Auxiliary Verbs

1. What is an Auxiliary Verb?

Auxiliary verbs “help” other verbs form different tenses and moods; they are used to define when actions take place, or to emphasize other actions or objects in a sentence. For this reason, auxiliary verbs are also called helping verbs. The word that the auxiliary verb is “helping” is called the main verb or full verb.

The most common auxiliary verbs are forms of be, do, and have.

All three of these verbs can also be used as main verbs that stand alone. When they are used as auxiliary verbs, they team up with other verbs to form a complete idea.

Example 1:

Mike is very tall.

  • In this example, the verb “is” (a form of be) is the only verb in the sentence.
  • This tells us that in this case, “is” is the main verb.

Example 2:

Mike is planning to play in the NBA someday.

  • This example also uses the verb “is” (a form of be).
  • However, in this case “is” teams up with the verb “planning.”
  • We know that in this sentence, “is” serves as an auxiliary verb that is helping the main verb.

 

2. Examples of Auxiliary Verbs

Example 1

Melissa is watching her favorite movie.

  • In this example, the auxiliary verb “is” (a form of “be”) is followed by the present participle “watching.”
  • These verbs work together to form the present progressive tense.
  • The use of present progressive shows us that the action (watching a movie) is happening right now.
  • The auxiliary verb “is” helps the main verb “watching” show exactly when the described action is happening.

Example 2

Justin will have started high school by this time next month.

  • This sentence used the word “will,” the auxiliary verb “have,” and the past participle “started.”
  • Together, these words form the future perfect tense.
  • This tense is used to show that an action (starting high school) will be completed in the future.
  • The auxiliary verb “have” helps the main verb “started” indicate exactly when this action will take place.

Example 3

Do you go to school with your sister?

  • This question uses the auxiliary verb “do” with a subject (you) and a main verb (go).
  • This combination of words creates the emphatic tense.
  • In this case, the emphatic tense is used to form a question.
  • The auxiliary verb “do” helps the main verb “go” ask a question.

 

3. Types of Auxiliary Verbs

Let’s take a look at how to use the auxiliary verbs be, have, and do.

a. Auxiliary verbs that form the progressive tense

The auxiliary verb “be” is most often used to form progressive tenses. Progressive tenses show when an action took place, and all progressive tenses need a form of “be.”

Present

For example, the present progressive tense is formed when am, is, or are (forms of the verb “be”) is followed by a present participle. A present participle is a present tense verb that ends in “ing.”

You can use the present progressive tense when you want to show that something happens frequently or is happening right now.

Example:

Alexis and Zoey are finishing their math homework.

  • In this sentence, the auxiliary verb “are” is followed by the present participle “finishing.”
  • Together, these verbs form the present progressive tense.
  • This tense tells us that the action described in the sentence (finishing math homework) is happening right now.

Past

Another type of progressive tense is the past progressive. This tense is used to show that an action continued in the past or that one action is interrupted by another.

To form the past progressive tense, you pair the verbs “was” or “were” (forms of the verb “be”) with a present participle.

Example 1:

I was hoping to get a puppy for my birthday.

  • In this example, the auxiliary verb “was” teams up with the present participle “hoping.”
  • Together, these two verbs form the past progressive tense.
  • In this case, the past progressive tense is used to show that the action in the sentence (hoping for a puppy) continued in the past. The sentence does not describe this action coming to an end.

Example 2:

While Tommy was watching TV, his little sister Brianna stole the last piece of cake.

  • The auxiliary verb “was” is followed by present participle “watching.”
  • These verbs also form the past progressive tense.
  • In this example, the past progressive is used to show one action (Tommy watching TV) interrupted by another (Brianna stealing the cake).

Future

Future progressive is another progressive verb tense. Future progressive is used to show that an action will continue to happen in the future.

It follows this formula: Will + Be + Present Participle.

Example:

Soon, we will be visiting our grandmother in Colorado.

  • In this sentence, the word “will” is followed by the auxiliary verb “be” and the present participle “visiting.”
  • This forms the future progressive tense.
  • The use of future progressive in this sentence shows that the action being described (visiting grandmother) will continue into the future.

b. Auxiliary verbs that form passive voice

Various forms of the verb “be” are also used to form passive voice. Passive voice is useful when you want to place more importance on the object of a sentence (thing or person receiving the action) than on the subject (thing or person performing the action). It’s also a stylistic choice that may flow better in some sentences.

To learn about the passive voice, it is important to know about transitive verbs because these are verbs that have direct objects and can be either active or passive. A direct object is the person or thing that receives the verb’s action, or that the action is performed on

Writing in the passive voice follows this pattern:

Direct object as the subject of the sentence + Form of the verb “be” + Past participle + By + Subject as object of the preposition.

Example:

The ball was kicked by Stephanie.

  • The direct object (the ball) is the subject of the sentence.
  • The direct object is followed by the verb “was” (a form of be).
  • “Was” (a form of be) is followed by the past participle “kicked.”
  • After “kicked,” we see the preposition “by.”
  • Finally, the preposition “by” is followed by the subject (Stephanie) as its object.
  • The structure of this sentence makes it an example of passive voice.

Unlike the passive voice, active voice is when a subject is followed by a verb, and the verb is followed by a direct object. It is much smoother and more direct than passive voice. So while the passive voice should be avoided most times, sometimes it is necessary to use it to change style or tone of voice.

c. Auxiliary verbs that form the perfect tense

On the other hand, the auxiliary verb “have” is usually used to form perfect tenses, which also give more information about when an action happened.

Present

Present perfect is formed when the verbs “has” or “have” are followed by a past participle. A past participle is a past tense verb usually ending in “ed.”

Present perfect is often used to show that an action began in the past but continues or is completed in the present.

Example:

The rain still has not stopped.

  • In this sentence, the auxiliary verb “has” (a form of “have”) is followed by the past participle “stopped.”
  • Together, these verbs form the present perfect tense.
  • In this sentence, the present perfect shows that an action that started in the past (the rain not stopping) continues in the present.

Past

Another perfect tense is the past perfect tense, which is formed by pairing the auxiliary verb “had” (a form of have) with a past participle.

This tense usually shows that one action in the past happened before another action in the past.

Example:

The new student had studied English before moving to the United States.

  • This sentence pairs the auxiliary verb “had” with the past participle “studied.”
  • When these verbs team up, they form the past perfect tense.
  • In this example, the past perfect tense is used to show that one action (studying English) happened before another (moving to the United States).

Future

The last perfect tense is the future perfect tense. The future perfect tense looks like this: Will + Have + Past Participle. It’s used to explain that an action will be finished in the future.

Example:

By next week, we will have finished our football season.

  • In this example, the word “will” is used with the auxiliary verb “have” and the past participle “finished.”
  • This combination of verbs creates the future perfect tense.
  • The future perfect tense is used to describe that an action (finishing the football season) will be completed in the future.

d. Auxiliary verbs that form the emphatic tense

Lastly, the auxiliary verb “do” can be used to form the emphatic tense, which can be used to ask a question or emphasize an action.

To emphasize

When using the emphatic tense to add emphasis to a sentence, use any form of the auxiliary verb “do” plus a main verb.

Example:

“I did clean my room, Mom, I promise!”

  • This example uses the auxiliary verb “did” (a form of “do”) and the main verb “clean.”
  • This verb pair forms the emphatic tense.
  • In this case, the emphatic tense is used to emphasize an action (cleaning the room). The speaker wants to make it very clear that the room is clean.

To form a question

If you are using the emphatic tense to form a question, the formula is:

Any form of the auxiliary verb “do” + Subject + Main verb.

Example:

Does Jacob like cheeseburgers?

  • This question contains the auxiliary verb “does” (a form of “do”), a subject (Jacob), and a main verb (like).
  • Together, these words form the emphatic tense.
  • Here, the emphatic tense is used to form a question.

As you can see, auxiliary verbs “help” main verbs by adding emphasis or more information about when the main verb’s action took place.

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