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Properties of auxiliaries and semi-auxiliaries

4.8 The NICE Properties of Auxiliaries

The so-called NICE properties of auxiliaries serve to distinguish them from main verbs. NICE is an acronym for: 




Auxiliaries take not or n't to form the negative, eg. cannot, don't, wouldn't


Auxiliaries invert with what precedes them when we form questions: 

[I will] see you soon ~[Will I] see you soon?


Auxiliaries may occur "stranded" where a main verb has been omitted: 

John never sings, but Mary does


Auxiliaries can be used for emphasis: 

I do like cheese



Main verbs do not exhibit these properties. For instance, when we form a question using a main verb, we cannot invert: 

[John sings] in the choir ~*[Sings John] in the choir? 

Instead, we have to use the auxiliary verb do

[John sings] in the choir ~[Does John sing] in the choir?  

4.9 Semi-auxiliaries

Among the auxiliary verbs, we distinguish a large number of multi-word verbs, which are called SEMI-AUXILIARIES. These are two-or three-word combinations, and they include the following: 



get to 
happen to 
have to 
mean to

seem to 
tend to 
turn out to 
used to

be about to 
be going to 
be likely to 
be supposed to



Like other auxiliaries, the semi-auxiliaries occur before main verbs: 

The film is about to start 

I'm going to interview the Lord Mayor 

I have to leave early today 

You are supposed to sign both forms 

I used to live in that house 

Some of these combinations may, of course, occur in other contexts in which they are not semi-auxiliaries. For example: 

I'm going to London 

Here, the combination is not a semi-auxiliary, since it does not occur with a main verb. In this sentence, going is a main verb. Notice that it could be replaced by another main verb such as travel (I'm travelling to London). The word 'm is the contracted form of am, the progressive auxiliary, and to, as we'll see later, is a preposition. 

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