What Are Auxiliary Verbs? (with Examples)An auxiliary verb (or a helping verb as it's also called) accompanies a main verb to help express its tense, mood, or voice. The most common auxiliary verbs are be, do, and have. You will see these in the following forms:
Be: am, is, are, was, were, being, been
Do: does, do, did
Have: has, have, had, having
Modal auxiliary verbs are also auxiliary verbs. They are can, could, may, might, must, ought to, shall, should, will, and would. (These never change their forms.)
Examples of Auxiliary VerbsHere are some examples of auxiliary verbs expressing tense (main verbs in bold):
- I have been sitting here since 7 o'clock.
- Sarah was waiting for the shark to reappear.
- John will have broken the record by then.
- Unfortunately, our dessert has been eaten by the dog.
- The phone will be disconnected tomorrow.
- If he should arrive, tell him to leave.
- If he were to arrive in the next 10 minutes, we would still be on track.
Auxiliary Verbs and Verb PhrasesA verb phrase is made up of the auxiliary verb(s) and the main verb. In the examples below, the verb phrase is shaded with main verb in bold:
- Rose has been drinking since breakfast.
- Peter is taking you to the airport.
- Rose has been drinking heavily since breakfast. (The adverb heavily is not part of the verb phrase.)
- Peter is definitely taking you to the airport. (The adverb definitely is not part of the verb phrase.)
Remember, can is used for capability, and may is used for permission.
Younger sister: Can I listen to your CDs when you're out this evening?|
Older sister: You can, but don't step foot in my bedroom.
Younger sister: May I listen to your CDs when you're out this evening?|
Older sister: No.
Nowadays, can and may are used interchangably. This ruling is only for the grammatically pure!
Read more about can and may.