What are auxiliary verbs and how many are there in English grammar?

auxiliary verbs

What are auxiliary verbs?

Auxiliary verbs are kind of ” helping verbs ” added to participle or infinitive main verbs to include some information about tense, voice, aspect, emphasis, and so on. In the below sentences, you can see the eminent functions of the helping devices in English grammar (the helping verbs are bold):

  1. I have finished my homework.

(“Have” expresses the tense of the main verb which is “present perfect”.)

  • Did you arrive home in the evening?

(“Did” is used to create an interrogative sentence.)

  • The movies you sent to me are completely watched.

(“are” expresses the voice of the sentence which is ” passive voice”.)

  • Daniel was watching TV last night.

(“Was” is used to show the tense which is ” past continuous”.)

  • I do agree with you on this matter.

(“Do” is used for emphasis.)

  • She is not reading the newspaper now.

(“not” is used for navigation.)

According to the examples mentioned above, you can barely see that modal verbs (can, could, may, might, shall, should, will, would, and must) are considered as a category of “auxiliary verbs” because they add grammatical or functional aspects to the sentences.

What are the characteristics of auxiliary verbs?

Auxiliary verbs
What are the characteristics of auxiliary verbs?

Auxiliary verbs are helping verbs . As mentioned above, the auxiliary verbs are known as helping verbs. They add necessary information about the semantic, grammatical, and functional aspects of the main verbs.

Stick it in the mind that despite the undeniable functional roles of helping verbs in English sentences, they are never considered as ” main verbs” in English grammar.

Auxiliary verbs are dependent

These kinds of verbs are never used alone in a sentence since they are connected to the most important element of the sentence which is ” the main verb”.

Therefore, the verb “are” in this sentence: ” They are happy today.” is not a helping verb at all because the verb “are” is the only independent verb of the given sentence showing the mental state of a group of people.

In contrast, “are” in this sentence: ” All the difficult tasks are carried out by Alexander.” is a helping verb because “are” preceding the main verb expresses the passive voice here.

To sum up, helping verbsare quite dependent. These dependent elements always connect to the main verbs of the sentences.

Auxiliary verbs are not erasable

Although the auxiliary verbs are not considered as the main part of an English sentence, they are not erasable. If you omit a helping verb in a sentence, you will have a partly wrong and incomplete meaningless structure.

For example, “does” in this complete English sentence ” She does not like Sushi” for instance, if you omit it, you will have this sentence: ” She not like Sushi” which is wrong and incomplete in English grammar.

 Auxiliary verbs are unstressed

One of the evident features of these types of verbs is being unstressed. They are only stressed when they are emphasized by the speakers. That is, only when the helping verbs are focused in your speech, they must be stressed.

 Auxiliary verbs never get “ed” or “ing” form

The forms of the helping verbs are mostly fixed in English grammar. We must not add “ed” or “ing” to the end of them. For example, the following sentence is completely wrong in English:

Tom daring tell the truth to Monica.

What do auxiliary verbs reveal about the main verbs?

Auxiliary verbs
  1. Negation


Maria will not accomplish the project by end of July.

  • Emphasis


She has not received the letter yet, has she?

I do love English.

  • Mood


Did you hear about Jack’s death?

  • Voice


The letters are written by Jack himself.

  • Tense


I was reading a novel when the phone rang.

Maria was nervous about the exam because she had not studied much.

  • Modality


Selena can sing well.

You must focus on the future of your career.

How many auxiliary verbs are there in English grammar?

We have fifteen auxiliary verbs, including model type (can, could, may, might, shall, should, will, would, and must) or non-model type (be, dare, do, need, have, and ought), in English grammar including:

  1. Be


             My father is watching TV right now.

The thief was caught while stealing money.

Is the little girl playing in the garden?

  • Can


Can you open the window, please?

David can swim well.

Can I leave the classroom?

  • Could


I could not see the man’s face well in the darkness last night.

If I had a large amount of money, I could buy a big house.

Could you be a little nicer to the poor?

  •  Dare


Sometimes, I dare not ask for help from strangers.

Dare she tell the truth to her husband?

  • Do


Sarah does not feel well today.

Do you have any opinion about the quality of the products?

Do you mind if I turn up the radio?

  • Have


She has arrived home.

Have you ever watched an episode of ” Friends”?

  • May


May I ask you something?

It may rain today.

  • Might


It might rain.

Ellen was absent the day of the final exam. Ellen might have forgotten about the exam.

  •  Must


You must study hard to get good results.

The ground is wet. It must have rained.

  1. Need


You need not keep it a secret.

They need not work so hard because their families are well off.

  1.  Ought to


You ought to study well for the final exams.

Erin ought to lose some weight.

  1. Shall


You shall not care about whatever common people say.

Shall we start the game?

  1. Should

You should brush your teeth every night before sleep.

The students should pay attention to their teachers.

  1. Will

Will you be able to come to my party tomorrow?

I will not cheat on the final exams.

  1.  Would

If Ali had a lot of money, he would buy a luxurious house.

Would you mind speaking louder?

As it is clear in the above examples, helping verbs are as essential dependent elements of the sentences which precede as linking or action verbs to express necessary information (mood, tense, voice, and modality) about the main verbs in English grammar.

Helping verbs can also appear at the beginning of the sentence to express the interrogative mood of the main verbs.

A sentence does not always necessarily include only one auxiliary verb. Keep in mind that a sentence, whether active or passive, can have more than one helping verb as you can see in the following examples:

-If it was not raining, we would hold the party outside.

-She should have been eating lunch.

-I was sleeping in the class while the teacher was teaching English grammar.

-Monica has been divorced since 1999.

In conclusion, auxiliary verbs play functional roles in English grammar. They help the main verbs, whether linking or action, of the sentences. They form mood, emphasis, modality, tense, voice, and negation.

The auxiliary verbs have such important functions in English grammar that you can never omit them in a sentence. They are dependent on stressless fixed elements of English structures.

There are fifteen auxiliary verbs, including the non-model ones such as “do” and the model ones such as “can”, in English grammar.

What are auxiliary verbs and how many are there in English grammar?

11. Ought to


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