In most cases, the words in sentences need a little help in order to make the intended meaning crystal clear. Verbs are no exceptions. Luckily, there are helping verbs to stand up and do just that. Let’s take a closer look at helping verbs.
What are helping verbs?
Just as the name implies, helping verbs, sometimes called auxiliary verbs, help out the main verb in a sentence. They accomplish this by giving more detail to how time is portrayed in a sentence. For this reason, they are used in [verb conjugation] to show the progressive and the perfect tenses of verbs.
On their own, helping verbs don’t show meaning in that they don’t communicate much when they stand alone. There sole purpose to help the main verb, which provides the real meaning.
Helping verbs help explain the sometimes complicated nuances of meaning. For example, they can show expectation, probability, obligation, potential, and directions. Though this may sound complicated, it’s really not. The examples to follow will make things more clear.
Examples of helping verbs
There aren’t that many helping verbs in the English language – only about 23. They all fall into one of two groups: primary helping verbs and modal helping verbs.
Primary helping verbs
The primary helping verbs are be, do, and have. They’re called primary because they can help main verbs or they can actually be the main verb. Here are some examples of the primary verbs being used as helping verbs.
1. “Be” verbs. The term “be verbs” is a little deceiving because they include more than the word “be.” They help show a state of being or a state of existing. Sounds a little boring doesn’t it? Well, they don’t show any action, that’s for sure. That’s why expressive writing discourages using a lot of “be” verbs.
Here is a list of “be” verb forms: am, is, are, was, were, been, being, be.
And here are a few used in sentences:
Katy is watching television. (this shows a continuous tense.)
The other children are playing outside. (this example shows the passive tense.)
2. Have. The helping verb have is used to make perfect tenses. The perfect tense shows action that is already completed.
I have finished washing the dishes. (Dish washing is complete!)
3. Do. The verb “do” can perform a variety of functions:
- To make negatives: I do not care for broccoli.
- To ask questions: Do you like broccoli?
- To show emphasis: I do you want you to eat your broccoli.
- To stand for a main verb: Sam like broccoli more than Carmen does.
Modal helping verbs
Modal helping verbs help “modify” the main verb so that is changes the meaning somewhat. They help express possibility or necessity.
Here are the modal verbs:
1. Can, could.
I can’t reach the top shelf.
You could try using a stepladder.
2. May, might.
The bus may arrive on time this morning.
It might be full of rowdy passengers, though.
3. Will, would.
Will Katy ride with James to soccer practice?
Would she prefer to ride with Emily instead?
4. Shall, should.
Shall I set the table now?
You should wait a little longer.
You really must see a doctor about that nasty cut.
A few points to remember about helping verbs.
- Not every sentence has or needs a helping verb.
- Any time you see a verb ending in “ing”, a helping verb usually accompanies it.
- Sometimes other words separate the helping verb and main verb in the sentence. The word “not” is an example. Sarah couldn’t run as fast as Beth. Here the word “not” separates the helping verb “could” from the main verb “run.”
Helping verbs are used everyday in the English language so figuring out how to recognize them and when to use them comes second nature after awhile.