BE, HAVE and DO are auxiliary verbs. Auxiliary verbs are ‘helping verbs’ and are used to give more detail about the main verb.
- ‘BE’ is used with the Present Continuous tense of the main verb: “I am working”.
- “HAVE” is used with the Perfect tenses: “I have been working”, “I had been working”.
- “DO” is used to form the Interrogative; both positive and negative: “Do you work?” / “No, I don’t work”.
Things to note about auxiliary verbs:
- Auxiliary verbs can also be used as main verbs. i.e.
- I have had a lot of English lessons.. (HAVE is the auxiliary, HAD is the main verb.)
- How do I do this exercise? (The first DO is the auxiliary, the second DO is the main verb.)
- Auxiliary verbs CANNOT be used WITHOUT a main verb.
- Auxiliary verbs CANNOT be used WITH modal verbs. (See below.)
- Auxiliary verbs are used to form the interrogative (ask questions), and the negative.
- Auxiliary verbs are often used to change the tense of the main verb.
- Auxiliary verbs are irregular.
- BE = I am / you are / he, she, it is / we are / they are.
- HAVE = I have / you have / he, she, it has / we have / they have.
- DO = I do / you do / he, she, it does / we do / they do.
CAN, COULD / MAY, MIGHT, MUST / SHALL, SHOULD (OUGHT TO) / WILL, WOULD are the modal verbs (sometimes called ‘modal auxiliary’ verbs). They are also ‘helping verbs’, but unlike the three auxiliary verbs above, they cannot be used as main verbs.
- I can speak a little English. I could speak English if I studied more.
- I may learn to speak English. I might learn to speak it well. I must learn English.
- I shall learn to speak English. I should (ought to) learn it if I want a better job.
- I will learn to speak English. It would be easier if I did more of these lessons.
Things to note about modal verbs:
- Modal verbs do not add an ‘s’ to the third person singular. i.e. I can / you can / he, she, it can / we can / they can.
- Modal verbs don’t need the auxiliary DO to form the interrogative and negative. i.e. Can you speak English?
- Modal verbs don’t have an infinitive form (except BE ABLE TO and OUGHT TO)
- The verbs HAVE TO and NEED TO are known as ‘semi-modals’ because they don’t have all the same characteristics as the other modals.
Modal verbs in more detail:
- Can / Could are used for requests and to talk about the ability to do something.
- Can I go to the party, please? (Please allow me to go.)
- I can go to the party with you. (I am able to go.)
- May / Might are used for possibility / probability (improbability) and also for (polite) requests.
- John may come to the party. (He probably will).
- John might not come to the party. (He possibly won’t).
- May I come to the party, please? (Please ask me to come.)
- Shall / Should (Ought to) / Must – are used for degrees of obligation.
- Shall I come to the party with you? (Would you like me to?)
- Should I come to the party with you? (Do you think it would be a good idea?)
- Must I come to the party with you? (Is it an obligation?)
- Will / Would are used for predictions and conditionals.
- John will be at the party, I am sure of it. (Prediction)
- I would go to the party if John were going. (Conditional)