed when I was at the mall.

Our car got stolen last night.

Review

English Auxiliary Verbs

  • be
  • have
  • do
  • get
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 Max is happy. Sam is watching TV.
have means 'to own, to eat' makes perfect tenses Mark has a baby sister. The house has been built in 1989.
do means 'to perform, to act' is used in simple tenses I do aerobics once a week. She doesn't like my boyfriend.
get means 'to obtain, to recieve' is used in the passive voice Do you get it? I got fired.

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