Helping Verbs: Definition, Types, Examples - Verbs Grammar

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What are Helping Verbs?

There is only one verb in many sentences, such as the first one in this article. It’s the main verb and describes the action in a sentence.

But other times, there are two verbs! For example, the second sentence in this article has two: are and explaining.

In this case, “explaining” (from “to explain”) is the main verb – that describes what’s happening. But “are” (from “to be”) is a helping verb. In this case, it makes the tense of the sentence present progressive.

Helping verbs can do many things in a sentence: they can change the verb tense, form questions, create passive voice, and more!

Helping verb example

Types of Helping Verbs

There are several different verbs that we can use as helping verbs. And they fall into 2 different categories.

Primary Helping Verbs

There are three main verbs that are used as helping verbs in English. Depending on the verb and how you use it, you can change the tense, voice, or mood of the main verb in your sentence.

These are the primary helping verbs:

  • To be: am/is/are, was/were, will be, being, been
  • To have: have/has, had, will have, having
  • To do: do/does, did, will do

Modal Verbs

The other type of helping verb is a modal verb or a modal auxiliary verb. These are very common in English, and they modify the meaning of the main verb.

In particular, they help us talk about future possibilities, permission, or things we need.

Here are the most common modal verbs in English:

  • can: I can help you with your homework.
  • could: Sean could go to the store, but he doesn’t want to.
  • may: you may leave now.
  • might: it might rain tomorrow.
  • must: you must tell your parents when you leave the house.
  • shall: we shall have a picnic this weekend if the weather is nice.
  • should: Harriet should tie her shoes, so she doesn’t trip.
  • will: this suitcase will hold a lot of clothes.
  • would: I would love to go to the Bahamas.

Also, modal verbs only have one form – you never conjugate them! However, you can make them negative.

For example:

  • I can’t come over to play today.
  • You shouldn’t walk in the rain.
  • Constantine wouldn’t like that.

Using Helping Verbs & Examples

We can use helping verbs to ask questions and make sentences negative.

Questions

In English, some questions use question words, such as why, how, or when. But yes/no questions, use helping verbs!

Yes/no questions use the helping verb “to do.” And you can use this to make either a positive or negative question.

For example:

  • Do you like chess?

In this question, "do" is the helping verb, and "like" is the main verb. Do is the word that turns a regular sentence into a question.

Regular sentences are in the indicative mood. However, questions are in an interrogative mood. So, helping verbs allow us to change the mood of a sentence.

Here are some other examples of helping verbs in questions:

  • Does she go to this school? 
  • Did he learn French? 
  • Don’t you want to eat at a restaurant tonight?
  • Didn’t Charlie leave class early?

Negation

Helping verbs also allow us to make sentences negative.

Look at these two examples:

  • My mom no like cats. (incorrect)
  • My mom doesn’t like cats. (correct)

The first sentence is wrong because we can’t just put “no” in front of the main verb to make it negative. We have to use the helping verb “to do”!

Here are more examples of negation with helping verbs:

  • Carlita doesn’t want to wear a dress today. 
  • I don’t go to school on Wednesdays. 
  • They don’t argue with the teacher.

You can also negative past tense sentences with the verb “to do.”

For example:

  • You didn’t eat your supper. 
  • We didn’t read that book.

Finally, you can use the helping verb “to do” to negate commands (imperative voice.)

For example:

  • Don’t put those clothes in the dryer. 
  • Don’t read these files.

Future Tense

To talk about the future in English, you must use a helping verb! In this case, it’s the modal verb “will.”

Here is an example of the future tense of the verb “to go."

  • I will go to the store.
  • You will go to the store.
  • He/she/it will go to the store.
  • We will go to the store.
  • They will go to the store.

You can make these constructions negative too. All you have to do is add “not,” either by itself or as part of a contraction.

Here are some examples:

  • Nikolas won’t fly to Mongolia next year.
  • They will not play with us this weekend.
  • I won’t pass the test tomorrow!

Perfect Tenses

You can make other tenses with helping verbs, too! For instance, all of the perfect tenses use the helping verb “to have.” (Because the future tense requires the modal verb “will,” the future perfect uses both “will” and “to have.”)

The perfect tenses help us talk about actions that are already completed. And there are present, past, and future perfect tenses.

Present perfect examples

  • I have finished my homework.
  • You have finished your homework.

Past perfect examples

  • I had finished my homework.
  • You had finished your homework.

Future perfect examples

  • I will have finished my homework.
  • You will have finished your homework.

Progressive Tenses

We use progressive tenses to talk about ongoing or continuous actions. We can also use them in the present, past, or future.

Like the perfect tenses, the progressive tenses use a helping verb – but they use the verb “to be” instead.

Present progressive examples

  • I am finishing my homework.
  • You are finishing your homework.
  • She is finishing her homework.

Past progressive examples

  • I was finishing my homework.
  • You were finishing your homework.
  • She was finishing her homework.

Future progressive examples

  • I will be finishing my homework. 
  • You will be finishing your homework. 
  • She will be finishing her homework.

Perfect Progressive Tenses

The perfect progressive tense is a little tricky because it combines the perfect and progressive tenses. We use it to talk about a continuous action that ends.

And because it’s a combination of two tenses, we use the helping verbs from both of them. First, there’s “to have,” and then the past participle of “to be” been.

It’s not a very common tense, but it’s still good to know what it means and how to use it.

Present perfect progressive examples

  • I have been finishing my homework.
  • You have been finishing your homework.
  • She has been finishing her homework.

Past perfect progressive examples

  • I had been finishing my homework.
  • You had been finishing your homework.
  • She had been finishing her homework.

Future perfect progressive examples

  • I will have been finishing my homework.
  • You will have been finishing your homework.
  • She will have been finishing her homework.

Passive Voice

Rather than changing the tense or mood of a sentence, we can use a helping verb to change the voice of the sentence.

If we want to change a sentence from active voice to passive voice, we add the helping verb “to be.”

This makes the subject of the sentence receive the action. (In an active sentence, the subject does the action.)

Here are some examples:

  • Sally ties her shoes. (active)
  • Sally’s shoes are tied. (passive)
  • Rowena loved her dog. (active)
  • The dog was loved. (passive)

Emphasis

If we want to stress an idea or opinion, we can use a helping verb for emphasis. In this case, we use the helping verb “to do.”

This is much more common in spoken English than in written English.

Here are some examples:

  • He does like chocolate a lot.
  • I do need you to clean your room today.

In Place of the Main Verb

If you have two identical main verbs in a single sentence, you can sometimes replace the second one with the helping verb “to do.”

Here are some examples: 

  • He walks slower than Sharon does
  • Carrie needs more help than we do.

Also, you can do this with modal verbs such as “will” or “can.” Essentially, you are avoiding repetition by leaving off part of the verb.

  • I will run this race faster than she will. (Instead of “I will run this race faster than she will run this race.”)
  • She can eat more cake than Hubert can. (Instead of “She can eat more cake than Hubert can eat.”)

Conclusion

Helping verbs help us a lot!

Only a few verbs work as helping verbs, but they can do many things. For instance, they can change a sentence from positive to negative, active to passive, indicative to interrogative, or go-between tenses. So, keep practicing your auxiliary verbs – they’ll help you a lot!

Also, check out the other pages on this site for more great grammar tips!