Auxiliary Verbs

Recognize form and function

subject

What is an auxiliary verb?

  • Auxiliary verbs are primary verbs (be, have, do) that are marked for tense, person or number. They add information on tense and aspect, and they combine with other secondary verb forms (is walking, has walked) in a verb phrase.
  • Modal auxiliary verbs have only primary forms, they are not marked for tense, person or number. They express mood (can, may, will, shall, must, ought, need, dare), and they combine with bare form verbs (may walk, will call) or with other auxiliaries and secondary verb forms (may have walked, may have been walking) in a verb phrase.
 

 

 

 

Auxiliary Verbs

Verb Forms

 

 

 

Auxiliary Forms 

BARE FORM 3RD PERSON PAST PAST PARTICIPLE PAST PARTICIPLE

Bare form is the verb in its simplest, most basic form. It is a primary verb form.

Third person is usually marked with -s in present tense only.

Past tense usually takes form as verb-ed; however, auxiliary verb are irregular.

Past participles take form as verb-ed with other variants -d, -t, -en, -n.

Gerund-participles¹ take form as verb-ing.

AUXILIARIES        

be

is (am, are) 2nd per.

was, were sing–pl.

been

being

have

has

had

had¹

having

do

does

did

done

doing

MODALS        

will

would²

shall

should²

¹ Syncretism—when two or more word forms are the same, but have different grammatical functions (cut, cut, cut)

² Past modal meanings vary greatly from their present tense forms.

Auxiliary verb forms are irregular; they are unlike other verbs forms.

Also see "Be" (Copula).

 

 

 

Modal Forms—Tense and Meaning

DEGREE OF POSSIBILITY TO ACT DEGREE OF OBLIGATION/ FREEDOM TO ACT

possibility, future intent

possibility, permission

possibility, ability, potential

obligation, expectation

obligation, inference¹

will  / be going to

may 

can

shall

must

would

might

could / could

should

(had to)

would have

might have

could have

should have

must have 

¹inference – conclusion; making  a guess by putting pieces of information together

See Modal Agreement for past modal forms used in embedded clauses.

 

 

 

 

 

Verb Phrase / Verb Group

Auxiliary Combinations

 

 

 

Modals, Auxiliaries and a Lexical Verb Form

AUXILIARY–MODAL AUXILIARY–PERFECT AUXILIARY–BE AUXILIARY–BE LEXICAL VERB FORM

MODAL — will, would, may, might,can, could, shall, should, ought

PERFECT — has, have, had  

PROGRESSIVE— is / are, was / were, been 

PASSIVE — is / are, was / were, been 

A verb takes bare form, past, and participle form, 3rd person plural suffix.

 

 

 

 

walk(s) (present, imperative, subjunctive)

 

 

 

 

walked  (past form)

 

 

 

was

walked  (past. participle)

 

 

was

 

walking (pres. participle)

 

 

was

being

walked 

 

has 

 

 

walked 

   

had

 

 

walked

   

has

been

 

walking

   

had

been

 

walking

   

has

been

being

walked

will 

 

 

 

walk  (bare form)

will 

 

be

 

walking (pres. participle)

will

have

 

 

walked

will

have

 

been

walked

Also see  Be Copula and "Be"–Lexical or Auxiliary?

(Huddleson 3 §2.3) (Swan 85)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tense, Mood & Aspect

Functions of Auxiliaries and Modals

 

 

 

Tense, Aspect, Mood and Voice

Modals and auxiliaries combine with other verbs to express tense, aspect, mood and voice.

TENSE ASPECT
TEMPORAL LOCATION TEMPORAL FLOW

Locates the action or event in a period of time.

Takes an internal view of how an activity  relates to time —ongoing, continuous, repetitive, habitual. 

INFLECTION MARKER AUXILIARY MARKERS

It rains. (fact, general truth)

 

It was raining. (progressive aspect) ongoing experience

It rained. (fact, past, done)

It has rained. (perfect aspect) has continuing relevance

 

It used to rain (habitual aspect) was repetitive

MOOD VOICE
OPINION OR BELIEF SUBJ—AGENT / RECEIVER

Inserts opinion, prediction, or inference about the action in the clause.

Signals that the NP in the subject position is either the agent (active verb) or the receiver (passive verb).

MODAL MARKERS STRUCTURAL + V CHANGE

It may continue raining all day.  (opinion)

She predicted more rain. (agent–active V)

It will continue raining this week.  (prediction)

More rain was predicted. (receiver–passive V)

The roads must be rather wet.  (inference)

 

 

Aspect is a grammatical category that expresses how an action, event or state, denoted by a verb, relates to the flow of time.

Mood is a grammatical category that expresses how an action, event or state, denoted by a verb, relates to the flow of time.

Agent—in grammar, the person or thing that performs or is the source of the action;

Receiver (recipient)—the person or thing that experiences the action.

Voice is the correspondence of the verb, active or passive, and the noun phrase (NP) and its role in the action as  agent or receiver.

See Huddleston (3 §3) for detailed description and Biber (4).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lexical v. Auxiliary Verbs

Properties and Characteristics

 

 

Lexical v. Auxiliary Verbs

LEXICAL VERB

Most verbs are lexical verbs. A lexical verb has a dictionary meaning and can be marked for tense and 3rd person. It normally uses do support for questions, negatives and emphasis.

MEANING AND TENSE

You have a computer.  (present) (possession)

You had a computer.  (past)

DO & INVERSION—QUESTIONS

Do you have a new computer? 

DO + NOT—NEGATIONS

You do not like your new computer. 

DO—EMPHASIS / TAG QUES. / PAIRED CONJ

I do like my new computer!

You like your new computer, don't you?

He likes his new computer, and you do too?

AUXILIARY VERB

A non-modal auxiliary can be marked for tense and 3rd person, but it does not have a dictionary meaning. It combines with a lexical verb to form meaning. It uses auxiliary support for questions, negatives and emphasis.

TENSE BUT NO MEANING

He is working on his computer. (is, was)

She has worked on her computer. (has, had)

She will work on her computer.

AUX & INVERSION—QUESTIONS

Is he working on his computer? (Aux ← Subj)

Has she worked on her computer?  (Aux ← Subj)

Will she work on her computer?

AUX + NOT—NEGATIONS

He is not working on his computer. (is, was)

She has not worked on her computer. (has, had)

She will not work on her computer.

AUX—EMPHASIS / TAG QUES. / PAIRED CONJ

He is working on his computer!

She has worked on her computer, hasn't she?

She will work on her computer, and so will you.

 

Both lexical and auxiliary verbs are considered primary (finite) verbs – inflected with tense and person. (Swan 85)

Biber sets out the classes as full (lexical verbs)  primary (be, have, and do) and modal auxiliaries (will, might, etc.) (Biber 3.21, 96)

¹ Be (copula) does not use "do" support. (Huddleston 3 §2.5.7)  See  "Be"–Lexical or Auxiliary?.

(Swan 89-91)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dual Category Verbs

Functioning as Lexical and Auxiliary Verbs

 

 

 

Lexical / Auxiliary Category

LEXICAL VERB

A few verbs may function as a lexical verb and an auxiliary verb. In the examples below, the verbs function as lexical verbs requiring do support.

Do I need to ask?   (require)

I don't dare tell you.   (require)

I had a question.   (require)

He does his homework.   (require)

 

AUXILIARY VERB

The same verbs can be analyzed using the properties outlined in the section above—negation, inversion, and…too expressions, and emphasis.

Need I ask?

Dare I tell you?

I had asked you before.

He doesn't complete all his work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lexical Verbs v. Modals

Properties and Characteristics

 

 

 

Lexical v. Modal Verb Properties

LEXICAL FORMS

A lexical verb has a dictionary meaning and can be marked for tense and 3rd person, and uses do support for questions, negatives and emphasis. A lexical verb can express a meaning similar to a modal meaning. (can–is able to, knows how to; will – is going to; must – have to)

USE SUBJECT-VERB AGREEMENT

Charlie is able to answer the question.

ARE FOLLOWED BY  TO + INFINITIVE

Charlie is able to answer the question.

USE DO OR BE SUPPORT IN QUESTIONS AND NEGATIVES

Is Charlie able to answer the question. No, he isn't able to.

Does Charlie know how to answer the question. No, he doesn't know how to.

RESTRICT TENSE TO A PARTICLUALR ONE IN CONDITIONALS

*If you knew the answer now, you were able to respond restricted  to past

If you knew the answer now, you would be able to respond

If you know the answer now, you are able to respond.

RESTRICT MEANING TO PAST TENSE IN SUBORDINATED CLAUSES

I wish Charlie were able to be quiet.  (past)

After studying very hard, he was able to pass his test. (limited to past, single event)

MODAL AUXILIARIES

Unlike auxiliaries, modals carry meaning and "mood".  They express the speakers opinion about the following verb phrase.  "They are used before the bare infinitives of other verbs, and add certain kinds of meaning connected with certainty, or with obligation, and freedom to act." (Swan 353)

USE NO SUBJECT-VERB AGREEMENT

Charlie can answer the question.  

ARE FOLLWED BY "BARE INFINITIVE"

Charlie can answer the question.  [plain form] 

DO NOT USE BE OR DO SUPPORT

Can Charlie  answer the question?   

No, Charlie cannot answer the question.

DO NOT RESTRICT TENSE TO A PARTICLUALR ONE IN COND.

If you knew the answer now, you could respond

(remote)  You don't happen to know the answer, but if you did, you could respond.

If you know the answer now, you can/could respond(open) In the potential situation that you know the answer, you can respond.

DO NOT RESTRICT MEANING TO PAST TENSE IN SUB. CLAUSES

I wish Charlie could / would be quiet. (past/future)

After studying very hard, he could pass his test.  (needs limitation to past only)

 

Modals might and should are no longer used with past tense meaning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grammar Notes

Traditional and Linguistic Description

Advanced

 

 

Auxiliary Verbs

TRADITIONAL DESCRIPTION

In traditional grammar, auxiliary verbs are treated as auxiliary combinations with other verbs (verb groups).  (Huddleston 104)

AUXILIARY VERB GROUPED WITH MAIN VERB
diagram - Charlie wants to raise his hand.
LINGUISTIC DESCRIPTION

In linguistic description, auxiliaries are main verbs followed by gerund-participle or past participle verb forms in subordinated nonfinite clauses.  This analysis simplifies the overall description of the verb system, but adds complexity to the sentence with a subordinated clause. 

AUXILIARY VERB + GERUND-PARTICIPLE
Diagram: Charlie hates sitting all day.
 

 

 

 

Modals Auxiliary Verbs

TRADITIONAL DESCRIPTION

In traditional grammar, modals are treated as auxiliary combinations with verbs (verb groups).   

MODAL IS PART OF A VERB GROUP

diagram - Charlie wants to raise his hand.

LINGUISTIC DESCRIPTION

In current linguistic analysis, modals are main verbs followed by "bare infinitives". That is, the modal is followed by an infinitival form without "to" in a subordinated nonfinite clause.

MODAL+ A  SUBORDINATED NONFINITE CLAUSE

Diagram: Charlie hates sitting all day.

 

For syntactic auxiliary analysis, see Huddleston 1209.

 

 

Resources

 

 

 

 

Practice 1

Explaining English

sign saying we speak English
 

 

Read the Context

English, like all languages, is full of problems for non-native speakers. One point is easily explained, such as the difference between for and since, but another point is trickier, such as the difference between the articles a and the.  When do we use the past tense or the past perfect?

Instructors do what they can to make points clear. Most instructors have succeeded in explaining complex ideas in simple ways. Most instructors have a number of ways to teach and illustrate the points.

illustrate (V) – to make clear with diagrams

tricky – a problem requiring a clever solution; trickier (comparative form)

 

 

 

 

Identify the verb category: lexical verb or an auxiliary verb.

  1. Select the response from the list that best completes the sentence. 
  2. Compare your responses to the answers by clicking the "Check" or the "Check 1-6" button at the bottom.

 

1.
English, like all languages, is full of problems for non-native speakers.


2.
One point is easily explained, such as the difference between for and since, but another point is trickier, such as the difference between the articles a and the.

3.
When do we use the past tense or the past perfect?


4.
Instructors do what they can to make points clear. 


5.
Most instructors have succeeded in explaining complex ideas in simple ways.


6.
Most instructors have a number of ways to teach and illustrate the points.


 

 

 

 

 

 

Practice 2

Language Description

From Fowler to Chomsky
 

 

Read the Context

Language is constantly changing and adapting to  the needs of its speakers. Grammar descriptions written in the earlier part of the nineteen hundreds are still being taught by some instructors. English was likened to Latin and French rather than being analyzed (analysed) more globally with reasoned proofs. Modern linguistic descriptions have rejected many errors of the older tradition and have several departures from traditional grammar with reasoned argument.

New linguistic descriptions can be challenging for instructors still working within the older ways of describing language. However, a closer look will lead them to find a less complex and more accurate system for presenting the English language to students.

accurate (ad.) – exact, correct

analyzed (US-en) / analysed (Br-en) – to examine carefully and in detail so as to identify elements and relationships

challenging (Adj) – difficult to overcome

complex (Adj) – complicated, confusing

departures (N)  – different methods

globally (adv.) – worldly; internationally

liken (V) – represent as similar or like; compare

reasoned proofs – scientific methods

reject (V) – not accept

 

 

 

Identify the auxiliary verb type.

  1. Select your response.
  2. Compare your responses to the answers by clicking the "Check" or the "Check 7-12" button at the bottom.

 

7.
Language is constantly changing and adapting to the needs of its speakers.


8.
Grammar descriptions written in the earlier part of the nineteen hundreds are still being taught by some instructors.


9.
English was likened to Latin and French rather than being analyzed (analysed) more globally with reasoned proofs. 


10.
Modern linguistic descriptions have rejected many errors of the older tradition and have several departures from traditional grammar with reasoned argument.


11.
New linguistic descriptions can be challenging for instructors still working within the older ways of describing language.


12.
However, a closer look will lead them to find a less complex and more accurate system for presenting the English language to students.


 

 

 

 

 

Fowler's bookPractice 3

Tyranny of Taste

 

 

 

 

Read for Errors

Traditional grammarians tell us that we never ___ end a sentence with a preposition. However, it is not clear why they  ___ declared] this rule.

There are many situations in which one ___ end a sentence with a preposition. For example, when you ___ using a verb expression, such as look up, you wouldn't say, "Up which keyword did you look?" 

Split infinitives ___ profited as well. How would "To go boldly where no man ___ gone before,"  sound to a Star Trek fan?

And starting a sentence with but ___ not permitted. Hopefully, you ___ never done that. Unfortunately, that is another rule that I ___ not going to ever understand.  Why ___ grammarians make up such nonsense?

 

 

 

 

Complete the auxiliary form.

  1. Select your response.
  2. Compare your responses to the answers by clicking the "Check" or the "Check 13-22" button at the bottom.

 

13.

14.

15.

16.

17.

18.

19.

20.

21.

22.