Auxiliary verbs, also known as helping verbs, are among the most common in English. Typically, they work alongside a main verb.

Paired with a main verb, auxiliary verbs indicate tense or help form negatives and questions. They provide crucial functional and grammatical meaning to sentences, typically through three common verbs:

  • Be.
  • Have.
  • Do.

Helping verbs or auxiliary verb?

Helping verbs, also known as “auxiliary verbs,” work alongside the main verb in a sentence to express the action. They assist the main action verb and can indicate tense, such as in the example, “He is working as a teacher.” They’re also commonly used in forming questions (e.g., “Do you like movies?”) and negatives (e.g., “I do not know her.”).

Helping or auxiliary verbs follow this basic formula, although the order may vary: Main verb + helping verb = a complete idea

The main helping verbs are be, am, is, are, was, were, do, did, have, has, had. But there are 23 helping verbs in total, including being, been, can, could, does, may, might, must, shall, should, will, and would.

Is “never” a helping verb?

The short answer is yes, “never” can be used as a helping verb.

Here are some examples of helping verbs in sentences: 

  • Ahmed is eating lunch late today because he was so busy.
  • Was she allowed to enter the chess tournament?
  • I do not expect that we will be able to attend the wedding. 
  • Juanita has been waking up at 6 every morning to go to the gym. 
  • It must have rained overnight.
  • My daughter can swim faster than I can.
  • They will be coming over for dinner tonight promptly at 8pm. 
  • You might give that Spanish class another try.

Some learners memorize the 23 helping verbs with a short song:
Helping verbs, helping verbs, there are 23!
Am, is, are, was and were, being, been, and be,
Have, has, had, do, does, did, will, would, shall and should.
There are five more helping verbs: may, might, must, can, could!

How to Identify an Auxiliary Verb? 🧐

  • They can express tense by referencing past, present, or future 
  • They can express modality, or how many things are related to the verb
  • They help us understand voice, that is, the relationship between verb and the subject or object
  • They can add emphasis to a sentence

As you know, every sentence must contain at least one verb. It is important to first recognize that there are two kids of verbs:

  • Action verbs:
    An action verb is used to describe a specific activity that is being done.
  • Linking verb
    A linking verb helps by explaining the conditions under which the activity is done.

Both of these kinds of verbs can be accompanied by an auxiliary verb (especially one of the common ones, do, be, and have).

To help illustrate this, consider these examples of verbs and their auxiliary (or helping) verb. 

  • Angela is studying to become a doctor. 
  • The dog was waiting for me to feed him. 
  • I hope you don’t expect me to stay for the entire party. 
  • Tomas had told me about the plans they have this weekend.

Be, Do, and Have: The Three Most Common Auxiliary Verbs

Let’s take a look at the three most common auxiliary verbs, be, do, and have, with some example to help with understanding their role.

The Auxiliary Verb “Be”

The verb “to be” is commonly used in English and serves various purposes. It can function as an action verb independently or in combination with its different forms like be, to be, been, am, are, is, was, were, was not, are not, and were not. For instance, you might say, “That is a yellow cat 🐱.”

But “to be” can also serve as a helper verb. In this role, it needs to team up with another main verb. It works in both singular and plural forms, and you can easily create a negative by adding “not.” Here are a few examples:

  • Even when he is eating, Tom talks a lot.
  • They were not planning to go out tonight. 

The Auxiliary Verb “Do”

The verb ‘to do’ is commonly used in the English language. It can function independently as an action verb, with its respective forms: do, do, does, done, did, didn’t, doesn’t, or did not. For example, you can simply say, “That big dog does not like me.🐕”

But “to do” can also function as an auxiliary verb. In this role, it needs to accompany another main verb. It works in both singular and plural forms, and you can easily create a negative by adding “not.” It’s great for adding emphasis to a sentence, like in: “I did go to school today!” This helper verb is also crucial for forming questions, including negative ones, such as, “Jonathan sings well, doesn’t he? 🎤 🎼”

Here are some additional examples: 

  • Jonathan didn’t take singing lessons as a child. 
  • We do not plan to go on vacation this summer, because it will be too expensive.

The Auxiliary Verb “Have”

In English, the verb ‘to have’ is used extensively. Apart from being an action verb by itself, it comes with different forms like has, have, having, had, hadn’t, or had not. It’s commonly used to express ownership, ability, or describe appearance. For instance, you might say, “That cat has yellow fur. 🐈” Additionally, it often replaces “eat 🍔” and “drink,” like in “Let’s have some coffee. ☕️”

But “to have” can also act as an extra helper verb. In this role, it needs to be combined with another main verb. It works in both singular and plural forms, and you can easily create a negative by adding “not.” Here are a few examples:

  • Anthony has eaten more cake than anyone else here. 
  • I hadn’t thought about the fact that it will be June in 2 days already. 

English has more helper verbs than just the three main ones we talked about (be, do, and have). These extra verbs, called modal helper verbs, always stay the same. Check out the list below to see them in action!

  • Can
  • Could
  • May
  • Might
  • Must
  • Ought to
  • Shall
  • Should
  • Will
  • Would
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