Helping verbs: types, list, and examples

In this post, we learn what helping verbs are, the different types of helping verbs, and their usages in a sentence. There is a video lesson on helping verbs attached at the end of the post; you can scroll down to it directly if you want to.

What are helping verbs?

Helping verb definition: Helping verbs, also known as auxiliary verbs, support the main verb to express the time, voice, and mood of the sentence. They don’t stand on their own; they need to be paired with a main verb to complete the meaning of the sentence.

There are two types of helping verbs in English:

  1. Primary helping verbs
  2. Modal auxiliary verbs
Helping verbs explanation and examples
Helping verbs explanation and examples

Primary helping verbs

There are three primary helping verbs in English: BE, HAVE, & DO. Each of these verbs has several verbs in them. Note that these verbs can function as both helping verbs and main verbs. But we will be using them as the helping verbs in this post.

BEBE = is, am, are, was, were
BEING = is being, am being, are being, was being, were being
BEEN = has been, have been, had been
HAVEhas, have, had
DOdo, does, did
A list of primary helping verbs

‘BE’

isamarewaswere

The verb ‘BE’ (is, am, are, was, were) is followed by either a present participle (V1+ing) or a past participle (V3). It is followed by a present participle in the Present Continuous tense and the Past Continuous tense in active voice, and it is followed by a past participle in the Simple Present tense and the Simple Past tense.

STRUCTURE 1: Subject + BE + present participle (V1+ing)

Examples:

  • I am teaching English.
  • He is playing with kids.
  • They are eating dinner.
  • Ron was talking to a dog last night.
  • We were working on a project.

STRUCTURE 2: Subject + BE + past participle (V3)

Examples:

  • You are welcomed here.
  • He is disrespected by everyone.
  • Jon was taken to a hospital.
  • The students were not allowed to eat in the class.

Note these sentences are in the passive voice; the speaker is focusing on the receiver of the action, rather than who is or was doing the action.

‘BEING’

is beingam beingare beingwas beingwere being

The verb ‘BEING’ is followed by a past participle and used in the Present Continuous tense and the Past Continuous tense (passive voice).

STRUCTURE: Subject + BEING + past participle (V3)

Examples:

  • I am being approached by a huge firm for a job.
  • We are being fed the answer.
  • The man in the black shorts is being thrown in the air.
  • He was being beaten brutally.
  • They were being taught self-defense.

‘BEEN’

has beenhave beenhad been

The verb ‘BEEN’ is followed by either a present participle (V1+ing) or a past participle (V3). It is followed by a present participle in the Present Perfect Continuous tense and the Past Perfect Continuous tense in active voice and a past participle in the Present Perfect tense (passive voice) and the Past Perfect tense (passive voice).

STRUCTURE 1: Subject + BEEN + present participle (V1+ing)

Examples:

  • He has been working here since 2014.
  • We have been teaching for 3 years.
  • Jon had been waiting for you before the cab arrived.

STRUCTURE 2: Subject + BEEN + past participle (V3)

Examples:

  • He has been selected for the job.
  • They have been killed in an accident.
  • I had been fired from the job.

Note that these sentences are in the passive voice. The speaker is not focusing on who has/had performed the action. The focus is on the receiver of the action: the object.

‘DO’

dodoesdid

The verbs ‘do’ and ‘does’ are used in the Simple Present tense, and the verb ‘did’ is used in the Simple Past tense.

Examples:

  • You do not know me well. (negative)
  • I did not play football in school. (negative)
  • Does he sing? (question)
  • Do you want to eat something?
  • Did you complete the study you were working on?

NOTE: DO, DOES, & DID are sometimes used to put emphasize on the action.

  • I do love you.
  • She did call me last night.
  • He does smoke. You just don’t about it.

‘HAVE’

hashavehad

The verbs (has, have, & had) are followed by a past participle. They are used in the Present Perfect tense.

Examples:

  • You have helped me a lot.
  • Sam has gone to his uncle’s?
  • The train had left when we reached the station.

Modal auxiliary verbs

Modal auxiliary verbs are helping verbs that are used to indicate certainty, possibility, obligation, request, or permission. They are followed by a base form of a verb (V1).

Structure: subject + modal verb + V1

Here are the 9 modal auxiliary verbs in English:

  • can
  • could
  • may
  • might
  • must
  • should
  • would
  • will
  • shall

CAN

The modal verb ‘can’ is used for the following:

  • To indicate the ability (only the past)
  • To make a request
  • To ask for permission
  • To make an offer

Examples:

  • She can speak 4 languages. (ability)
  • Can you lend me some money? (request)
  • Can I date your daughter, sir? (permission)
  • Can I drop you somewhere? (offering help)

‘COULD’

  • Past ability or possibility
  • To make a request
  • To ask for permission

Examples:

  • We could win that match. (it was possible to win that match)
  • Could you share your number? (request)
  • Could I sit here? (permission)

‘MAY’

  • Possibility of a situation
  • To give permission
  • To ask for permission

Examples:

  • She may join us tonight. (possibility in the future)
  • Ron may be upset with you. (possibility in the present)
  • He may have missed the train. Just call him and check. (possibility in the past)
  • You may go home. I will get it done from Soham. (Giving permission)
  • May I use your bathroom? (taking permission)

‘MIGHT’

  • Possibility of a situation (lesson than MAY)
  • Conditional sentences
  • To offer a suggestion

Examples:

  • It might rain today. (possibility)
  • He might have gone to Rohan’s. He generally spends time with him when he is sad. (possibility in the past)
  • We might have to take a bus. (suggestion)
  • If you had apologized to her, she might have forgiven you. (conditional sentence)

‘MUST’

  • To indicate an obligation/necessity
  • To give a strong recommendation
  • To offer advice
  • To indicate a possibility

Examples:

  • We must have the guest pass to meet Dr. Shelly. (necessary)
  • You must try the lemon soda from this place. It is heavenly. (strong recommendation)
  • Jon must stop hanging out with those people. (advice)
  • Your bike keys are not on the table. Your brother must have taken them. (possibility)

‘SHOULD’

  • To offer advice
  • To make a recommendation
  • To give your opinion
  • To indicate obligation or duty

Examples:

  • You should start meditating. It will change your life. (advice)
  • You should try the Chinese food here. I have heard a lot about it. (recommendation)
  • We should allow our kids to do what they are passionate about. (opinion)
  • He should be at work right now. (duty)

‘WOULD’

  • To express a desire
  • To make a polite request
  • To offer something politely
  • Repeated actions in the past
  • Conditional sentences (unreal)

Examples:

  • I would love to work with Jon. (desire)
  • Would you mind helping me with this project? (request)
  • Would you like some coffee? (offer)
  • My younger sister would cry for toys. (repeated past action)
  • If we had enough money, we would start our business. (conditional sentence)

‘WILL’

  • To indicate a future plan
  • To make a promise
  • To make a threat
  • To make a prediction

Examples:

  • I will drop the next video tomorrow. (future plan)
  • Don’t worry. I will not tell this anyone. (promise)
  • He will turn us in to the principal. (threat)
  • India will win the next match. (prediction)

‘SHALL’

The modal verb ‘shall’ is not used a lot in modern English. But we still use ‘shall’ for the following:

  • To indicate a future plan
  • To offer help
  • To seek advice

Examples:

  • We shall leave today. (future plan)
  • Shall I get you something to eat? (offer help)
  • Shall we call the police or talk to the man who is troubling her? (seeking advice)

Helping verbs and verb phrases

When a helping verb is paired with a main verb, the entire combination is called a verb phrase in English. A verb phrase is a combination of one or more helping verbs and the main verb. Here are some examples of verb phrases to study:

Examples:

  • They are eating dinner.
  • Ron was talking to a dog last night.
  • It must have been difficult to live away from her.
  • You are welcomed here.
  • I am being approached by a huge firm for a job.
  • He has been working here since 2014.
  • I did not play football in school.
  • She did call me last night.
  • You have helped me a lot.
  • He might have gone to Rohan’s.

Note that the main verbs are bold (in black), and the helping verb(s) is in the red.

Congratulations! You have mastered the helping verbs in English. Be sure to practice using these verbs effectively.

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