A multi-word construction based on an auxiliary verb and having some of the same grammatical characteristics. Also known as a semi-modal or a lexical auxiliary.
Semi-auxiliaries include be about to, be able to, be going to, be likely to, be supposed to, had better, have to, ought to, used to, and would rather. Some are followed by an infinitive; others by a zero infinitive.
Examples and Observations:
- "Women have got to make the world safe for men since men have made it so darned unsafe for women."
(Lady Nancy Astor)
- "We had better dispense with the personification of evil, because it leads, all too easily, to the most dangerous kind of war: religious war."
(Konrad Lorenz, On Aggression, 1963)
- "Girl, you look so good, someone ought to put you on a plate and sop you up with a biscuit."
(Arsenio Hall as Reverend Brown in Coming to America, 1988)
- "Reckon somebody oughta help the poor guy."
(Nigel in Finding Nemo, 2003)
- "A great teacher is supposed to show them there are other points of view besides their own."
(Matthew Morrison as Will Schuester, "The Substitute." Glee, 2010)
- Strings of Semi-Auxiliaries
"Only the first word in a semi-auxiliary is a true auxiliary, since only that word functions as an operator, for example in forming questions:
Is Sandra going to apply for the job?The semi-auxiliaries may come together to make a long string of verbs:
Had I better eat now?
Is Jennifer supposed to phone us today?
We seem to be going to have to keep on paying the full fee.(Sidney Greenbaum and Gerald Nelson, An Introduction to English Grammar, 3rd ed. Pearson, 2009)
They are likely to be about to start working on our project.
- The Habitual Past With Used to
"The past form of habitual aspect is often expressed by the semi-auxiliary used to:
Your mother used to sleep like a log.These utterances describe situations that occurred habitually in the past."
People used to whitewash their ceilings.
My father used to bath us six kids in front of the fire.
(Thomas Edward Payne, Understanding English Grammar: A Linguistic Introduction. Cambridge Univ. Press, 2010)
- Markings for Tense and Person
"[S]ome of the semi-modals, like have to and be going to, can be marked for tense and person:
- past tense:These semi-modals can sometimes co-occur with a central modal verb or another semi-modal."
He had to call the police. (CONV)
- third-person agreement:
Maybe she has to grow up a bit more. (CONV)
(Douglas Biber, Susan Conrad, and Geoffrey Leech, Longman Student Grammar of Spoken and Written English. Pearson, 2002)