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Auxiliary verb types


4.7 Auxiliary Verb Types

In this section we will give a brief account of of each type of auxiliary verb in English. There are five types in total: 

 

 

Passive be

This is used to form passive constructions, eg. 

The film was produced in Hollywood 

It has a corresponding present form:

The film is produced in Hollywood 
 

We will return to passives later, when we look at voice.

Progressive be

As the name suggests, the progressive expresses action in progress: 

The old lady is writing a play

It also has a past form:

The old lady was writing a play

Perfective have

The perfective auxiliary expresses an action accomplished in the past but retaining current relevance: 

She has broken her leg

(Compare: She broke her leg
 

Together with the progressive auxiliary, the perfective auxiliary encodes aspect, which we will look at later.

Modal can/could 
may/might 
shall/should 
will/would 
must

Modals express permission, ability, obligation, or prediction: 

You can have a sweet if you like 
He may arrive early 
Paul will be a footballer some day 
I really should leave now

Dummy Do 

This subclass contains only the verb do. It is used to form questions:

Do you like cheese?

to form negative statements:

I do not like cheese

and in giving orders:

Do not eat the cheese

Finally, dummy do can be used for emphasis:

I do like cheese 

 

 

An important difference between auxiliary verbs and main verbs is that auxiliaries never occur alone in a sentence. For instance, we cannot remove the main verb from a sentence, leaving only the auxiliary: 

 

 

I would like a new job

~*I would a new job

You should buy a new car

~*You should a new car

She must be crazy

~*She must crazy

 

 

Auxiliaries always occur with a main verb. On the other hand, main verbs can occur without an auxiliary. 
 

I like my new job 
I bought a new car 
She sings like a bird 

In some sentences, it may appear that an auxiliary does occur alone. This is especially true in responses to questions: 
 

Q. Can you sing?  
A. Yes, I can 

Here the auxiliary can does not really occur without a main verb, since the main verb -- sing -- is in the question. The response is understood to mean: 
 

Yes, I can sing 

This is known as ellipsis -- the main verb has been ellipted from the response.

Auxiliaries often appear in a shortened or contracted form, especially in informal contexts. For instance, auxiliary have is often shortened to 've
 

I have won the lottery    ~I've won the lottery 

These shortened forms are called enclitic forms. Sometimes different auxiliaries have the same enclitic forms, so you should distinguish carefully between them: 
 

I'd like a new job ( = modal auxiliary would
We'd already spent the money by then ( = perfective auxiliary had)  

He's been in there for ages ( = perfective auxiliary has
She's eating her lunch ( = progressive auxiliary is

The following exercise concentrates on three of the most important auxiliaries -- be, have, and do.


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