There are almost too many types of verbs in the English language, but one of which is an auxiliary verb and is super important to speech and writing. What is an auxiliary verb, and how do you identify one? Great question and one I’ll go over in detail.
My guide will show you the meaning and function of auxiliary verbs. I’ll explore its different types and examples of how to use them in sentences.
What is an Auxiliary Verb?
Auxiliary verbs in the English language are minor verbs used with a base verb to form a verb phrase. Also known as helping verbs or helper verbs, an auxiliary verb functions as an assistant to add grammatical or functional meaning to clauses in sentences.
An auxiliary verb’s following action verb can be a transitive or intransitive verb.
Here, I’ll show you with an example:
- Jeremy is opening the door.
In this sentence, is functions as an auxiliary verb for the present participle, opening to express the present continuous tense. But is and other helping verbs can also function as single-word verbs sometimes. For example:
- Jeremy is respectful.
Because is stands alone in this sentence, it is not functioning as an auxiliary verb.
Some auxiliary verbs express tense by providing a time reference. Others show a grammatical aspect, while others indicate modality, voice, and emphasis.
Auxiliary verbs can be found in positive sentences. You can also use them in a negative statement or when expressing an interrogative mood.
Below is an auxiliary verbs list:
Primary Auxiliary Verbs
The primary auxiliary verbs that are also stand-alone verbs are be, do, and have. Find out how the common verbs work with examples.
To be and its inflected forms (am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been, etc.) have several functions, but we commonly use them as auxiliary verbs. The correct be verb to use depends on the subject and how the verb is connected to the flow of time.
Here are some auxiliary verb examples in sentences.
- The faculty is planning this year’s sports festival.
- I am writing you a letter.
Do, Does, Did
The auxiliary verbs do, does, and did are used to give emphasis. They’re always followed by a present-tense verb stem when used for this purpose. For example:
- Do bad people think it’s okay to cheat?
- She did commit mistakes.
We also use do in elliptical sentences. For example:
- Jason speaks French excellently, doesn’t he?
Has, Have, Had
When used before past-participle verbs, the auxiliary verbs have, has, and had form the perfect tense. Have and has create the present perfect tense. Here is how I’d use and auxiliary verb in sentences.
- We have already included you in the group conversation.
- Lately, Athena has been losing sleep.
Types of Auxiliary Verbs
Auxiliary verbs help express tense, voice, and mood. Take a look at the four types of auxiliary verbs and some examples of how to use them.
Examples of Auxiliary Verbs Expressing Tense
Auxiliary verbs help express verb tenses in sentences. For instance, all be, have, and do verbs can show different tenses. The sentences below show be verbs in different progressive tenses to denote continuing actions.
- I am rooting for you. (present progressive)
- I was rooting for you. (past progressive)
- I will be rooting for you. (future progressive)
In these examples, the perfect tenses indicate the completion of the activity.
- The man has forgotten his address already. (Present perfect)
- The man had forgotten his address before someone helped him. (Past perfect)
- The man will have forgotten his address by then. (Future perfect)
The three sentences below are in perfect progressive tenses. These sentences express the completion of an ongoing action.
- I had been writing before Joan arrived. (Past perfect progressive)
- I have been studying for days now. (Present perfect progressive)
- I will have been studying for weeks. (Future perfect progressive)
Examples of Auxiliary Verbs Expressing Voices
Auxiliary verbs also express voice or how the action is being expressed. By voice, we do not mean the personal style of the writer. Voice in sentences can be an active or passive voice.
The active voice shows the subject performing an action, while the passive voice emphasizes the action being performed. Consider the sentences below.
- Active sentence: James bought the microphone.
- Passive sentence: The microphone was bought by James.
The active sentence doesn’t include an auxiliary verb. This is how we write standard sentences for conciseness.
The complete verb phrase or past participle verb phrase is bought for the passive sentence. Was is an auxiliary verb followed by the past participle form of buy, which is bought. After the verb phrase come the prepositional phrase, by James.
Buy is an irregular verb because it does not follow the typical -ed pattern for its simple past and past participle forms.
Note how the subject could no longer perform the action in the passive sentence. That’s when auxiliary verbs come to the rescue. Here are more examples of passive sentences in different tenses with auxiliary verbs.
- Classes are being held in the West Hall. (present progressive)
- The course has been held in the West Hall to accommodate more students. (present perfect)
- The class had been being held in the West Hall before they built an auditorium. (past perfect progressive)
Examples of Auxiliary Verbs Expressing Mood
In grammar, mood indicates how we regard an action. Some examples include emphatic statements, imperative mood, interrogative sentences, and subjunctive mood. For example:
- Don’t forget to greet your cousin on her birthday.
In this sentence, do is in its negative form to show an imperative mood.
- I ask that she be given a voice.
The example above shows the subjunctive mood. The auxiliary verb helps show a wish, demand, suggestion, and condition instead of a fact.
Examples of Modal Auxiliary Verbs
Modal verbs are verbs combined with an action verb to show intention, ability, and other functions. Some modal verbs also show necessity, requests, possibility, and obligation. For example:
- George Eliot said, “It is never too late to be what you might have been”
In this sentence, the modal helping verb is might, expressing the possibility of something.
- He can understand English
The sentence above uses the modal verb can to show the ability to do something. Note that can is also a modal of request.
Below are more sentence examples with modals as auxiliary verbs.
- Can you buy me a new bag?
- The kids could fly their kites tomorrow.
- Your voice must be excellent.
- She has to see Mike right now.
- We should probably get going.
Many people confuse may and can. Remember that may is for permission, while can is for showing ability. To show the inability of someone or something, use can’t or cannot instead of can not.
How to Use Auxiliary Verbs for Tense
Auxiliary verbs are critical in showing verb tenses because they indicate an aspect of time. Simple, perfect, and progressive sentences all express time relationships.
The simple present and past tenses do not use auxiliary verbs. In the future tense, the most common auxiliary verb is will. This verb remains the same. We don’t add s for 3rd person singular. For example:
- She will try to record the song tomorrow.
- My parents will show you the directions.
The continuous tenses are known as the progressive tenses, as well, denoting an ongoing action yet to be completed.
Present continuous sentences show the habituality or continuity of actions in sentences. This verb tense also shows an ongoing action currently happening. It indicates that an action continues for a long stretch of time that it has become unpredictable.
We usually use a conjugated form of the be verb for progressive forms of verbs. Then, we add the present participle form or “-ing” form of the verb instead of the bare infinitive form. For example:
- She is eating fries right now.
- Rory’s classmates are choosing which organization to join.
The past continuous tense shows an ongoing action occurring in the past. It can be a past situation that was interrupted. For example
- Mary was collecting stamps when she took interest in maps.
- The secretaries were talking when the manager entered the office.
The future continuous tense shows a future action that will continue for a specific period. For example:
- I will be reading a new book once I finish this.
We use the perfect tenses for events that have happened and showed specific effects later.
The present perfect tense is for actions already completed but still show current consequences. You can also use it for actions continuing at present. Use the auxiliary verb have plus the past participle to write present perfect sentences. For example:
- I have come a long way.
Past perfect sentences show events that happened in the past before another event in the past. The past perfect tense uses the auxiliary verb had plus the past participle of the verb. For example:
- If I had taken the test earlier, I would have been able to join the afternoon workshop.
The future perfect tense shows a verb tense for actions to be completed before another point in the future. Auxiliary verbs used here are will have and the past participle of the main verb. For example:
- Will you have left the tower when the press arrives?
In this sentence, the single verb phrase is will have left.
Negative Form of Auxiliary Verbs
It’s easy to form a positive statement using auxiliary verbs. But for negative sentences, the word not is essential.
You may also use contractions for auxiliary verbs in negative sentences. We use the negative form auxiliary andn’t in informal writing. For example:
- Ted isn’tjoining us anymore.
- The piano hasn’t been played in months.
Number and Person Agreement With Auxiliary Verbs
Auxiliary verbs should show proper subject-verb agreement. For example:
- Incorrect: She have listened to the new podcast.
Correct: She has listened to the new podcast.
- Incorrect: I is doing something else tomorrow.
Correct: I am doing something else tomorrow.
Position in a Sentence
You already know that auxiliary verbs have common functions, appearing before the main verb. But in more complex sentences, the structure can be confusing. For example:
- I could have done so much better on the test.
This sentence includes the modal verb could, the tense and voice maker have, and the main verb, done. Done is given a grammatical mood because it is in the present perfect tense.
Don’t Use Of With Could, Should, and Would
The modal verbs could, should, and would do not come with the verb of. The correct phrases to use are could have, should have, and would have. For example:
- I should have seen this situation happening.
- You could have been in danger.
- We would have visited you if you had told us you were in town.
Summing Up Auxiliary Verbs
Sometimes, single-word verbs cannot wholly describe an event. So, we use multipart verb phrases that include an auxiliary verb and action verb for extra grammatical functions. These auxiliary verbs are essential in a sentence for emphasis, mood aspects of time, and more.
Learning auxiliary verbs also helps you master a foreign language more easily. You’ll quickly understand these languages’ tenses, moods, and voices.