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 known as the helping verbs) are small words that come with the main verb to create different tenses and voices. They also help the main verb to make 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 forms the present perfect tense, and 'been' is used to create the passive voice.

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 can have different positions in a sentence depending on the presence of modals or other auxiliary verbs. As a result, there is a structure that defines the position of auxiliary verbs. Here is the structure:
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 the active voice.
For example:

It will have been made.

'Will' is a modal, 'have' is an auxiliary verb that forms the perfect tense, and 'been' is used to create the passive voice.

I should have gone there.

'Should' is a modal and 'have' is an auxiliary verb.

If modals are the main verb of 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' functions as a modal verb in negated form.

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

There are no modals here, so to create 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 three 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 a 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 in my room.

'In my room' is a prepositional phrase.

1.2 'Be' as the Auxiliary Verb

'Be' as the auxiliary verb does not have a separate meaning on its own. It is used to show the tense or the voice of the main verb. As an auxiliary verb, 'be' 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 all night.

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

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

The verb 'have' as the main verb can mean 'to possess', 'to own', 'to eat', or '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

The auxiliary verb 'have' does not have a specific meaning on its own. It is used to show the tense of the main verb. As an auxiliary verb, 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 'to 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

The auxiliary verb 'do' does not have a specific meaning and it can be used for the following functions:

  1. in negative sentences
  2. in questions
  3. in emphatic forms

I do not know Brian.

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

Do you know Brian?

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

I do know Brian.

Here, 'do' is an auxiliary verb used before a main verb to show emphasis.

Review

English Auxiliary Verbs

  • be
  • have
  • do
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.

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