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helping verb


helping verb

In this short sentence, can functions as a helping verb.


A verb that comes before the main verb (or lexical verb) in a sentence. Together the helping verb and the main verb form a verb phrase.

A helping verb always stands in front of a main verb. For example, in the sentence Shyla can ride her sister's bicycle, the helping verb is can and the main verb is ride.

More than one helping verb can be used in a sentence. For example, in the sentence Shyla has been walking to school, the helping verbs are has and been.

Sometimes a word (such as not) separates the helping verb from the main verb. For example, in the sentence Shyla does not want a new bicycle, the helping verb is does and the main verb is want.

A helping verb is also known as an auxiliary verb.

See also:

Helping Verbs in English:

  • is, am, are, was, were
  • be, being, been
  • has, have, had
  • do, does, did
  • will, shall, should, would
  • can, could
  • may, might, must

Examples and Observations:

  • "I have always hated those upstart space toys."
    (Stinky Pete the Prospector in Toy Story 2, 1999)

  • "If we love our country, we should also love our countrymen."
    (Ronald Reagan)

  • "We can stay up late, swapping manly stories."
    (Donkey in Shrek, 2001)

  • "Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm."
    (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

  • "Life has taught us that love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction."
    (Antoine de Saint-Exupery)

  • Functions of Helping Verbs
    "Helping verbs indicate shades of meaning that cannot be expressed by a main verb alone. Consider the differences in meaning in the following sentences, in which the helping verbs have been italicized:
    I may marry you soon.

    I must marry you soon.

    I should marry you soon.

    I can marry you soon.
    As you can see, changing the helping verb changes the meaning of the entire sentence. These differences in meaning could not be expressed simply by using the main verb, marry, alone."
    (Penelope Choy and Dorothy Goldbart Clark, Basic Grammar and Usage, 7th ed. Thomson, 2008)

  • More Functions of Helping Verbs
    "Helping verbs . . . enable us to express various conditions: If he could type, he would write the next great American novel. Helping verbs help us express permission: You may go to the movie. Helping verbs help us express one's ability to do something: She can play golf extremely well. Helping verbs enable us to ask questions: Do you think he cares? Will he win the race?"
    (C. Edward Good, A Grammar Book for You and I-- Oops, Me!. Capital Books, 2002)

  • How to Use Helping Verbs to Change Active Voice to Passive Voice
    "If the active sentence is in the past tense, then the full verb in the passive version will be as well: Monica groomed the poodleThe poodle was groomed by Monica.
    1. Monica moves to the end of the sentence; add by, so prepositional phrase is by Monica.
    2. The poodle moves to the front into the subject slot.
    3. Helping verb be is added in front of the main verb.
    4. Past tense marker jumps off groomed and onto helping verb be.
    5. Helping verb agrees with new subject (third person singular) = was.
    6. Main verb groomed converts to its past participle form = groomed."
    (Susan J. Behrens, Grammar: A Pocket Guide. Routledge, 2010)
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