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English Auxiliary Verbs

Auxiliary verbs are a subcategory of English verbs that provide additional semantic or syntactic information about the main verb in the verb phrase such as tense, aspect, modality, and voice. The seventeen auxiliary verbs in English grammar are have, be, do, nine modal verbs, and five quasi-modal verbs.

Perfect Have

The first auxiliary verb in the English language is have. The verb have functions as a perfect within a verb phrase functioning as a predicate. Perfect have occurs within present perfect, past perfect, present perfect-progressive, past perfect progressive, present perfect passive, past perfect passive, present perfect-progressive passive, and past perfect-progressive passive constructions.

The conjugations of the perfect have are as follows:

  • Base – Simple Present – Simple Past – Present Participle – Past Participle
  • have – have, has – had – having – had

Progressive and Passive Be

The second auxiliary verb in the English language is be. The verb be performs two functions within a verb phrase functioning as a predicate: progressive and passive. Progressive be occurs within present progressive, past progressive, present perfect-progressive, past perfect progressive, present progressive passive, past progressive passive, present perfect-progressive passive, and past perfect-progressive passive constructions. Passive be occurs within passive simple present, passive simple past, present perfect passive, past perfect passive, present progressive passive, past progressive passive, present perfect-progressive passive, and past perfect-progressive passive constructions.

The conjugations of the progressive and passive be are as follows:

  • Base – Simple Present – Simple Past – Present Participle – Past Participle
  • be – am, is, are – was, were – being – been

Do

The third auxiliary verb in the English language is do. The verb do functions as an operator within a verb phrase functioning as a predicate. Also known as dummy do, operator do occurs within negated, interrogative, and emphatic constructions.

The conjugations of the operator or dummy do are as follows:

  • Base – Simple Present – Simple Past – Present Participle – Past Participle
  • do – do, does – did – doing – done

Modal Verbs

Modal verbs are a subcategory of auxiliary verbs that express modality, are neutral and defective, occupy only the initial position in a verb phrase, and perform the function of modal. Quasi-modal verbs, which share some but not all properties of full modal verbs, are a subset of the English modal verb. Modality can be defined as the grammaticalized expression of the subjective attitude of the speaker, which includes opinions about possibility, probability, necessity, obligation, permissibility, ability, desire, and contingency. The nine modal verbs and five quasi-modal verbs in English are:

  • can
  • could
  • dare
  • had better (had best)
  • may
  • might
  • must
  • need
  • ought to
  • shall
  • should
  • used to
  • will
  • would

Unlike prototypical English verbs, modal verbs are both neutral and defective. The neutralization of modal verbs refers to the fact that modal verbs lack a separate third person singular simple present tense form. Modal verbs lack a third person singular simple present form. For example:

  • can – *cans
  • could – *coulds
  • may –  *mays
  • might – *mights
  • must – *musts
  • shall – *shalls
  • should – *shoulds
  • will – *wills
  • would – *woulds

Similarly, the defectiveness of modal verbs refers to the fact that modal verbs lack non-tensed forms. Prototypical English verbs have four to six forms depending on the regularity of irregularity of the verb. The forms of a prototypical verb are a base form, an infinitive, a present participle, a past participle, a simple present form, a third person singular simple present form, and a simple past form. Modal verbs lack all but a base form. For example:

  • can – *to can – *canning – *canned – *can – *cans – *canned
  • could – *to could – *coulding – *coulded – *could – *coulds – *coulded
  • may – *to may – *maying – *mayed – *may – *mays – *mayed
  • might – *to might – *mighting – *mighted – *might – *mights – *mighted
  • must – *to must – *musting – *musted – *must – *musts – *musted
  • shall – *to shall – *shalling – *shalled – *shall – *shalls – *shalled
  • should – *to should – *shoulding – *shoulded – *should – *shoulds – *shoulded
  • will – *to will – *willing – *willed – *will – *wills – *willed
  • would – *to would – *woulding – *woulded – *would – *woulds – *woulded

Like other auxiliary verbs, modal verbs appear before the head of the main verb functioning as the predicate. However, unlike other auxiliary verbs, the modal verb always appears at the beginning of the verb phrase in the initial position. For example:

  • simple active → modal + base – will study
  • perfect active → modal + have + past participle – will have studied
  • progressive active → modal + be + present participle – will be studying
  • perfect-progressive active → modal + have + been + present participle – will have been studying
  • simple passive → modal + be + past particle – will be eaten
  • perfect passive → modal + have + been – past participle – will have been eaten
  • progressive passive → modal + be + being + past participle – will be being eaten
  • perfect-progressive passive → modal + have + been + being + past participle – will have been being eaten

Auxiliary verbs provide additional semantic or syntactic information about the main verb in the verb phrase such as tense, aspect, modality, and voice. The seventeen auxiliary verbs in English grammar are have, be, do, nine modal verbs, and five quasi-modal verbs.

References

Huddleston, Rodney. 1984. Introduction to the grammar of English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Kilby, David. 1984. Descriptive syntax and the English verb. Dover, New Hampshire: Croom Helm.
Leech, Geoffrey N. 2004. Meaning and the English verb. Harlow, English: Pearson Longman.

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