Auxiliary Verbs

The most common auxiliary verbs are be, do and have; these verbs may also be used on their own. Will and shall express future time.

In each of the following examples, a verb commonly used as an auxiliary verb appears as a simple predicate:

  • She is the chief engineer.
  • The tea cups are in the china cabinet.
  • Garth does this kind of thing frequently.
  • I do the laundry every second week.
  • I can’t complete my progress report because the project manager still has my notes.
  • They have several kinds of gelato in the display case.

Other common auxiliaries are can, could, may, might, must, ought, should, will and would. Verbs like these are called modal auxiliaries and express necessity, obligation or possibility.

The highlighted word in each of the following sentences is a modal auxiliary:

  • Bridget was pleased to learn that she could take several days off.
  • The 11-year-old girl told her neighbours that she would walk their dog for an appropriate fee.
  • Henry told Eliza that she ought to have the hole in the canoe fixed.
  • The principal told the students that the school board might introduce a dress code.
  • According to my hairdresser, we must leave this goo in our hair for twenty minutes.

One or more words may separate an auxiliary from the verb that goes with it, as in the following sentences:

  • They have not delivered the documents on time.
  • The treasure chest was never discovered.
  • The health department has recently decided that all children should be immunized against meningitis.
  • Will you walk the dog tonight?
  • The lead ballet dancer was rapidly and gracefully pirouetting about the stage.

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© Department of English, Faculty of Arts, University of Ottawa
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