Auxiliary Verbs – Definition, Function & Examples

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Auxiliary Verbs – Definition, Function & Examples

Basically, auxiliary verbs or helping verb are function words, a type of closed class which is constituted of words that have a grammatical function as opposed to content words, which are an open class of lexical words. An auxiliary verb is used to add functional or grammatical content to the information expressed by another verb, considered to be the main verb. Auxiliary verbs are also called helping verbs


I am writing a book.

He has done the work.

We will be there in a minute.

Would you help me with this homework?

Can you open the door?

Did you visit New York last holiday?

Do you like chocolate?

They must get there on time.

The 23 auxiliary verbs

am, is, are, was, were, has, have, had, do, does, did, will, would, shall, should, can, could, may, might, must, Be, Been, Being.

Negative Statements and Questions

In many languages, changing a statement to a question is as easy as changing your inflection or punctuation. In Spanish, for example, you can say, “Ella habla Inglés,” or you can ask, “¿Ella habla Inglés?” The word order does not change. In English, however, the statement is, “She speaks English,” whereas the question changes to, “Does she speak English?” English questions almost always use an auxiliary verb.

Negative statements in English also generally use an auxiliary verb. We can’t just say, “They liked the soup?” We have to rearrange a bit, adding in the past form of the auxiliary “do” to say, “Did they like the soup?”

Do / does / did

Do is common for forming questions and making negatives.
Did is used for do and does in the past tense. Do and does is never used for the past.

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Be = am / is / are

Be can be used as an auxiliary verb or the main verb in a sentence.
Is tells us that an action is happening now or is going to happen in the future.
Be is also used to make passives.
Are is used for they and we.
Was is used for the past tense of am and is.
Were is used for the past tense of you, we and they.

Have = has / had

Have is used to make the present perfect tense (it is always followed by the past participle).
Has is used for the third person singular.
Had is used for past tenses especially the past perfect tense. It describes an action that began in the past and continues into the present or that occurred in the recent past.


Other common auxiliary verbs are:

can, could, may, might, must, ought, should, and would. 

These are also known as modal verbs. We use them to show obligation, possibility and necessity.

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Progressive Verbs

In present progressive sentences, the verb expresses action that is in progress as the speaker says it. “I am typing” is an example of present progressive. In it, the main verb is “type” while the auxiliary verb “be” is conjugated according to the subject, “I.”

We also use past and future progressives to explain what was or will be happening when some other event occurred or will occur.

He was watching TV when the phone rang.

Here “was” is the auxiliary that helps us understand when the main verb (watch) happened.

We’ll be driving to Virginia during your party.

The future progressive actually uses two auxiliary verbs (will and be) to tell us that this action (drive) takes place in the future.

Passive Voice

If you can add the phrase,by a purple monster” to the end of your verb phrase and still have a grammatically correct sentence, you’re probably using passive voice. Here are some examples:

The chair was moved (by a purple monster) to the other side of the room.

I was hit in the head (by a purple monster) and knocked unconscious (by a purple monster).

It has been decided (by a purple monster) that the play will be canceled (by a purple monster).

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There’s nothing grammatically wrong with passive voice; it’s an excellent use of the verb “be.” It’s just not very exciting writing. It’s more interesting to say:

A purple monster moved the chair across the room.

A purple monster hit me in the head and knocked me out.

A purple monster has decided to cancel the play. Take it up with him.

Perfect Tenses

The perfect tenses in English explain the order of things. When we use present perfect, we are explaining what has happened up until now. Past perfect explains what had happened in the past before something else happened in the past. And future perfect tells us what will have happened up to a certain point in the future.

All the perfect tenses use at least one auxiliary verb, “have.”


I have visited Stockholm many times.

He had seen many cathedrals, but none so grand as that one.

The future perfect also uses “will.”


We will have traveled to every country in the world after this trip.

And the progressive perfect tenses also use “be.”

She has been living in Sweden for 10 years.

He had been touring Europe for 3 months.

We will have been flying for 31 hours by the time we get home.

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About the Author: RaMaDan

“The difference between school and life? In school, you're taught a lesson and then given a test. In life, you're given a test that teaches you a lesson.”

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