Auxiliary verbs are also called helping verbs in English. This is because they are mainly used with the main verbs in structures. Auxiliary verbs are split in two (not, split ‘into’ two), namely the primary auxiliary verbs and the modal auxiliary verbs. This piece will, in the subsequent paragraphs, discuss the uses and functions of primary auxiliary verbs.
The primary auxiliary verbs have three major classes called: BE VERBS, DO VERBS and HAVE VERBS. The fascinating thing about the primary auxiliary verbs is that some of them can function as the main verbs in sentences because they can be used alone. The BE VERBS are: is, am, are, was, were, be, been, being. The first five (is, am, are, was, were) are finite verbs and can be used alone. ‘Be’ is mainly used before the preposition ‘to’ and is also deployed after a modal auxiliary verb, as seen below:
To be a man is not easy.
He is to be our guest tomorrow.
I will be with him later.
Moving on, ‘been’ and ‘being’ are non-finite verbs that have to be preceded by other verbs. ‘Being’ should be preceded by any of the finite forms of the BE VERBS (is, am, are, was, were) and ‘been’ is preceded by any of the finite forms of the HAVE VERBS (has, have, had), as exemplified in the following sentences:
He has being dancing since morning (non-standard).
He has been dancing since morning (standard).
He was been told what to do at all times (non-standard).
He was being told what to do at all times (standard).
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The DO VERBS are ‘does’, ‘do’, ‘did’, ‘doing’ and ‘done’. The singular present form is ‘does’, the plural present form is ‘do’ and the past form is ‘did’. Note that they can also be used alone in sentences, as main verbs. ‘Doing’ is the progressive form and ‘done’ is the past participle. These uses are exemplified in the sentences below:
He does not sit right.
They do not sit right.
He did not sit right.
They have done it right.
They have been doing it right.
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The HAVE VERBS are ‘has’, ‘have’, ‘had’ and ‘having’. The finite forms, (has, have and had) can function as the auxiliary verbs which they are, and they are also used alone as main verbs, especially in American English:
He has got so much to do (British English).
He has so much to do (American English).
The past and past participle form is ‘had’, whereas the progressive form is ‘having’. The general reader should note that ‘haven’ does not exist as one of the forms of the HAVE VERBS. This error is born out of the similarity of the word to lexical verbs such as ‘give’, which has the progressive form, ‘giving’, and the perfective form, ‘given’.
Giving your busy schedule, you may come tomorrow (non-standard).
Given your busy schedule, you may come tomorrow (standard).
Haven done the work, Kunle left the hall (non-standard).
Having done the work, Kunle left the hall (standard).
Moving on, there are important functions that auxiliary verbs perform in sentences/utterances, and the knowledge of these functions is essential to fluency. First, auxiliary verbs are introduced before the negator, not, to change a positive sentence to a negative sentence:
He likes rice.
He does not rice.
Also, auxiliary verbs are used to change affirmative sentences to questions. In this case, the auxiliary verb is placed before the subject of the clause or sentence:
The men come here often.
Do the men come here often?
Auxiliary verbs are also used to express emphasis. In such situations, the auxiliary verb, especially any of the DO VERBS, is placed just before the main verb to show emphasis. Note that the emphasis is complemented through phonological prominence, which means articulating the auxiliary verb emphatically:
They come regularly (regular affirmation).
They do come regularly (emphatic affirmation).
So you broke the glass (regular interrogation)?
So you did break the glass (emphatic interrogation)?
Further, auxiliary verbs are used as codes to avoid repetition in answering questions, as corroborated by the interactions below:
Speaker A: Who took the novel on my shelf?
Speaker B: Bisi took the novel on your shelf (conventional response).
Speaker B: Bisi did (code).
Lastly, auxiliary verbs are used to form tag questions to utterances:
He dances, doesn’t he?
They live here, don’t they?
In conclusion, this piece has elucidated the uses and functions of primary auxiliary verbs. A careful perusal would reveal that the knowledge of primary auxiliary verbs is crucial to fluency. The next treatise in this column will focus on modal auxiliary verbs.
© 2021 Ganiu Abisoye Bamgbose (Dr GAB)
Department of English,
Lagos State University