Auxiliary verb
In linguistics
Linguistics is the scientific study of human language. Linguistics can be broadly broken into three categories or subfields of study: language form, language meaning, and language in context....

, an auxiliary verb is a verb
A verb, from the Latin verbum meaning word, is a word that in syntax conveys an action , or a state of being . In the usual description of English, the basic form, with or without the particle to, is the infinitive...

 that gives further semantic
Semantics is the study of meaning. It focuses on the relation between signifiers, such as words, phrases, signs and symbols, and what they stand for, their denotata....

 or syntactic
In linguistics, syntax is the study of the principles and rules for constructing phrases and sentences in natural languages....

 information about a main or full verb. In English
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

, the extra meaning provided by an auxiliary verb alters the basic meaning of the main verb to make it have one or more of the following functions: passive voice
Voice (grammar)
In grammar, the voice of a verb describes the relationship between the action that the verb expresses and the participants identified by its arguments . When the subject is the agent or doer of the action, the verb is in the active voice...

, progressive aspect, perfect aspect
Perfect aspect
In linguistics, the perfect , occasionally called the retrospective to avoid confusion with the perfective aspect, is a combination of aspect and tense that calls a listener's attention to the consequences, at some time of perspective , generated by a prior situation, rather than just to the...

, modality
Linguistic modality
In linguistics, modality is what allows speakers to evaluate a proposition relative to a set of other propositions.In standard formal approaches to modality, an utterance expressing modality can always roughly be paraphrased to fit the following template:...

, or emphasis. It is also called helping verb, helper verb, auxiliary verb, or verbal auxiliary, and abbreviated .

In English, every clause
In grammar, a clause is the smallest grammatical unit that can express a complete proposition. In some languages it may be a pair or group of words that consists of a subject and a predicate, although in other languages in certain clauses the subject may not appear explicitly as a noun phrase,...

 has a finite verb
Finite verb
A finite verb is a verb that is inflected for person and for tense according to the rules and categories of the languages in which it occurs. Finite verbs can form independent clauses, which can stand on their own as complete sentences....

 which consists of a main verb (a non-auxiliary verb) and optionally one or more auxiliary verbs, each of which is a separate word. Examples of finite verbs include write (no auxiliary verb), have written (one auxiliary verb), and have been written (two auxiliary verbs). Many languages, including English, feature some verbs that can act either as auxiliary or as main verbs, such as be ("I am writing a letter" vs "I am a postman") and have ("I have written a letter" vs "I have a letter"). In the case of be, it is sometimes ambiguous whether it is auxiliary or not; for example, "the ice cream was melted" could mean either "something melted the ice cream" (in which case melt would be the main verb) or "the ice cream was mostly liquid" (in which case be would be the main verb).

The primary auxiliary verbs in English are to be and to have; other major ones include shall, will, may and can.

Passive voice

The auxiliary verb be is used with a past participle to form the passive voice
Passive voice
Passive voice is a grammatical voice common in many of the world's languages. Passive is used in a clause whose subject expresses the theme or patient of the main verb. That is, the subject undergoes an action or has its state changed. A sentence whose theme is marked as grammatical subject is...

; for example, the clause "the door was opened" implies that someone (or something) opened it, without stating who (or what) it was. Because many past participles are also stative adjectives, the passive voice can sometimes be ambiguous; for example, "at 8:25, the window was closed" can be a passive-voice sentence meaning, "at 8:25, someone closed the window", or a non-passive-voice sentence meaning "at 8:25, the window was not open". Perhaps because of this ambiguity, the verb get is sometimes used colloquially instead of be in forming the passive voice, "at 8:25, the window got closed."

Progressive aspect

The auxiliary verb be is used with a present participle to form the progressive aspect; for example, "I am riding my bicycle" describes what the subject is doing at the given (in this case present) time without indicating completion, whereas "I ride my bicycle" is a temporally broader statement referring to something that occurs habitually in the past, present, and future. Similarly, "I was riding my bicycle" refers to the ongoing nature of what I was doing in the past, without viewing it in its entirety through completion, whereas "I rode my bicycle" refers either to a single past act viewed in its entirety through completion or to a past act that occurred habitually.

Perfect aspect

The auxiliary verb have is used with a past participle to indicate perfect aspect: a current state experienced by the subject as a result of a past action or state. For example, in "I have visited Paris" the current state is one of having a Paris visit in one's past, while the past action is visiting Paris. The past action may be ongoing, as in "I have been studying all night". An example involving the result of a past state rather than a past action is "I have known that for a long time", in which the past state still exists (I still know it) along with the resultant state (I am someone who knew that at some past time). An example involving the result of a past state that no longer exists is "I have felt bad in the past, but not recently". The alternative use of had instead of have places the perspective from which the resultant state is viewed in the past: "By 1985 I had visited Paris" describes the 1985 state of having a prior Paris visit.


Linguistic modality
In linguistics, modality is what allows speakers to evaluate a proposition relative to a set of other propositions.In standard formal approaches to modality, an utterance expressing modality can always roughly be paraphrased to fit the following template:...

 means the attitude of the speaker to the action or state being expressed, in terms of either degree of probability ("The sun must be down already", "The sun should be down already", "The sun may be down already", "The sun might be down already"), ability ("I can speak French"), or permission or obligation ("You must go now", "You should go now", "You may go now"). See modal verb
Modal verb
A modal verb is a type of auxiliary verb that is used to indicate modality -- that is, likelihood, ability, permission, and obligation...

 and English modal verb.

Dummy function

Do, does, or did plays a dummy (place-filling) role in transforming affirmative sentences with simple (one-word) verbs into questions or negatives. If an affirmative statement has a two-word verb (auxiliary plus main verb), a question is formed by inverting the order of the subject and the auxiliary, and a negative is formed by inserting "not" between the auxiliary and the main verb. But in the absence of an auxiliary verb, the dummy "do" is inserted as an auxiliary for either of these purposes: for example, "I go" → "Do I go?", "I do not go"; "He goes" → "Does he go?", "He does not go"; "I went" → "Did I go?", "I did not go".


The auxiliaries do, does, and did are also used for emphasis in positive declarative statements in which the verb otherwise contains only one word: "I do like this shirt!", "He does like this shirt", "I did like that shirt".

Properties of the English auxiliary verb


Auxiliaries take not (or n't) to form the negative, e.g. cannot (can’t), will not (won’t), should not (shouldn’t), etc. In certain tenses, in questions, when a contracted auxiliary verb can be used, the position of the negative particle n't moves from the main verb to the auxiliary: cf. Does it not work? and Doesn't it work?.


Auxiliaries can appear alone where a main verb has been omitted, but is understood:
  • "I will go, but she will not."

The verb do can act as a pro-VP (or occasionally a pro-verb
In grammar, a pro-verb is a word or phrase that stands in place of a verb . It does for a verb what the more widely known pronoun does for a noun. It, along with pronouns and some other word classes, form the general group of word classes pro-forms. It is a type of anaphora...

) to avoid repetition:
  • "John never sings in the kitchen, but Mary does."
  • "John never sings in the kitchen, but Mary does in the shower."

Tag questions

Auxiliaries can be repeated at the end of a sentence, with negation added or removed, to form a tag question
Tag question
A question tag or tag question is a grammatical structure in which a declarative statement or an imperative is turned into a question by adding an interrogative fragment . For example, in the sentence "You're John, aren't you?", the statement "You're John" is turned into a question by the tag...

. In the event that the sentence did not use an auxiliary verb, a dummy auxiliary (a form of do) is used instead:
  • "You will come, won't you?"
  • "You ate, didn't you?"
  • "You won't (will not) come, will you?"
  • "You didn't (did not) eat, did you?"
  • "You (do) know how to dance, don't you?"

Similar negative auxiliary verbs are found in Nivkh
Nivkh language
Nivkh or Gilyak is a language spoken in Outer Manchuria, in the basin of the Amgun , along the lower reaches of the Amur itself, and on the northern half of Sakhalin. 'Gilyak' is the Manchu appellation...

 and the Salish
Salishan languages
The Salishan languages are a group of languages of the Pacific Northwest...

 and Chimakuan languages
Chimakuan languages
The Chimakuan language family consists of two languages spoken in northwestern Washington, USA on the Olympic Peninsula. It is part of the Mosan sprachbund, and one of its languages is famous for having no nasal consonants...

 formerly spoken in northwestern North America. Salish and Chimakuan languages also have interrogative auxiliary verbs that form questions in the same manner as negative verbs do negated statements.

Non-Indo-European languages

In many non-Indo-European languages, the functions of auxiliary verbs are largely or entirely replaced by suffix
In linguistics, a suffix is an affix which is placed after the stem of a word. Common examples are case endings, which indicate the grammatical case of nouns or adjectives, and verb endings, which form the conjugation of verbs...

es on the main verb. This is especially true of epistemic possibility
Epistemic possibility
In philosophy and modal logic, epistemic possibility relates a statement under consideration to the current state of our knowledge about the actual world: a statement is said to be:* epistemically possible if it may be true, for all we know...

 and necessity verbs, but extends to situational possibility and necessity verbs in many indigenous languages of North America, indigenous Australian languages and Papuan languages
Papuan languages
The Papuan languages are those languages of the western Pacific which are neither Austronesian nor Australian. The term does not presuppose a genetic relationship. The concept of Papuan peoples as distinct from Melanesians was first suggested and named by Sidney Herbert Ray in 1892.-The...

 of New Guinea.

Hawaiian Creole English

In Hawaiian Creole English, a creole language
Creole language
A creole language, or simply a creole, is a stable natural language developed from the mixing of parent languages; creoles differ from pidgins in that they have been nativized by children as their primary language, making them have features of natural languages that are normally missing from...

 based on a vocabulary drawn largely from English, auxiliaries are used for any of tense, aspect, and modality expression. The preverbal auxiliary wen indicates past tense (Ai wen see om "I saw him"). The future marker is the preverbal auxiliary gon or goin "am/is/are going to": gon bai "is going to buy". These tense markers indicate relative tense: that is, past or future time relative to some benchmark that may or may not be the speaker's present (e.g., Da gai sed hi gon fiks mi ap "the guy said he [was] gonna fix me up". There are various preverbal modal auxiliaries: kaen "can", laik "want to", gata "have got to", haeftu "have to", baeta "had better", sapostu "am/is/are supposed to". Waz "was" can indicate past tense before the future marker gon and the modal sapostu: Ai waz gon lift weits "I was gonna lift weights"; Ai waz sapostu go "I was supposed to go". There is a preverbal auxiliary yustu for past tense habitual aspect : yustu tink so "used to think so". The progressive aspect can be marked with the auxiliary ste in place of or in addition to the verbal suffix -in: Wat yu ste it? = Wat yu itin? "What are you eating?" Ste can alternatively indicate perfective aspect
Perfective aspect
The perfective aspect , sometimes called the aoristic aspect, is a grammatical aspect used to describe a situation viewed as a simple whole, whether that situation occurs in the past, present, or future. The perfective aspect is equivalent to the aspectual component of past perfective forms...

: Ai ste kuk da stu awredi "I cooked the stew already". Stat is an auxiliary for inchoative aspect when combined with the verbal suffix -in: gon stat plein "gonna start playing". The auxiliary pau without the verbal suffix indicates completion: pau tich "finish(ed) teaching". Aspect auxiliaries can co-occur with tense-marking auxiliaries: gon ste plei "gonna be playing"; wen ste it "was eating".


Hawaiian grammar
-Syntax:Hawaiian is a predominantly verb–subject–object language. One exception is if the sentence has a negative mood and the subject is a pronoun, in which case word order is subject–verb–object instead...

is an isolating language
Isolating language
An isolating language is a type of language with a low morpheme-per-word ratio — in the extreme case of an isolating language words are composed of a single morpheme...

, so its verbal grammar exclusively relies on unconjugated auxiliary verbs. It has indicative and imperative moods, the imperative indicated by e + verb (or in the negative by mai + verb). In the indicative its verbs can optionally be marked by ua + verb (perfective aspect
Perfective aspect
The perfective aspect , sometimes called the aoristic aspect, is a grammatical aspect used to describe a situation viewed as a simple whole, whether that situation occurs in the past, present, or future. The perfective aspect is equivalent to the aspectual component of past perfective forms...

, but frequently replaced by the unmarked form); ke + verb + nei (present tense progressive aspect; very frequently used); and e + verb + ana (imperfective aspect, especially for non-present time).

Mandarin Chinese

In Mandarin Chinese, another isolating language, auxiliary verbs are distinguished from adverbs in that (1) yes-no questions can be answered with subject + auxiliary (e.g., Nǐ néng lái ma? Wǒ néng "Can you come? I can" is correct) but not with subject + adverb (e.g., Nǐ yídìng lái ma? Wǒ yídìng "Will you definitely come? I definitely" is incorrect), and (2) an auxiliary but not an adverb can be used in the yes-or-no construction verb + "not" + verb (as in Nǐ néng bu néng lái? "you can not can come?").

In Mandarin the auxiliary verbs have six properties that distinguish them from main verbs::
  • They must co-occur with a verb (or an understood verb).
  • They cannot be accompanied by aspect markers.
  • They cannot be modified by intensifiers such as "very".
  • They cannot be nominalized (used in phrases meaning, for example, "one who can")
  • They cannot occur before the subject.
  • They cannot take a direct object.

The auxiliary verbs in Mandarin include three meaning "should", four meaning "be able to", two meaning "have permission to", one meaning "dare", one meaning "be willing to", four meaning "have to", and one meaning either "will" or "know how".

See also

  • Compound verb
    Compound verb
    In linguistics, a compound verb or complex predicate is a multi-word compound that acts as a single verb. One component of the compound is a light verb or vector, which carries any inflections, indicating tense, mood, or aspect, but provides only fine shades of meaning...

  • Copula
  • English modal verb
  • English verbs
    English verbs
    Verbs in the English language are a part of speech and typically describe an action, an event, or a state.While English has many irregular verbs , for the regular ones the conjugation rules are quite straightforward...

  • Irregular verb
    Irregular verb
    In contrast to regular verbs, irregular verbs are those verbs that fall outside the standard patterns of conjugation in the languages in which they occur. The idea of an irregular verb is important in second language acquisition, where the verb paradigms of a foreign language are learned...

  • Tense–aspect–mood
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