Business Writing Tip #60—Building Sentences: Auxiliary Verbs

Last time we looked at action verbs and linking verbs. In this post we’ll look at auxiliary, or helping, verbs.

Photo by Mandajuice. Creative Commons.

Photo by Mandajuice. Creative Commons.

Auxiliary verbs add something to the main verb. They always come before the main verb. The auxiliary verb and the main verb together are called the “complete verb” or a “verb phrase” (depending on what book you read). These verbs can show differences in meaning and can suggest the time at which the action of the verb takes place.

There are nine auxiliary verbs that are always helping verbs. These verbs are never the main verb. They can’t stand alone.

These nine verbs are:

May Might Must
Could Would Should
Can Will Shall

In the examples in this post the auxiliary verbs are in bold type, and the main verbs are underlined.

  • You should arrive at the meeting on time.
  • You will need help from the sales department to prepare the quarterly report.
  • You must use the fire stairs to exit the building if there is a fire.

As well as these nine verbs, there are three others which can be helping verbs, but which can also take the part of the main verb in a sentence.

These are ‘be’, ‘do’ and ‘have’.

Their forms are:

Be Is Are Was Were Be Being Been
Do Do Does Did
Have Has Have Had

Take a look at the following examples. In the first sentence of each pair the verb is performing the role of a main verb, and in the second sentence it’s an auxiliary verb.

  1. She was an excellent supervisor.
  2. The report was written by a committee formed with representatives from each department.


  1. He does everything you tell him to do, but he doesn’t ever take the initiative.
  2. When you push her, she does finish her work by the deadlines.


  1. They have enough space in their office to add an extra desk.
  2. They have participated in this introductory training course. Now they need to do the advanced one.

Until next time …

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