Auxiliary Verbs

Lesson 4.6 Auxiliary Verbs

4.6.1  An auxiliary verb is a helping verb that we use with a main verb to form the tense and to make negative and question forms. They usually come before main verbs and make main verbs into phrases. In English ‘auxiliary’ means ‘helping’ or ‘supporting; for example, in a hospital an auxiliary nurse is an assistant nurse (often referred to as a health assistant). The auxiliary verb is a function word which shows the time and has no inherent meaning, while the main verb is a content word which provides the meaning. For example, in the following present continuous phrase ‘are’ is an auxiliary verb, while ‘driving’ is a main verb:

They are driving to Liverpool.

4.6.2  There are three primary auxiliary verbs in English: be, do, and have. They are all irregular verbs, so we have to learn their different forms. Be, do, and have can also be main verbs, for example:

BE as a main verb:                                            BE as an axiliary verb:

Those chocolates are nice.                                She is preparing for a meeting.

DO as a main verb:                                           DO as an axiliary verb:

I have done the dishes.                                      I don’t like classical music.

HAVE as a main verb:                                       HAVE as an axiliary verb:

I have four sisters.                                             I haven’t seen them for a while.

Sometimes the same verb is an auxiliary verb and a main verb in the same sentence:

BE:       He is being rude.

DO:      We don’t know what to do.

HAVE:  I haven’t had lunch yet.

4.6.3  From each primary auxiliary verb we get the following forms:

BE:    be, am, are, is, being, was, were, been

DO:    do, does, did

HAVE:    have, has, had

4.6.4  There are also nine modal auxiliary verbs in English:

can, could, will, would, must, shall, should, may, and might.

We will look at modal auxiliary verbs in more detail in Unit 6.3, although we discuss will below, because we need it to help make Future Simple.

4.6.5  In this Elementary course we are looking at eight different tenses. The five most common tenses are listed in blue. Some tenses, like Present Perfect Continuous, use two auxiliary verbs together. You can see each tense with their respective auxiliary verbs below:

4.6.6  Let’s look at how we use auxiliary verbs with each of the nine tenses:

In Present Simple, do or does appear ‘out of the blue’ in the negative and question forms, which can make them seem quite illogical. They do not appear in the positive sentence, so we have to remember to use them in the negative and question forms:

Present Simple                          Auxiliary Verb :

(I, You, We, They):

+ I like crisps.    NO AUXILIARY VERB in positive form

– I don’t like crisps.    don’t (negative form of DO – contraction of ‘do not’)

? Do you like crisps?    infinitive form of do

+ Yes, I do.    repeat the auxiliary verb from the question

Present Simple                          Auxiliary Verb :

(He, She, It – third person):

+ She likes crisps.    NO AUXILIARY VERB in positive form

– She doesn’t like crisps.    doesn’t (negative third person form of DO: use with he, she, it only)

? Does she like crisps?    does (positive third person form of DO use with he, she, it only)

+ Yes, she does.    repeat the auxiliary verb from the question

If the main verb is be in Present Simple, we use be as an auxiliary verb:

I:

+ I am late.    – I am (I’m) not late.   ? Am I late?

He / She / It:

+ He is Dutch.   – He is not (isn’t) Dutch.   ? Is he Dutch?

You / We / They:

+ We are students.   – We are not (aren’t) students.   ? Are we students?


In Present Continuous, we use the present simple forms of be to make all the auxiliary verbs – am, is, are – then add ing form. For example:

Present Continuous                   Auxiliary Verb :

+ I am writing an email.    am – first person form of be

– I am not writing an email.    am + not make the negative form

? Are you writing an email?    are before the pronoun = inversion to make the question form

+ Yes, I am.    we use the first person form of be in present simple.


In Past Simple we use did with all the pronouns, including third person. As in Present Simple, the auxiliary verb did is not present in the positive sentence, but only in the negative and question forms:

Past Simple                                          Auxiliary Verb :

+ You made a sandwich.    NO AUXILIARY VERB in positive form

– You did not make a sandwich.    did + not make the negative form

? Did you make a sandwich?    did + pronoun + infinitive (main verb)

+ Yes, I did.    repeat the auxiliary verb from the question

If the main verb is be, we use be as an auxiliary verb in the past forms was and were:

I:

+ I was late.    – I was not (I wasn’t) late.    ? Was I late?

He / She / It:

+ He was late.    – He was not (wasn’t) late.    ? Was he late?

You / We / They:

+ We were late.    – We were not (weren’t) late.    ? Were we late?


In Past Continuous we use was for I and third person (he, she, it) and were for all the other pronouns:

Past Continuous                        Auxiliary Verb :

(I, He, She, It – was):

+ She was eating lunch.    was + ing form

– She was not eating lunch.    was + not make the negative form

? Was she eating lunch?    was before the pronoun = inversion to make the question form

+ Yes, she was.    repeat the auxiliary verb from the question

Past Continuous                        Auxiliary Verb :

(You, We, They – were):

+ They were talking.    were + ing form

– They were not talking.    were + not make the negative form

? Were they talking?    were before the pronoun = inversion to make the question form

+ Yes, they were.    repeat the auxiliary verb from the question


In Present Perfect we use the Present Simple form of have to make both auxiliary verbs – have (for I, You, We, They) and has (for He, She, It – third person) – plus past participle (also known as third form):

Present Perfect                         Auxiliary Verb :

(I, You, We, They – have):

+ I have read that book.    have + past participle (third form)

– I have not read that book.    have + not make the negative form

? Have I read that book?    have before the pronoun = inversion to make the question form

+ Yes, I have.    repeat the auxiliary verb from the question

Present Perfect                         Auxiliary Verb :

(He, She, It – has):

+ The film has finished.    has + past participle (third form)

– The film has not finished.    has + not make the negative form

? Has the film finished?    has before the subject = inversion to make the question form

+ Yes, it has.    repeat the auxiliary verb from the question


In Present Perfect Continuous we use the Present Simple form of have to make both auxiliary verbs – have (for I, You, We, They) and has (for He, She, It – third person) – just like in Present Perfect. We also add been (which is also the past participle of verbs be and go). The main verb is ing form:

Present Perfect Continuous       Auxiliary Verbs:

(I, You, We, They – have):

+ I have been singing.    have + been + ing form

– I have not been singing.    have + not make the negative form + been

? Have I been singing?    have before the pronoun = inversion to make the question form + been

+ Yes, I have.    repeat the first auxiliary verb from the question

Present Perfect Continuous       Auxiliary Verbs:

(He, She, It – has):

+ She has been working.    has + been + ing form

– She has not been working.    has + not make the negative form + been

? Has she been working?    has before the pronoun = inversion to make the question form + been

+ Yes, she has.    repeat the first auxiliary verb from the question


In Future Simple we use the auxiliary modal verb will with all the pronouns, including third person. Modal verbs are always followed by the infinitive form of the verb, which makes Future Simple one of the easiest tenses to remember:

Future Simple                                        Auxiliary Verb :

+ They will drive home.    will + infinitive

– They will not drive home.    will + not make the negative form

? Will they drive home?    will before the pronoun = inversion to make the question form

+ Yes, they will.    repeat the auxiliary verb from the question


As in Future Simple, we use the auxiliary modal verb will in Future Continuous with all the pronouns, including third person. We also add be, which is usually an infinitive verb but is used in this tense as an auxiliary verb. The auxiliary verbs are followed by ing form:

Future Continuous                                 Auxiliary Verbs :

+ We will be having lunch.    will + be + ing form

– We will not be having lunch.    will + not make the negative form (won’t is the contraction)

? Will they be driving home?    will before the pronoun = inversion to make the question form + be

+ Yes, they will.    repeat the auxiliary verb from the question

4.6.7  When pronouncing auxiliary verbs it is important to remember that since they are function words they are usually contracted in informal speech and writing. If you do not use contractions, your spoken English will sound too formal and your informal writing will too.

In addition – and more seriously – if you do not use any auxiliary verbs a native speaker may well understand what you mean, but your English will sound ‘broken’, for example: ‘I going to a party’, rather than ‘I’m going to a party’.

Auxiliary Verb Contractions in English:

[1] Of course, we write ‘been’ not ‘bin’, but we pronounce ‘been’ in the contraction more like the word ‘bin’. In English ‘bean’ is a legume, but is pronounced the same way as the full form (individual pronunciation) of ‘been’ (they are homophones), so if you pronounce ‘been’ like ‘bean’ we may start thinking about dinnertime!

Exercises:

Ex. 4.6.1 Writing  Practise using auxiliary verbs in present continuous tense question forms by
completing the following sentences. The first one has been done for you:

1. Who are you taking to Kam’s party on Wednesday?
2. What are you _____________________________________________
3. Why are you _____________________________________________
4. Why aren’t you _____________________________________________
5. When are you _____________________________________________
6. Where are you _____________________________________________
7. How are you _____________________________________________
8. Which _____________________________________________
are you _____________________________________________
9. Whose _____________________________________________
are you _____________________________________________
10. How much _____________________________________________
are you _____________________________________________
11. How many _____________________________________________
are you _____________________________________________
12. What kind of _____________________________________________
are you _____________________________________________

Ex. 4.6.2 Writing  Practise using auxiliary verbs in present simple tense question forms by
completing the following sentences. The first one has been done for you:

1. Who do you want to win the cricket match?
2. What do you _____________________________________________
3. Why do you _____________________________________________
4. Why don’t you _____________________________________________
5. When do you _____________________________________________
6. Where do you _____________________________________________
7. How do you _____________________________________________
8. Which _____________________________________________
do you _____________________________________________
9. Whose _____________________________________________
do you _____________________________________________
10. How much _____________________________________________
do you _____________________________________________
11. How many _____________________________________________
do you _____________________________________________
12. What kind of _____________________________________________
do you _____________________________________________

Ex. 4.6.3 Writing  Practise using auxiliary verbs in question forms by completing the following
sentences:

1. Who have you _____________________________________________?
2. What have you _____________________________________________?
3. Why have you _____________________________________________?
4. Why haven’t you _____________________________________________?
5. When have you _____________________________________________?
6. Where have you _____________________________________________?
7. How have you _____________________________________________?
8. Which _____________________________________________
have you _____________________________________________?
9. Whose _____________________________________________
have you _____________________________________________?
10. How much _____________________________________________
have you _____________________________________________?
11. How many _____________________________________________
have you _____________________________________________?
12. What kind of _____________________________________________
have you _____________________________________________?