Helping verbs

Helping verbs are also known as "auxiliary verbs".

Helping verbs are meaningless on their own.,have, do, will,

But they must be there for the grammatical structure of a sentence, though they do not tell us very much on their own.

The helping verbs are used with the main verbs.

The main verb has the real meaning but requires “help” from the helping verb.

There are about 15 helping verbs divided into two main groups.

Namely, the Primary helping verbs with 3 verbs and modal helping verbs with about 10 verbs.

Helping verbs are of two types:

1. Primary verbs

These are DO, HAVE and BE.

Which can be used as helping verbs or as main verbs. 

In this section we shall use them as helping verbs.

They are used in the following cases:


to make continuous tenses (He is watching TV.)

to make the passive (Small fish are eaten by big fish.)


to make perfect tenses (I have finished my homework.)



to make negatives (I do not like him.)

to ask questions (Do you want some coffee?)

to show emphasis (I do want you to pass your exam.)

to stand for a main verb in some constructions (He speaks faster than she does.)

Each has a number of forms in various tenses as shown in the following table.

Note that DO and HAVE have five forms while BE has eight

2. Modal verbs

These may be further divided into those in the present tense and those in the past tense, as shown.

Modal helping verbs are used to "modify" the meaning of the main verb.

A modal helping verb expresses necessity or possibility, and therefore changes the main verb.

These are the modal verbs:

can, could

e.g. I can't speak Chinese.

I could speak Chinese.


may, might

e.g.John may arrive late.

John might arrive late.


will, would,

e.g.Would you like a cup of coffee?

Will  you take a cup of coffee?


shall, should

e.g.You should see a doctor.

You shall see a doctor.


e.g.I really must go now.


ought to

e.g.I really ought to go now.

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