Understanding Auxiliary Verbs

English auxiliary verbs are often called “helping” verbs. They provide additional information about the main verb in a sentence. The following auxiliary verbs list shows verbs that commonly function as helpers: to be, to have, shall, will, can, and may. They are used to fulfill the following six functions.

Passive Voice: When the auxiliary verb ‘to be’ is used in past tense and describes something that happened to the subject of the sentence, it is serving the passive voice function. “The book was written” is an example; ‘written’ is the main verb while ‘was’ adds to the meaning of the main verb.

Perfect Aspect: In this function of auxiliary verbs, past meets present. The verb ‘to have’ is used either in its present or past tense to describe a condition currently experienced by the subject due to a past action. “You have survived the test!” is an example of this. Also, “He had lived to tell the tale.”

Progressive Aspect: Here, ‘to be’ is used in present tense to convey information about an ongoing state. “He is going to school.”

Modality: This function tells the expectation, ability or permission of the speaker. Examples of auxiliary verbs in the modal sense include: “Dinner should be ready;” “She can sing;” “You may continue.”

Dummy: Here, the verb ‘to do’ is used in question formation. “Do you want anything?” “Does she speak?”

Emphasis: The verb ‘to do’ provides emphasis to the main verb in this function. “Boy, do I love cake!”

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