All about Auxiliary Verbs


aux a

To understand auxiliary verb forms, let’s first review basic verbs. Verbs can take on different forms depending on how they are used in a sentence:

Base form: Children play in the park.

Infinitive: Tell them to play here.

Past tense: They played all day yesterday.

Past participle: He has played too long.

Present participle: I am playing with her today.

Gerund or noun form: Playing is children’s’ “work.”
(from Essentials of English Grammar)

Auxiliary, or helping verbs, help complete the verb form of past and present participles, as shown in the examples above, has played and am playing. The auxiliary verbs create a change of tense. They are also sometimes referred to as complex verbs. The combination of the auxiliary verb and the main verb is referred to as a verb phrase.

Auxiliary Verbs

The following are the most common auxiliary verbs that help complete a basic verb:

•be (am, are, is, was, were, being, been)
•have (had, has, having)
•do (did, does, doing)

Auxiliary + Main Verb

The dog is barking at the joggers.
The dogs are keeping me up at night.

The writer has finished his book.
The editors have ordered the book.

The teacher should let the students out on time.
We would like to go to the skate party.

She can work until lunch.
He could go home if his work is done.

I do like your new hairstyle.
I did pass the algebra exam.

I will go to school even though it snowed.
I shall buy the watercolor painting.

She must go to the doctor.
He ought to call the manager.


Auxiliary Word Order

Let’s look at 3 different examples of auxiliary verbs in a sentence:

After having eaten the last bite of dinner, Denise should have saved a piece of dessert for her sister, knowing she would be late.

Note that the word order in verb phrases is set, meaning the order of the auxiliary and main verbs cannot be rearranged. It wouldn’t make sense to say, “Denise have should saved a piece of dessert, knowing she be would late.” The only time an auxiliary verb can be moved is when a question is posed, such as “Should Denise have saved a piece of dessert?” When posing a question, the auxiliary verb always precedes the subject.

Identifying parts of the Verb Phrase

In the sentence, “My friend may have been drinking liquor,” there are three auxiliary verbs.                                                                                                            

  • May is a referred to as a modal, which must be followed by the base form, have.
  • Have indicates the tense is perfect, and must be followed by a past participle, been.
  • Been – or any form of “be” – when it is followed by a present participle, as in drinking from the example above, indicates the tense is progressive.

Final Thoughts on Auxiliary Verbs

As discussed on Writing Center Underground last week, when speaking, it’s common to incorrectly enunciate a few of our auxiliary verb phrases.

I should of told him sooner.
I might of won if the contest wasn’t fixed.
We could of stayed home.
I could of been a contender!

In each of these examples, “of” takes the place of “have,” which is the correct auxiliary. The word “of” is a preposition and not an auxiliary verb. However, it’s become so common in speech that it has begun to find its way into written discourse. Take care when writing to make sure you are using the correct form.


2 thoughts on “All about Auxiliary Verbs

  1. Regarding your quote:
    “I might of won if the CONTEXT wasn’t fixed.”
    I might have won if the CONTEST wasn’t fixed.


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