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auxiliary verb


auxiliary verb

Examples of auxiliary verbs in English


A verb (such as have, do, or will) that determines the mood, tense, or aspect of another verb in a verb phrase.

Auxiliary verbs always precede main verbs within a verb phrase. Auxiliaries are also known as helping verbs. Contrast with lexical verbs.

See also:


From the Latin, "help"

Examples and Observations:

  • "If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants."
    (Isaac Newton)

  • "A wise man will make more opportunities than he finds."
    (Sir Francis Bacon)

  • "We are all worms, but I do believe I am a glowworm."
    (Winston Churchill)

  • "I did not invent Irish dancing."
    (Bart Simpson, The Simpsons)

  • "In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move."
    (Douglas Adams)

  • "After I die I shall return to earth as the doorkeeper of a bordello, and I won't let a one of you in."
    (Arturo Toscanini)

  • "And as for Gussie Fink-Nottle, many an experienced undertaker would have been deceived by his appearance and started embalming him on sight."
    (P.G. Wodehouse, Right Ho, Jeeves, 1934)

  • "The auxiliary verbs of English are the following:
    1. can, may, will, shall, must, ought, need, dare [modals]
    2. be, have, do, use [non-modals]
    Some of them appear in idioms--be going, have got, had better/best, would rather/sooner (as in It is going to rain, I've got a headache, etc.)--and in such cases it is just the first verb (be, have, had, would) that is an auxiliary, not the whole idiom."
    (R. Huddleston and G. Pullum, The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. Cambridge Univ. Press, 2002)

  • Differences Between Auxiliary Verbs and Main Verbs
    "The auxiliary verbs differ from main verbs in the following ways:
    1. They do not take word endings to form participles or agree with their subject. Thus, we say She may go to the store, but never She mays go to the store.
    2. They come before not in negative clauses, and they do not use do to form the negative: You might not like that. A main verb uses do to form the negative and follows not: You do not like that.
    3. They come before the subject in a question: Can I have another apple? Would you like to go to the movies? Main verbs must use do and follow the subject to form questions: Do you want to go to the movies?
    4. They take the infinitive without to: I will call you tomorrow. A main verb that takes an infinitive always uses to: I promise to call you tomorrow."
    (The American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style. Houghton Mifflin, 2005)

  • The Maximum Number of Auxiliaries
    "English allows up to three auxiliaries in a sentence, four in a passive . . .. The first must be finite and the others nonfinite. In the following example, we have a modal followed by have followed by the past participle of the verb 'to be':
    I could've been a contender.
    (Marlon Brando, On the Waterfront)"
    (Barry J. Blake, All About Language. Oxford University Press, 2008)

  • Irregular Auxiliaries
    "The verbs be, have, do, and go are irregular in many of the world's languages. They are the most commonly used verbs in most languages and often pitch in as auxiliaries: 'helper' verbs that are drained of their own meanings so that they may combine with other verbs to express tense and other grammatical information, as in He is jogging, He has jogged, He is going to jog. Many language scientists believe that the meanings of these verbs--existence, possession, action, motion--are at the core of the meanings of all verbs, if only metaphorically."
    (Steven Pinker, Words and Rules. HarperCollins, 1999)

  • Omitting Words After Auxiliary Verbs
    "To avoid repeating words from a previous clause or sentence we use an auxiliary verb (be, have, can, will, would, etc.) instead of a whole verb group (e.g. 'has finished') or instead of a verb and what follows it (e.g. 'like to go to Paris'):
    - She says she's finished, but I don't think she has. (instead of . . . has finished.)
    - 'Would any of you like to go to Paris?' 'I would.' (instead of I would like to go to Paris.)
    If there is more than one auxiliary verb in the previous clause or sentence, we leave out all the auxiliary verbs except the first instead of repeating the main verb. Alternatively, we can use two (or more) auxiliary verbs:
    - Alex hadn't been invited to the meal, although his wife had. (or . . . had been.)
    - 'They could have been delayed by the snow.' "Yes, they could.' (or . . . could have (been).)"
    (Martin Hewings, Advanced Grammar in Use, 2nd ed. Cambridge Univ. Press, 2005)
Pronunciation: og-ZIL-ya-ree vurb
Also Known As: helping verb, auxiliary, defective verb
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