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Auxiliary Verbs

An auxiliary (also called helping) verb serves to give additional meaning to the main or lexical verb following it.

If you are doing things correctly, every clause you use has a verb. That clause MUST have a lexical verb and it MAY have one or more auxiliary verbs.

  1. Seiji enjoys Legos. — One lexical verb; no auxiliary verb.
  2. Seiji has enjoyed Legos.— One lexical verb; one auxiliary verb.
  3. Seiji has been enjoying Legos.— One lexical verb; two auxiliary verbs.

[In the following examples, the auxiliary verb is underlined and the lexical verb is bold.]

Common Auxiliary Verbs

TO BE: is, am, are, was, were, been

Some verbs, such as TO BE, can act either as auxiliary or lexical verbs,

  1. Brett is walking to school.
  2. Brett is a student.

In the case of TO BE, it is sometimes hard to determine whether it is auxiliary or not.

    • The cocktail was chilled.
    1. This sentence could mean that someone chilled the cocktail, so WAS would be an auxiliary verb to the lexical verb CHILLED. (It is worth noting, that if this is the meaning. then the sentence has been constructed in passive voice, which is in general a weaker construction.
    1. This sentence could also mean that the cocktail was cold, in which case WAS is a linking verb.
  1. The commission is using stocks to purchase development rights.
  2. The agencies are restricting logging and road building in the forests.
  3. Brill was lagging in the polls behind Richards.
  4. The agencies were completing the inventories.
  5. Moskowitz has been offered a similar project.
    1. Passive voice. Better written as SOMEONE offered Moskowitz...

TO DO: do, did, does

  1. Volunteers do spend their weekends mapping the nation's forests.
  2. Clinton did agree to ban logging on 40 million acres.
  3. Time does run out for these wild lands.

TO HAVE: has, had, have

TO HAVE is another one of those verbs that can be auxiliary or lexical.

  1. She has played softball for years.
  2. She has a softball in her backpack.

Unlike TO BE, it is rarely hard to determine whether it is auxiliary or not.

  1. Brent has planned this party down to the last detail.
  2. The governor had exhausted all of the options.
  3. Someone should have predicted these complications.

SHALL, WILL, MAY, CAN, SHOULD, COULD, WOULD

  1. This portion will not be eligible for protection under the 1964 Wilderness Act.
  2. The Clinton Administration may try to make the most of public support for preserving open space.
  3. Only Congress can formally protect lands under the Wilderness Act.
  4. They should limit its real estate holdings.
  5. Preservation could become one of Clinton's most significant accomplishments.
  6. The legislation would provide guaranteed funding.

Identifying the various configurations that make up a complete verb helps in understanding the type of verb being used. Once again, this is not because writers necessarily need to remember the specific type of verb they are using, but because using a verb properly with the correct modifiers strengthens anyone's writing.

Every verb has a lexical verb. Read more...