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, will, might, must, etc). The most common auxiliary verbs are be, have, and do. Each has different forms; for example, the eight different forms of be include am, is, are, was, were.

Auxiliary verbs commonly combine with other verbs to form tenses. It is very common for a sentence to have two verbs standing side by side.

  • Jill is riding an elephant.
  • Jact has gone with Jill to the zoo.

In the two sentences, there are two verbs in each sentence – is riding and has gone. The first verbs in each pair (is, has) are the auxiliary verbs, while riding and gone are the main verbs.

  1. The two verbs combine to form the tenses.
  2. The first sentence (Jill is riding an elephant) is in the present continuous tense telling us that the action is still going on, that is Jill is still riding the elephant.
  3. The second sentence (Jack has gone with Jill to the zoo) has the present perfect tense. It tells us the action has been completed.

Auxiliary verbs do not always combine with the main verbs to form tenses. When they are on their own, they are no longer auxiliary verbs but acting like the main verb.

  • I am sleepy. / She is pretty. / He was tall. / We are lost. / They were tired.
  • It has a long tail. / You have good looks.
  • Does she know you? Yes, she does.

We can use auxiliary verb for emphasis.

  • I do like you.
  • She does mind what you said.

Modals or modal verbs are also auxiliary verbs. Modal verbs are used to express ability, etc.

Examples:

  • She can drive a tractor. (Ability)
  • If we don't leave now, we could be late. (Possibility)
  • I will call you this evening. (Willing)
  • You might like a ride in the roller coaster. (Suggestion)
  • We must get up early tomorrow. (Necessity)

(See Lesson 10 for more on modal verbs)

 

Other areas in which the auxiliary verbs are used:

Progressive: Used to show the action is in progress

  • The girl is smiling at the elephant.

Perfective: Used to express an action completed in the past

  • The monkey has eaten three bananas.

Passive: Used to show the passive form

  • The elephant was given a quick bath.

Question Used to ask a question

  • Do you like chimpanzees?

Negative statement: Used to form negative statements

  • I do not like those noisy monkeys.
 

Auxiliary verbs often come in contracted form:

The word have is shortened to ' ve; is/has to 's; and had/would/should/could to 'd.

Examples:

  • 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)
  • He'd stop thinking every girl dislikes him. (= He should)
  • You'd speak seven languages? (= You could)

(See List 4 - Verbs: Different Verb Types for more examples of auxiliary verbs)