"Auxiliary Verbs" in English Grammar

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'.

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"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 or passive sentences.

English Auxiliary Verbs

The English language has five auxiliary verbs:

  1. Be
  2. Do
  3. Have
  4. Will
  5. Get

Tip

There can be more than one auxiliary verb in a sentence.

Michael will be living in Mexico.

Here, 'Will' and 'be' both are auxiliary verbs.

Now, let's go through them one by one and see the functions of these auxiliary verbs:

The Verb 'Be'

The verb 'be' can be both the main verb of the sentence or the auxiliary verb.

'Be' as the Main Verb

When it is the main verb, it can have a meaning by itself. It can act as a linking verb. A linking verb (also called copula or copular verb) do not show any specific actions. They just link the subject of a sentence and the subject complement.

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.

'Be' as the Auxiliary Verb

But when it is the auxiliary verb, it does not have a separate meaning. It is only in a sentence to help the main verb with showing the tense or voice of it.
'Be' as an auxiliary verb can have two functions:

  1. Auxiliary verb in continuous tenses
  2. Auxiliary verb in the passive voice

Sam is watching TV.

This sentence has 'present continuous tense'.

Ben has been studying the whole night.

This sentence is in a 'present perfect continuous tense'. Here, we have two auxiliary verbs: have 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 'steal'.

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

The Verb 'Have'

The verb 'have' can be both the main verb of the sentence or the auxiliary verb.

'Have' as the Main Verb

When it is the main verb, it can have a meaning by itself.

Mark has a baby sister.

Here, 'have' is the main verb of the sentence and it means 'to own, hold or possess'.

I had breakfast with my friend.

Here, 'have' is the main verb of the sentence and it means 'to eat, drink or smoke something'.

'Have' as the Auxiliary Verb

But when it is the auxiliary verb, it does not have a separate meaning. It is only in a sentence to help show the tense of the main verb. As an auxiliary, we use this verb to form perfect tenses in active and passive voices.

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.

The Verb 'Do'

The verb 'do' can be both the main verb of the sentence or the auxiliary verb.

'Do' as the Main Verb

When it is the main verb, it can have a meaning by itself.

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 perform an activity or a task'.

'Do' as the Auxiliary Verb

But when it is the auxiliary verb, it does not have a separate meaning. As an auxiliary, we use this verb for multiple 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.

The Verb 'Will'

The verb 'will' can be both the main verb of the sentence or the auxiliary verb.

'Will' as the Main Verb

When it is the main verb, it can have a meaning by itself.

Do what you will.

Here, 'will' is the main verb of the sentence and it means '‌to want or like'.

Nate willed himself to stay awake.

Here, 'will' is the main verb of the sentence and it means '‌to use the power of your mind to do something or to make something happen'.

'Will' as the Auxiliary Verb

Now keep in mind that 'will' can be both an auxiliary verb and a modal verb. Here we will focus on 'will' as an auxiliary verb. It is used to talk about future tense in positive, negative and interrogative sentences.

Susan will spend her money mostly for charity.

In this example, 'Will' is used as a modal to show a future plan.

Kevin will not stay in our place.

Here, 'Will' expresses likelihood in the immediate present,

Will you come to the party?

Here in this case, 'Will' is used to make an invitation (offering).

The Verb 'Get'

The verb 'get' can be both the main verb of the sentence or the auxiliary verb.

'Get' as the Main Verb

When 'get' is the main verb, it can have a meaning by itself.

I got lots of presents for my sweet sixteen party.

I'll get you a drink.

'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 actions.

I got rubbed when I was at the mall.

Our car got stolen last night.

Review

English Auxiliary Verbs

  • do
  • be
  • will
  • have
  • get
main verb auxiliary verb example as a main verb example as an auxiliary verb
be It can act as a linking verb. It does not have a separate meaning. Max is happy. Sam is watching TV.
do It has a meaning by itself. We use in in negative sentences and questions./ The third person singularform is does. I do aerobics once a week. She doesn't like my boyfriend.
have It means to own something or to eat something. It appears in the sentence to show different tenses. / The third person singular form is has. Mark has a baby sister. The house has been built in 1989.
will It can have a meaning by itself. Used to talk about future tense in positive, negative and interrogative sentences. Do what you will. Susan will spend her money mostly for charity.
get It can have several meanings by itself. It is used in the passive voice. Do you get it? I got fired.

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