As writers and students, understanding how to correctly use words is key to conveying your message to your readers. Verbs are a large, overarching part of speech that has many features to help writers perfectly capture their thoughts. Helping verbs, or auxiliary verbs, are another verb that helps (See what I did there?) extend a sentence’s meaning.
These verbs add the most detail to writing, and so they are regularly used. Of course, with anything in the English language, what can appear simple on the surface is a little complex and requires some understanding to use it correctly.
These verbs are easy for native English speakers but can confuse English-language learners, that’s why it’s important to learn key details about them.
A Quick Verb Overview
Before we dig into helping verbs, let’s review what a verb is. A verb is the action words of a sentence. They describe what is being done.
A verb moves text forward and gives the reader an idea of what is happening in the text.
There are two categories of verbs: action and non-action verbs.
If you would like to learn more about verbs, ArgoPrep has created a complete guide on verbs to help answer all of your questions.
Just like a co-pilot of a plane, helping verbs support the main verb of a sentence and extend its meaning. While these verbs add interest and clarity to your writing, sometimes they can feel a little complex (we’ll dig into this later in this post when we talk about verb tenses).
Helping verbs are essential to writing and cannot be avoided since they help build a structure of a sentence.
These verbs include: am, is, are, was, were, be, been, have, has, had, do, does, and did. They have multiple forms and can be adjusted to match the tense of the sentence.
Boiled down, these verbs are modified forms of the following: to be (I am, You are, etc.), to have (have, had, has, etc.), and to do (Do, does, did).
Here are a few examples of helping verbs in writing:
- I am excited for the school dance.
- He was angry about the grade.
- They have no idea who left the surprise.
As you can see in these examples, the helping verb modifies the main action of the sentence. Without these verbs in place, understanding the point of the sentence would be difficult, if not impossible.
Helping Verbs All Have a Job
|be||Express tense (the tense depends on the conjugation of to be; is present, was is past, will be is future, etc.) and a sense of continuity|
|do||Express negation (requires the word not)|
|have||Express tense (the tense depends on the conjugation of to be; is present, was is past, will be is future, etc.) and a sense of continuity|
|must||Express confidence in a fact|
|should||Express a request|
|will||Express future tense|
|would||Express future likelihood|
Helping Verbs that Cannot Be Modified
There are also helping verbs that cannot be modified, which include can, could, may, might, will, would, shall, should, must, and ought to (to name a few).
These verbs help sentences by showing uncertainty, possibility, necessity, or obligation.
These verbs, while they don’t show action, help build the action for the main verbs of the writing, so they are essential to the operation.
A Few Usage Rules
Two usage rules apply to all helping verbs. First, a sentence cannot include more than three helping verbs. If you are running into writing issues and would like to add more than three, you most likely have a run-on sentence and should rewrite it into multiple sentences.
Next, these helping verbs can be used in the positive (have, did, could) and negative (haven’t, didn’t, couldn’t). So, if you see a negative helping verb in writing, it is correct and can be used.
Indicating Tense is Required
Helping verbs help indicate tense, but many argue that this is what makes these little verbs so complex. If you have a strong command of the English language, using these verbs can feel simple. However, if you’re a non-native English speaker, then it can be confusing how to use these verbs to help the main verb of a sentence.
Helping verbs are most commonly used with two primary tenses: The progressive and perfect tenses.
If the main verb ends in -ing (running, dancing, crying), then you are most likely dealing with the progressive tense. The progressive tense shows the reader that something is happening and moving forward.
When you are working with the progressive tense, then you will most likely be using a form of the verb to be. Using our examples below, these helping verbs could look like this in a sentence:
- I was running.
- She wasn’t dancing.
- They were all crying together.
All of these examples are in the progressive tense, and the helping verbs add detail to understand how the subject of the sentence was interacting with the main verb.
There are three different types of perfect tense: Past perfect, present perfect, and future perfect. These tenses demonstrate that something is either in motion, will be in action, or has already been in motion.
Helping verbs are essential to creating the appropriate tenses for these sentences, but it does make the writing a little more complicated and high-level.
Here are a few examples of helping verbs being used in the perfect tense:
- When using the past present, the helping verb is always had. If you are using the past perfect tense, the main verb should also be modified to the past tense.
- I had been at the party for an hour when I realized that I didn’t know anybody.
- When using the present perfect, the helping verbs include has and have.
- She has never seen so many fireworks before in her life.
- The future perfect tense indicates something that will happen in the future. These helping verbs include will have and shall have.
- They will have been in school for four years before they can graduate.
If you would like to learn more about verb tenses, check out the guide here!
What is the Difference Between a Helping and a Linking Verb?
When you are learning about these specific kinds of verbs, it can be easy to get caught up in thinking that they are all the same thing. If you are trying to decide the difference between linking verbs, helping, and auxiliary verbs, you might wonder if they are the same thing or not.
Helping verbs and auxiliary verbs are the same thing and can be used interchangeably. Linking verbs, however, are different and should not be grouped with the others.
A linking verb is a non-action verb. They act as the glue to connect two parts of a sentence, between the subject and the rest of the sentence.
The most common linking verbs include: is, seems, becomes, been, are, feels, being, was, appears, and were.
An example of a sentence with a linking verb in it could be:
Last year, I was a student.
Was in this example is the linking verb, and is connecting the subject (I) to the rest of the sentence (a student). Unlike helping verbs, linking verbs modify the subject as opposed to the main action of the sentence. So, even though to be verbs are considered helping and linking verbs, what sets them apart is their jobs in the sentence.
Linking verbs also helps determine the tense of the sentence. In our example above, since we used the work was, we know that the event happened in the past.
Let ArgoPrep Guide You
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Here is a quick review of helping verbs:
- A verb is the action word of a sentence.
- Helping verbs help the main verb of the sentence through modifying common verb forms of to be, to do, and to have.
- There can be up to three helping verbs in a single sentence, and they can be in the negative form too.
- The progressive and perfect tense is commonly associated with helping verbs. Together, these verbs help indicate the tense of the sentence and modify the main verb to match.
- Linking verbs are different than helping verbs. These verbs modify the subject of the sentence as opposed to the main verb.
- ArgoPrep has created resources for you to understand topics like this more clearly.
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