Auxiliary Verbs

Introduction

The auxiliary verbs (also called helping verbs) are the verbs be, do, have, will, when they are used to construct a question, negation, compound tense or the passive.

The verb “be”

The verb be can be used as an auxiliary verb and as a full verb. Since be is an irregular verb, it looks different in every form:

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

We need this verb as an auxiliary verb for the continuous forms and for the passive. We can recognise that be is an auxiliary verb in the following sentences because another verb (the full verb) always comes directly after it. (For the continuous forms we use the full verb in the ing-form, and for the passive we use the past participle.)

Continuous Form

present progressive:
He is playing football.
past progressive:
He was playing football.
present perfect progressive:
He has been playing football.
past perfect progressive:
He had been playing football.

Passive

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

To Note

We have to remember, though, that be can also be a full verb. In this case, no other verb comes directly after it. If be is used as a full verb, we don't need an auxiliary verb for the negation or question forms.

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 also be used both as an auxiliary verb and a full verb. It too is an irregular verb.

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

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

Compound Tenses: Active

present perfect simple:
He has played football.
past perfect simple:
He had played football.
present perfect progressive:
He has been playing football.
past perfect progressive:
He had been playing football.

Compound Tenses: Passive

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

have as auxiliary verb or full verb

If we want 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 full verb. It is also an irregular verb.

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

We need do as an auxiliary verb for negations and questions in the simple present and the simple past. (In these cases, the full verb is used in its infinitive form.)

Auxiliary verb do in negations

simple present:
He does not play football.
simple past:
He did not play football.

Auxiliary verb do in questions

simple present:
Does he play football?
simple past:
Did he play football?

No auxiliary verb do in negations and questions

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

  • The full 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 ( “Who/What?”).
    Example:
    Who sings that song?

do as full verb

We use do as a full verb in certain phrases. For negations and questions we add an extra do as an 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 can only be used as an auxiliary verb. In the third person singular, no s is added. The contracted negation is won’t.

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

With the auxiliary verb will, we can construct the future tenses.

future I:
He will not play football.
future II:
He will have played football.

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