Verbs Helping Verbs


‘Tis the season of peace, love, and helping others. So it seemed like the perfect time to talk about auxiliary verbs, which are also known as helping verbs.

Auxiliary verbs are these odd little verbs in English that are used in conjunction with other verbs to express things like voice, tense, and mood (including things like necessity and possibility). The most common auxiliary verbs are be, can, do, did, have, had, may, might, must, ought, shall, should, will, and would. Let’s look at some examples:

  • The zombie dressed like a Christmas elf had bitten Steve.
  • Zombie Steve’s first thought was, “I must bite Santa.”
  • Armed to the teeth, Santa would destroy them all, laughing all the way.
  • Amazingly, come Christmas morning, Santa had successfully exterminated all the zombies and had delivered all his presents.

Note in the last example that the first auxiliary and its verb are separated by an adverb, which is not uncommon.

A Side Note About “Be” Verbs

Sometimes you will hear people talk about “be” verbs. This is because “be” is a bit special, or irregular, as grammarians like to say. Be has eight forms (be, is, are, was, were, been, being, am) and is conjugated differently than other verbs. For example, in the present indicative form we don’t use the stem of be—instead we use am, is, or are.

  • I am Rudolph.
  • He is a reindeer.
  • We are zombie hunters.

In its present participle form, we simply add –ing to be (being) and apply that to everyone. But if you’re using the present perfect form, you also add the appropriate indicative (am, is, or are).

  • I am not being funny, you guys.
  • You are being followed by the living dead.
  • And she is being stalked by a zombie in elf’s clothing.

Then, when we switch to the past indicative, there are two forms: was and were. But the past participle form for everyone is been.

  • I was just about to die when a red glow emerged from the fog.
  • We were thankful that Rudolph and Santa saved us on Christmas Eve.

And, finally, the imperative form of “be” is, well, be.

  • Be quiet!” Santa ordered. “The zombies are everywhere.” 


Image credit: Mike Kiev /

10 thoughts on “Verbs Helping Verbs

  1. This is a great refresher. I’ve never thought of ‘must’ and ‘might’ as verbs, but that makes sense.

    This also reminds me of my Psycholinguistics thesis, in which I tested whether there was a difference in the time it took for people to read common vs. rare words and used having/halving, doing/dewing, and being/beeing. The last one being made up! Each was bracketed between ‘was’ and ‘some’ and put into context of a wacky story about a beekeeper. I even alternated the paragraphs to avoid order bias. I recorded the speakers and analyzed the sound waves and found there was a significant difference, lending evidence to the theory that the mental lexicon has one node for common words but two nodes for rare words that have to be constructed: do + ing.

    Zombies are much more fun.

    1. That sounds like a really interesting thesis, Kylie. (Did I mention that I edit dissertations in my other life? I’m a vicarious academic.) And yeah, I think many people forget (or never knew) those helper verbs are actually verbs. They don’t exactly pulsate with energy. 😉

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

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