Auxiliary Verbs

Auxiliary Verbs

What is an auxiliary verb?

An auxiliary verb is a verb that helps another verb to form its tense, voice or mood. Auxiliary means helping. The auxiliary verbs are also called helping verbs. There are three types of auxiliary verbs. They are:

1. Primary auxiliary verbs.

2. Model auxiliary verbs.

3. Semi model auxiliary verbs.

1. Primary auxiliary verbs.

The three verbs, ‘be’, ‘do’, and ‘have’ are called Primary auxiliary verbs. It is to be mentioned here that these three verbs, ie, ‘be’, ‘have’ and ‘do’, can also be used as main verbs in a clause or sentence. As auxiliary verbs, ‘be’, and ‘have’ are used to form the continuous, perfect and perfect continuous tenses. In addition to acting as main verb, ‘Do’ is also used for making main verbs negative or to form interrogative sentences. ‘Do’ can also be used to add stress to a sentence. Let us study the actions of the Primary auxiliary verbs one by one.


“Be” is a special and the most used verb in English. It has 8 forms whereas the other verbs have three or four or maximum five forms. This verb functions as a Primary auxiliary verb, as a principal verb, and as a verb of incomplete predication*.

Various conjugated forms of the verb,’ be‘, are –

  • be
  • am
  • is
  • are
  • was
  • were
  • been
  • being

As a Primary auxiliary verb

a). I am blamed. b) He is blamed. c).You are blamed.

In the above three sentences a), b), and c) the verb ‘be’ helps to form passive voice.

a).I am eating. b) He is eating c) You are eating

In the above three sentences a), b), and c) the verb ‘be’ helps to form present continuous tense

a).I was eating. b) He was eating. c) You were eating.

In the above three sentences a), b), and c) the verb ‘be’ helps to form past continuous tense

[As a Principal verb – Be= to exist or live.

  • Such terrible flood should never be.
  • God is. (God exists.)

As verb of incomplete predication*

a). Grass is green. b).Rose is red]

* Verbs of incomplete predication will be explained in detail in another post of same name.


This verb functions as a Primary auxiliary verb, as a principal verb and also as a substitute for other action verbs.

As a Primary auxiliary verb

a). Do you see a small bird?–In this sentence ‘do’ helps to form a question.

b).I do not see anything. In this sentence ‘do’ helps to form a negative sentence.

c).I do see a small bird. In this sentence ‘do’ helps to emphasise the statement.

[As a principal verb- Do = perform, act


The worker does his work well.

Go and do your home work.

In the above sentences, ‘do’ functions as an ordinary action verb.

As substitute for other action verbs.

  • He sleeps more than I do. (That is, he sleeps more than I sleep. By using do, repetition of ‘sleep can be avoided.)
  • He bought a pen from the shop. So did I. (That is, I too bought a pen from the shop.’Did’, past tense of ‘do’ is substituting the verb, ‘bought’.]


This verb functions as a Primary auxiliary verb and as a principal verb.

As a Primary auxiliary verb

Conjugated forms of have,

  • Has
  • Have
  • Had

As a Primary auxiliary verb, it and its conjugated forms help to change tenses.


I have taken the book. (Present perfect)

I had taken the book. (Past perfect)

I shall have taken the book. (Future perfect)

I have been taking the book. (Present perfect continuous)

I shall have been taking the book. (Future perfect continuous)

As a principal verb

I have a gold watch. (Have= possess)

I have to go (The verb, have, is used to show the necessity or compulsion.]

2. Model auxiliary verbs.

A model auxiliary verb is a verb that is used to change the meaning of the main verbs, by expressing mood* or tense. This verb is also called model verb or simply as modal. There are nine Model auxiliary verbs. They are:

  • will
  • shall
  • would
  • should
  • can
  • could
  • may
  • might
  • must

Model auxiliary verb, will:

This Model auxiliary verb expresses a meaning of its own, namely determination or intention. As an auxiliary verb, ‘will’ helps to form different types of future tenses. For example:

He will go tomorrow. (Simple future tense)

He will be speaking during meeting tomorrow. (Future continuous tense)

Mother will have cooked our favourite dish. (Future perfect tense)

When we get married next year, I will have been working in Intel for four years. (Future perfect continuous tense)

If we want to make the above sentences negative, we have just to add ‘not’ between will and the main verb. We often contract ‘will‘ + ‘not‘ into ‘won’t ‘.


He won’t go tomorrow.

He won’t be speaking during meeting tomorrow.

Mother won’t have cooked our favourite dish.

When we get married next year, I won’t have been working in Intel.

If we want to make a question (interrogative sentence), we invert ‘will’ with the subject.


Won’t he go tomorrow?

Won’t he be speaking during meeting tomorrow?

Won’t mother have cooked our favourite dish?

Will she be singing tomorrow?

Sometimes “will” is used to show determination. For example:

I will go in spite of you. (I am determined to go.)

We often use ‘will’ to make polite offers or request. This is in the form of interrogative sentences although the speaker’s intention is not to ask question. For example:

Will you help me in the kitchen, Mary?

Will your friend join us for lunch?

We use ‘will ‘in present conditional sentences formed using if. For example:

If you come with me, I will show you my brother’s new painting.

‘Will’ is also used to show the likelihood and certainty. For example:

I hear the horn of a car. That will be Jim. I am expecting him.

‘Will’ can also be used to issue commands or orders in place of imperative sentences to give more force. For example:

You yourself will clean this mess made by you, do you understand?

Model auxiliary verb, shall:

The Model auxiliary verb, ‘shall’ is used almost like the Model auxiliary verb,’will’.Hoever it is to be mentioned that traditionally ” shall ” is used with first person pronoun (i.e., I, we ) , to form future tense while” will” is used with second and third person pronouns (i.e. you,

He, she, they etc.) For example:

I shall go tomorrow.

We shall go tomorrow.

You will go tomorrow.

They will go tomorrow

He will go tomorrow

All the above sentences are in simple future tense. Likewise the future continuous tense sentences also can be formed.

As already mentioned in the first para,’shall’ is used in many ways like ‘will’. However ‘will‘ is generally preferred to shall. Using ‘shall’ add formality or politeness to the construction of the sentences. Though’ will not’ is contracted to ‘wont‘, ‘shall not’ is not so generally contracted. Similarly ‘shall’ is not generally used to form future perfect and future prefect continuous tenses.

When we form questions using ‘shall’, it is to politely give offers, invitations or suggestions. For example:

  • Shall I help you?
  • Shall we sit down and talk?

When we form an interrogative sentence with a question word like who, what, when, where, or how,’ shall‘ is used to politely ask the listener about his opinion or t to seek his advice. For example;

  • Where shall I find you?
  • Whom shall I meet for help?

Like ‘will’,’ shall‘ also can be used in conditional sentences using ‘if’ to express a likely outcome. This is known as first conditional.*.Example:

If I work hard, I shall get distinction.

When shall is used in second and third person, it usually expresses a command.

  • You shall obey me.
  • Students shall keep complete silence during the examination.
  • You shall vacate the room immediately.

Note: As per traditional rule, shall is used with first person pronouns, I and we, to form future tense while will is used with second and third person pronouns, you , she, they, he etc.For example:

  • I shall go there tomorrow.
  • He will go to his friend’s house tomorrow.

But when it is required to express a strong determination to do something, the role is reversed. That is, ‘will’ is used with first person, and ‘shall’ with the second and the third. For example:

You shall apologize for that.

I will succeed or die in that attempt.

*First conditional and second conditional will be explained in a separate post.

Model auxiliary verb, ‘would’:

The model ‘would’ has many uses and functions in every day speech.

  • We use ‘would’ to talk about the past
  • talk about the future in the past
  • express the conditional mood*
  • express desire, polite requests, questions, opinion, hope, wish, polite advice, and regret


  • Jill said (that) she would come at 8 P.M. (Reported speech of, Jill said, “I shall come at 8 P.M.”
  • I thought she would be here by now.( future tense in the past)
  • Would you give me a pen? (Polite request.)
  • I hear a horn, it would be John. He had promised to come (likelihood)
  • Where would you like to go for your honeymoon?(desire)
  • I would apologize to my boss if I were you.(polite advice)

We also use would with adverbs rather and sooner to express preferance.As in:

  • I would rather have a cup of coffee.
  • They would sooner go bankrupt than sell their ancestral home.
  • Would you rather go to beach or go to the park?

Would can also be used with “if’ for second conditional* sentences.

*Second conditionals are things which are unlikely to happen.

  • If I were a bird, I would fly to my sweet heart’s house.

Note: In speaking shall and will are often contracted to ‘ll and would is contracted to’d, especially when they follow pronoun.

Contracted forms:

I’ll see you later.

He’ll never get there.

I’d rather have a cup of coffee.

Model auxiliary verb, ‘should’:

The model ‘should’ has many uses and functions. It is used to indicate obligation, to point out not fulfilling an obligation, duty, correctness especially when criticising somebody’s action, to express surprise, expectation, to give advice, etc.It is also used after for fear that, in case, and lest. Examples:

  • We should obey the rules.(Duty)
  • We should help the poor.(obligation)
  • You should have known better. (Pointing out not fulfilling obligation.)
  • You should control your temper.(advice)
  • I told him I should start tomorrow.(future in the past)
  • When I was getting down the train, who should I see but my old classmate Sam!(surprise)
  • She should be here by now.(expectation)
  • I took an umbrella, for fear that it should rain.(used after for fear that)

We use shouldn’t to advise not to do something because it is bad to do so.

  • Your son shouldn’t be allowed to neglect his studies

Should’ is also used with’ if ‘to express a supposition which may or may not be true. (That is to form first or second conditionals)Examples:

  • If it should rain, they will not come.(first conditional)
  • If my father should see me here, he would be annoyed.(First conditional)
  • I should go if I were you.(second conditional)
  • If you knew the song, you should sing it. (first conditional)

Model auxiliary verb, ‘can’:

The Model auxiliary verb, ‘can’ is used to express a person or thing’s ability to do something, to give or ask for permission to do something, to request and offers, and to describe the possibility that something can happen. Examples:

  • James can lift heavy weights.(ability)
  • Mathew can run very fast.(ability)
  • Can Jill come with me to the park?(asking Permission)
  • You can leave the class room when you finish the test(giving permission)
  • Can you buy that book for me?(request)
  • Can I help you to find what you need?(offer)
  • You can get help on your papers from your seniors (possibility)

Model auxiliary verb, ‘could’:

This model verb is generally used as past tense of ‘can’, indicating what someone was able to do in the past. It can be used to indicate possibility, for making suggestions or polite request, expressing a wish, for asking permission or to form conditional sentences.


  • When he was young, he was a fast runner and could outdo every competitor.(past ability)
  • when I was young and slim ,I could swim very fast.( past ability)
  • They could be right.(possibility)
  • I think it could rain any minute.(possibility)
  • You could always come to me if you require any help.(suggestion)
  • Could I take a bit of time off work?(asking for permission)
  • Could you help me to do the home work?(polite request)
  • I wish if I could swim.(wish)
  • If I win a lottery, I could buy a new car.(conditional)

Model auxiliary verb, May

Model, may is used to express possibility, ask or give permission, to express a wish or hope, making a polite offer, expressing a purpose etc.


  • It may rain.(possibility)
  • He may be at home. .(possibility)
  • He may miss the train. .(possibility)
  • You may go now.(permission)
  • You may take my pen. .(permission)
  • May you return safely!(wish)
  • May you live long! !(wish)
  • May I help you to serve the dinner?(Polite offer)
  • we eat that we may live.(purpose)
  • He flatters his boss that he may win a favour.(purpose)

Model auxiliary verb, might:

Model auxiliary verb, ‘might’ is used to very politely ask for permission or to give permission, to use as past tense form of may, to suggest action, to express different possibilities, to show annoyance, to form conditional sentences, etc.


  • I am afraid that somehow I might have upset my boss.(possibility)
  • Might we go to a movie tonight, Dad?( very politely asking for permission)
  • He said that I might go. (Past tense form of ‘may’. Reported speech of, He said,” You may go.”)
  • You might go to the park.(giving permission)
  • You might try to be a little more polite(to show annoyance)
  • You might pass if you try harder.(possibility)
  • I am trying very hard that I might get a distinction(purpose)
  • If we try hard, we might reach there just in time.(conditional sentence)

Note; It can be seen that the verbs’ may ‘and might do not express time with the same precision as other words.


He may be at home now.

He may leave tomorrow.

He might enter college now.

He might enter college next year.

Model auxiliary verb, must.

This model verb expresses necessity or obligation, fixed determination, duty, certainty of belief in some facts, inevitability etc.For example:

  • We must obey the laws.(obligation)
  • One must work or starve. (obligation)
  • I must have my way in this matter.(determination)
  • A teacher must sincerely teach his students(duty)
  • We must all die.(inevitability)

3. Semi model auxiliary verbs.

Semi modal auxiliary verbs are such verbs which can function as modal auxiliary verbs too in addition to the function of a verb. They are called semi-model verbs too.

Mainly there are four Semi model auxiliary verbs. They are:

  • dare
  • need
  • used to
  • ought to

Dare and need can act as main verbs too. Ought to and used to cannot act as main verbs.They are always followed by infinitives.

Let us study the functions of each of the above mentioned semi- model verbs.

1. Dare.

Dare can function as both main verb and auxiliary verb. When used as a main verb (= challenge or defy), it is followed by an infinitive ‘to’ (Optional). Then just like an ordinary verb, it must take the auxiliary verb ‘do’ to form questions or to make negative sentences. When used as auxiliary verb, the meaning of’ dare’ is different.

As main verb:


  • He dared me (to) fight.
  • He dares you (to) do it.
  • Did he dare me (to) fight?
  • Does he dare you (to) do it?
  • He did not dare me to fight?

As auxiliary verb

When used as auxiliary verb, it means have courage, reckless or venture. Then it has the form ‘dare’ (third person, singular, present tense).That is, it does not conjugate for person or tense. To make negative sentence it often takes ‘not’.


  • He dare not take such a step.
  • He dare not do it.
  • No one dare go there.
  • How dare you talk to me like this?
  • Dare anyone go there?

When used as auxiliary verb, we do not use ‘to’ after ‘dare’.

  • How dare you suggest I am coward? (Correct)
  • How dare you to suggest I am coward? (wrong)

2. Need

The verb ‘need’ is also used as a main verb as well as a model verb.

Main verb:

Need is more common as main verb. This verb when used as main verb, ‘need’ means stand in need of, or require. Therefore when used as main verb, it conjugates for person or tense. Need, as a main verb, requires the helping verb ‘do’ to form negatives and questions.


  • He needs help.
  • He does not need help.
  • Does he need help?
  • She needed a place to stay.
  • This coat needs darning.

As semi – model verb:

As semi model verb, need denotes necessity or obligation, in negative or interrogative sentences. It is always followed by a bare infinitive. It takes the adverb “not’ or negative words such as never, none, nothing etc.It is also used to form interrogative sentences. When’ not ‘ is added ‘need not’ is contracted as needn’t.

Examples of the usage of ‘need’:

  • He need not go.
  • Need he write to him?
  • Need you go to your mother’s house?
  • No one need know about this.
  • Nothing needs change even though my mother will be here for one week.
  • You needn’t worry about me.

3. Used to:

We use the semi model, ‘used to’ when we speak about a past habit, condition, or fact which are no longer true. For example:

  • When I was working, I used to get up at 5.00 AM
  • I used to play football when I was young.
  • When we were children, we used to bathe in the river.

Note: Although ‘used to’ is itself an auxiliary verb, in order to form negatives and questions, we take the help of the auxiliary verb, ‘did’ for question and ‘did not’ for the negative. For example:

  • Did you use to live in Paris?
  • I didn’t use to like coffee.

Note: Both simple past and ‘used to’ can be used to express about past habits, ‘used to’ is preferred when emphasising past repetition in positive sentences. On the other hand, when asking questions or making negatives, simple past is preferred.


  • You used to play football when you were young.
  • Did you play football when you were young? (Simple past tense is used in this interrogative sentence, instead of ‘used to’.)
  • You did not play football when you were young. (? (Simple past tense is used in this negative sentence, instead of ‘used to’.)

Different categories of auxiliary verbs, their necessity in changing the tenses of the main verbs, and in forming negative and interrogative sentences have been explained with examples.

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