All verbs are either auxiliary verbs or main verbs. Auxiliary verbs, also called helping verbs, consist of primary verbs (be, have, do) and modal verbs (can, could, may, might, must, shall, will, etc). The most common auxiliary verbs are be, have, do. Each of these has different forms; for example, the verb be/to be has eight different forms: am, is, are, was, were, be, being, and been. Have has these forms: have, has, having, and had, and do has these: do, does, did, and done. Auxiliary verbs combine with other verbs (main verbs) to form tenses, aspect, voice, and emphasis.
The auxiliary verbs are usually placed in front of the main verbs. They change the meaning or time of the action as expressed by the verbs: He is singing. / He has sung. / He does sing. Model verbs are auxiliary verbs too. They include could, might, should and ought to: He could sing. / He might sing. / He should sing. / He ought to sing.
Auxiliary verbs combine with other verbs to form tenses
Two verbs standing side by side in a sentence is a common sight. The auxiliary verb always comes before another verb which is the main verb.
- Jill is riding an elephant.
- Jack has gone with Jill to the zoo.
In the examples above, the first verb in each pair (is, has) is the auxiliary verb, while riding and gone are the main verbs. The two verbs in each sentence combined to form a verb tense.
In the first sentence, the auxiliary verb is used with a present participle to form the present continuous tense: is riding. It tells us that the action is still going on, that is Jill is still riding the elephant.
In the second sentence, the auxiliary verb is used with a past participle to form the present perfect tense: has gone. It tells us the action has been completed.
Auxiliary verbs as main verbs
The auxiliary verbs be, have, and do can be used independently as main verbs. When used on their own, they are no longer auxiliary verbs.
- I am sleepy. / She is pretty. / He was tall. / We are lost. / They were tired.
- It has a long tail. / You have good looks. / We had dinner together.
- I do it every day. / Does she know you? Yes, she does. / She did nothing wrong.
Auxiliary verbs combine with other verbs to form aspect
- The girl is smiling at the elephant.
- The monkey has easten three bananas.
- He used to smoke many cigarettes every day.
Auxiliary verbs used to form passive voice
The auxiliary verb be is often used with a past participle to create the passive form of verbs.
Other areas in which the auxiliary verbs are used
Besides being used to give emphasis, the auxiliary verbs do, does, and did are often used together with the main verbs to form negative sentences and questions.
- I do like her long hair.
- She does mind what you said.
- He did try to ride the elephant.
- I do not (don’t) like those noisy monkeys.
- She does not (doesn’t) want to listen to my stories.
- He did not (didn’t) keep his promise.
- You carry a gun, don’t you?
- Does he carry a gun?
- Did they fight after the argument?
Modals or modal verbs are also auxiliary verbs. They are also called modal auxiliary verbs: can, could, will, would, may, might, shall, should, must, ought to, used to. Modal verbs are used to express ability, etc.
- She can drive a tractor. (Ability)
- He could swim across the river. (Ability)
- If we don’t leave now, we could be late. (Possibility)
- I will call you this evening. (Willingness)
- He may know how to repair it. (Possibility)
- You might like a ride in the roller coaster. (Suggestion)
- She would like to join us. (wish)
- We must get up early tomorrow. (Necessity)
- They should follow the instructions. (Obligation)
(See Lesson 10 for more on modal verbs.)
Auxiliary verbs often come in contracted forms:
have is shortened to ‘ve; is/has to ‘s; and had/would/should/could to ‘d.
- I’m quite sure I’ve lost my way. (= I am / = I have)
- It’s the biggest dog in the neighbourhood. (= It is)
- She’s naturally curly hair. (= She has)
- They’d already gone home. (= They had)
- We’d like to go now. (= We would)
- You’d stop thinking every girl dislikes him. (= You should)
- He’d speak seven languages? ( = He could)