Helping verbs

Helping verbs (also known as auxiliary verbs) assist the main verb in a sentence by extending the meaning of that verb. Their role is to make the intended meaning of the sentence absolutely clear. There are only around 23 helping verbs in the English language.

Helping verbs add detail to how time is conveyed in a sentence. As a result, helping verbs are used to create the most complicated verb tenses in English: the progressive and perfect aspects.

A few things to remember are that not every sentence has/needs a helping verb, and that if you see a verb ending in “ing”, it’s usually accompanied by a helping verb. Sometimes, other words separate the helping verb and main verb, such as “not”.

Examples of helping verbs

On their own, helping verbs don’t show meaning as they don’t communicate much. Their primary purpose is to back up the sentence’s main verb.

The most common helping verbs are “be”, “do” and “have”.

Be as a helping verb:

  • Simon is running around.
  • The children are playing in the park.
  • My daughter is being naughty.

Do as a helping verb:

  • I do not enjoy sunbathing
  • Do you like cauliflower?
  • Jane likes cauliflower more than Sam does

 Have as a helping verb:

  •  I have finished washing my hair.
  • She has just completed the task.
  • We have been out all day

Modal helping verbs

These help to modify the main verb so it changes the meaning, the main ones being can/could, may/might, will/would, shall/should and must.

  • I can’t finish my dinner.
  • It might be a bit too busy on Saturday.
  • Would you like to go to the park?
  • You should wait a little longer.
  • We must go and visit Grandma.