Auxiliary Verbs in English Grammar

Introduction

The auxiliary verbs in English grammar, also called helping verbs, are the verbs be, do, have, will. We use auxiliary verbs to conjugate negative sentences and questions in simple tenses and to form the progressive and perfect tenses. Auxiliary verbs can also stand alone as main verbs in a sentence.

Learn when to use the auxiliary verbs be, do and have in English grammar, then test yourself in the online exercises.

The verb “be”

The verb be can be used as an auxiliary verb and as a main verb. Be is an irregular verb and has three different present conjugations, two past simple forms and one past partciple form.

simple present:
I am
he/she/it is
we/you/they are
simple past:
I/he/she/it was
we/you/they were
past participle:
been

Be is an auxiliary verb for progressive tenses, also continuous tenses, and for the passive voice. We can recognise that be is an auxiliary verb in the following sentences because another verb – the main verb – always comes directly after it. The present participle, or -ing form, of the main verb is used for progressive tenses and the past participle is used for the passive voice.

Progressive Forms with Be

present progressive:
I am playing football.
You/We/They are playing footbal.
He/She/It is playing football.
past progressive:
I/He/She/It was playing football.
You/We/They were playing football.
present perfect progressive:
He has been playing football.
past perfect progressive:
He had been playing football.

The Passive Voice

simple present/past:
The house is/was built.
present/past perfect:
The house has/had been built.
future I:
The house will be built.

be as a main verb

Remember that be can also be a main verb. In this case, no other verb comes directly before or after it. When be is used as a main verb, no auxiliary verb is needed for negative sentences or questions.

positive sentence:
They are fifteen years old.
negation:
They are not fifteen years old.
question:
Are they fifteen years old?

The verb “have”

The verb have can be used as an auxiliary verb and as a main verb. Have is an irregular verb and has two different present conjugations, the past simple and past participle forms are the same.

simple present:
I/we/you/they have
he/she/it has
simple past:
had
past participle:
had

Have is used as an auxiliary verb for perfect tenses in the active and the passive voice.

Perfect Tenses: Active Voice

present perfect simple:
I/You/We/They have played football.
He/She/It has played football.
past perfect simple:
He had played football.
present perfect progressive:
I/You/We/They have been playing football.
He/She/It has been playing football.
past perfect progressive:
He had been playing football.

Perfect Tenses: Passive Voice

present/past perfect:
The house has/had been built.

have as auxiliary verb or main verb

To indicate possession, we can use have as a full verb or as an auxiliary verb. In British English, we generally use have as an auxiliary verb in combination with the past participle of the full verb get (got).

as full verb:
I have a car.
as auxiliary verb:
I have got a car.

If we’re using have as a full verb, we need the auxiliary verb do for negations and questions.

as full verb:
I do not have a car.
Do I have a car?

If we’re using have got, then we don’t need another auxiliary verb. (Have is already the auxiliary verb.)

as auxiliary verb:
I have not got a car.
Have I got a car?

The verb “do”

The verb do can be an auxiliary verb or a main verb. Do is an irregular verb, it has two present simple forms, and a different simple past and past participle form.

simple present:
I/we/you/they do
he/she/it does
simple past:
did
past participle:
done

We use do as an auxiliary verb for negative sentences and questions in the simple present and the simple past. In these cases, the main verb is used in the infinitive form.

Auxiliary verb do in negations

simple present:
I/You/We/They do not play football.
He/She/It does not play football.
simple past:
I/You/He/She/We/They did not play football.

Auxiliary verb do in questions

simple present:
Do I/you/we/they play football?
Does
he/she/it play football?
simple past:
Did he play football?

No auxiliary verb in negations and questions

The auxiliary verb do is not used for negations or questions in the following cases:

  • The main verb is be.
    Example:
    I am not angry.
    Are you okay?
  • Another auxiliary verb (e.g. have, be, will) is already being used.
    Example:
    They are not sleeping.
    Have you heard that?
  • A modal verb is being used (can, could, may, might, must, ought to, shall, should, will, would).
    Example:
    We must go now.
    Can you repeat that, please?
  • The question is asking for the subject.
    Example:
    Who sings that song?

do as main verb

Do can also be a main verb. Negative sentence and questions with do as the main verb still use do as the auxiliary verb.

positive sentence:
She does her homework every day.
negation:
She doesn’t do her homework every day.
question:
Does she do her homework every day?

The verb “will”

The verb will is a modal auxiliary verb. No -s is added to the third person singular and there are no past simple or past participle forms. The contracted negation of will not is won’t.

Example:
I will, he will
I will not = I won’t

We use will for the future simple and progressive tenses as well as the first conditional.

Example:
He will not play football. (future simple)
He will have played football. (future progressive)
If he plays football, he will be tired. (first conditional)