23 auxiliary verbs

The 23 verbs below are traditionally called ‘helping verbs,’ but linguist Geoffrey Pullum says we should stay away from the helping verb definition, so we will.

Pullum on Cambridge Grammar of the English Language

That said, please know that the words “helping verbs” and “auxiliary verbs” mean the same thing.

“Helping verbs” = “Auxiliary verbs”
“Auxiliary verbs” = “Helping verbs”

All other verbs are called lexical verbs.

THE AUXILIARY VERBS:
do
does
did
has
have
had
is
am
are
was
were
be
being
been
may
must
might
should
could
would
shall
will
can

CGEL says that need and dare can be used as either auxiliary or lexical verbs.


The two most important differences between auxiliary and lexical verbs occur in:

  • questions
  • not-statements
Auxiliary v. Lexical verbs in questions
Auxiliary verbs   Lexical verbs  
She is walking home.   She walks home.  
Is she walking home?   Walks she home?  WRONG
Subject & auxiliary switch places   Subject & lexical verb can’t change places  
    Does she walk home?
Must add auxiliary verb “does” in front of subject
 
Auxiliary v. Lexical verbs in ‘not’ statements
Auxiliary verb: has
“Not” is added after the
auxiliary verb:
  Lexical verb: brings
“Not” can’t be added after the
auxiliary verb:
 
Harry has brought his owl.   Harry brings his owl.
Harry has not brought his owl.   Harry brings not his owl. WRONG
    Harry does not bring his owl.
(must add “does” & place “not”
between “does” and the lexical verb)
 
Auxiliary verbs can form a contraction with ‘not’
Lexical verbs cannot form a contraction with ‘not’
do   don’t  
does   doesn’t  
did   didn’t  
has   hasn’t  
have   haven’t  
had   hadn’t  
is   isn’t  
am    
are   aren’t  
was   wasn’t  
were   weren’t
should   shouldn’t WRONG
Lexical verbs can’t form a contraction with ‘not’
Lexical verbs      
took   tookn’t WRONG
eat   eatn’t WRONG
see   seen’t WRONG

Here is Huddleston and Pullum’s definition of the auxiliary verb:

Auxiliary verb. A subclass of verb that prototypically marks tense, aspect, mood or voice. In English, auxiliaries can invert with the subject in interrogatives (Can you swim?), and have special primary negation forms (She hasn ‘t seen it).

AND SEE:
Huddleston & Pullum on auxiliary verbs
The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language
A short overview of English Syntax by Rodney Huddleston

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