The Ultimate Guide To Auxiliary Verbs

In English grammar, auxiliary verbs are action words that determine the voice, mood, tense, and aspects of another verb in a verb phrase. Common examples of auxiliary verbs include “do”, “be”, and “have.” Apart from that, auxiliary verbs also have modal counterparts such as “might”, “can”, and “will” and so forth.

Uses Of Auxiliary Verbs

Generally, you can also call auxiliary verbs as helping verbs. This is due to their functionality in completing the meaning and interpretation of other main verbs. Unlike the main verbs, auxiliary verbs can’t stand alone in a sentence. However, they can stand alone in elliptical expressions where the reader understand the main verbs’ as if they were there.

Auxiliary verbs perform their functions in numerous ways. Some of these include:

  • They express tenses. For instance, when it comes to providing references to time, they can be used as past, present, or even future tenses.
  • They can be also express how the verb addresses the flow of time.
  • They can also be used as modalities to quantify the actions of main verbs.
  • Auxiliary verbs can also describe the relationship between the action expressed by the verb and the subject or object of the verb.
  • Auxiliary verbs can also emphasise sentences.

Obviously, auxiliary verbs often appear together with main verbs. Though you’ll find only a few of them, they remain the most frequently occurring verbs in English language.

How To Identify Auxiliary Verbs

It is not news that every sentence boasts of at least one verb present in it. Basically, verbs have two main types. The first one is the action verb, the other is the linking verb. Action verbs depict doable activities. Linking verbs, on the other hand, describe conditions. Both action and linking verbs can accompany auxiliary verbs.

At some point, actions and condition might occur only one time and then, it’s over. In times like this, you’ll see sentences where some action or linking verbs replace auxiliary verbs. For instance, the word “is” is the most common auxiliary verb, but the effect isn’t felt here because it’s a standalone word. As a result, it doesn’t function as an auxiliary verb.


Jerry jammed his toes on the door. Therefore, he is in horrible pain.

The word “is” in this sentence represents a linking verb. Since it’s a standalone word, it cannot serve the purpose of an auxiliary verb in that context.

In other cases where there is an ongoing action or condition may be a predictable action or an action that’s occurring in relationship to another event or set of events. In cases like that, single words like “is” won’t be capable of describing the event. Instead, phrases that could include auxiliary verbs are mostly used.

In such sentences where you use an auxiliary verb, the main verb, referred to as a base verb, indicates the kind of action or condition that’s specifically taking place. An auxiliary verb is present to accompany the main verbs and convey other nuances that aid the interpretation of the context. With this, the readers will be able to gain specific insight into that particular event that’s taking place.

Let’s take a look at a few examples to help you understand better.

  • Abel caught his thumb in the car door as coffee spilled from his cup onto his favourite trousers.
  • Abel is always spilling things.
  • Since Abel is obsessed with accidents, he should have been drinking coffee from a mug with a lid. Thus, the tea would not have stained his favourite trousers.

In the first sentence, both “spilled” and “caught” are single-word verbs that describe a quick and one-time action. An auxiliary verb is not present in this context.

Since Abel can be said to have frequent accidents, is “spilling” depicts the frequency of that action in the second sentence. In the third sentence, the auxiliary verb “should have been drinking” and “would have stained” helps to interpret the relationship between the time of that event and the evaluation of Abel’s actions.

Common Auxiliary Verbs

In English language, the three basic auxiliary verbs are have, be, and do.

Let’s take a brief look at how these common verbs work with added examples.


“Have” is one of the most common auxiliary verbs that can be used alone in all tenses which includes had, having, hadn’t, had not, has, and have. The word “have” usually denotes the ownership of something. Apart from that, it can also describe the ability or discuss the appearance. “Have” is a common substitution for verbs like “drink” and “eat”. For instance, “Can we have our dinner now?”

Whenever the word “have” is used as an auxiliary verb, it always combines with another verb in order to create a complete and meaningful phrase. This makes it easier to differentiate from other uses. Let’s take a look at a few examples below and spot differences.

  • Abel has large stains of coffee on his favourite trouser. > “Has” acted as an action verb.
  • Abel has bought a new shirt as a replacement for the ruined one. > Has was used as an auxiliary verb because the word “bought” is a past participle that completes the verb phrase to give it a complete meaning.
  • Next time, Abel should have been more careful! > The word “have” is an auxiliary verb; the phrase “should have been” seeks to discuss the time of the action while also evaluating Abel’s frequent actions.


“Do” can function as an action word that stands alone in all its tenses, whether present, past, or future, including words like does, does not, did, did not, to do, do, do not, and done.

Whenever the word “do” is used as an auxiliary verb, it’s often paired with another verb in order to make the sentence a complete verb phrase. In some cases, the subordinates of “do” like “I did” is used to emphasise a particular action. “I did the whole thing myself.” Apart from that, the word “do” is used to form questions as well as negated clauses. More so, it is used in cases of elliptical sentences where the main verb is clearly understood but chose to the omitted. For instance, “She plays piano excellently, doesn’t she?” or “They all had dinner together, but I didn’t.”

Let’s take a look at the following examples:

  • Because Abel frequently spills things, he does more laundry than his friends. > “Does” is used as an action word here.
  • Abel didn’t put his coffee in a cup that has a lid. > “Didn’t” is an auxiliary verb here.
  • Abel didn’t spill things always, but it happens frequently. > “Doesn’t” is also an auxiliary verb used here.


The word “be” or “to be” is another common auxiliary verb that has numerous used in English language writing and grammar. It could be used as a standalone verb in all its tenses, including words like is, are, am, was, were, is not, are not, was not, were not, and been.

Whenever it is used as an auxiliary verb, the word “be” is frequently paired with another verb in order to establish a complete meaningful sentence. The word “be” in sentences can be singular, plural, present, or past tenses. If you want to form negative sentences, all you need do is to add the word “not”.

Let’s examine a few examples below:

  • Abel is messy. > The word “is” is an action verb here.
  • Although he is always complaining about his frequent accidents, Abel still didn’t pay attention. > “Is” is an auxiliary verb in this context.
  • Abel will continue to be engaging in extra laundry for the rest of this life. > “To be” is an auxiliary verb here.

Modal Auxiliary Verbs

In addition to the three common auxiliary verbs we’ve mentioned earlier, there is an addition auxiliary verb, which is known as the Modal Auxiliary Verbs. These verbs do not change their forms in sentences. Here is a complete list of modal auxiliary verbs in English language:

  • Can
  • Could
  • May
  • Might
  • Must
  • Ought to
  • Shall
  • Should
  • Will
  • Would

Usage Of Auxiliary Verbs In Sentences

Here, we’ll be revealing a few of the utilisation of auxiliary verbs and verb phrases in sentences. In the examples below, you’ll find that the auxiliary verbs in bold to give you a better understanding.

  • Abel is taking Alex to the airport to catch his flight.
  • If she doesn’t arrive on time, he’ll be subjected to taking another flight.
  • Unfortunately, our dinner has been eaten by the dog.
  • We humbly hope and pray that you don’t encounter an accident on your back to school.
  • Dad has been working hard all day long.
  • Did Israel bring the coffee?

Final Thoughts

Hope this helped you gain a better understanding of auxiliary verbs. If you have more questions about grammar or writing in general, just look around here! We’re happy to help!