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What Are Helping Verbs? (with Examples)A helping verb (which is also known as an auxiliary verb) sits before a main verb to help express the main verb's mood, tense, or voice.
Be, do, and have are the most common helping verbs. You will see them in these forms:
Be: am, is, are, was, were, being, been
Do: does, do, did
Have: has, have, had, having
Modal helping verbs (or modal auxiliary verbs as they are more commonly called) are also helping verbs. The modal auxiliary verbs are can, could, may, might, must, ought to, shall, should, will, and would. (These never change their forms.)
Examples of Helping VerbsHere are some examples of helping verbs expressing tense (main verbs in bold):
- She has been writing since breakfast.
- They were waiting for a bus with a good-looking driver.
- Johnathan will have sung by then.
- Your dinner has been given to the dog.
- The phone will be connected tomorrow.
- If she should arrive, ask her to stand at the back.
- If he were to arrive in the next hour, they would still take the bet.
Helping Verbs and Verb PhrasesA verb phrase is made up of the helping verb(s) and the main verb. In the examples below, the verb phrase is shaded with main verb in bold:
- They have been drinking since breakfast.
- Lee is fishing for mackerel.
- They have been drinking heavily since breakfast. (The adverb heavily is not part of the verb phrase.)
- Lee is definitely fishing for mackerel. (The adverb definitely is not part of the verb phrase.)
Click on the helping verbs:
CAN AND MAYRemember, can is used for capability, and may is used for permission.
Younger sister: Can I listen to your CDs when you're out this evening?|
Older sister: You can, but don't step foot in my bedroom.
Younger sister: May I listen to your CDs when you're out this evening?|
Older sister: No.
Nowadays, can and may are used interchangably. This ruling is only for the grammatically pure!
Read more about can and may.