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Helping verbs are used in a verb phrase (that is, with a second verb) to show tense or form a question or a negative.

Helping verbs are always followed by a second verb, and they show the perfect verb tenses, continuous/progressive verb tenses, and passive voice.

To show tense

The sentence pattern will be:

  1. Subject (noun, pronoun, or noun phrase)
  2. Helping verb
  3. Verb
  4. The rest of the sentence (adj, adv, noun, prepositional phrase, etc.)

To form a question

The sentence structure will be:

  1. Helping verb
  2. Subject (noun, pronoun, or noun phrase)
  3. Verb
  4. The rest of the sentence (adj, adv, noun, prepositional phrase, etc.)

Categories

There are three categories for helping verbs: “Do/be/have”, one-word modals, and two-word modals.

Do/Be/Have

These help other verbs make questions, negatives, and some verb tenses. Remember: Do, be, and have are helping verbs only when they are used with a second verb.

Do is a helping verb when it is used to indicate questions, negatives, and emphasis.

Be is a helping verb when it is used to form the continuous/progressive tense or to show passive voice.

HAVE is a helping verb when it is used to show the perfect verb tenses, or used to form a question.

These sentences are in question form. Do/Does/Did are used as helping verbs with Have to form these questions.

  • Do you have a car?
  • Does he have a car?
  • Did he have a car before?

Emphasis with Do

To respond to a statement like, “You don’t want to go to the park,” you may want to reply with great emphasis. Situations like that are perfect for using Do/Does/Did to indicate you really mean something.

In these sentences, Do/Does/Did are used with the verb Want.

  • I do want to go to the park.
  • He does want to go to the park.
  • They really did want to go to the park.

Negatives with Do

Do/Does/Did are used as helping verbs and the word Not to form a negative. In these sentences, they again are used with Want.

  • I do not want to go to the zoo.
  • He does not want to go to the zoo.
  • They did not want to go to the zoo.

Continuous tense with Be

These sentences use Am/Was/Will Be (forms of the verb Be) to form the continuous verb tense with the verb Helping.

  • I am helping Diane right now.
  • I was helping Diane when George paged me.
  • I will be helping Diane when George comes home.

Passive voice with Be

These sentences use Is/Was/Will Be with the verb Canceled to show passive voice.

  • The picnic is being canceled because of rain.
  • The picnic was canceled because of rain.
  • The picnic will be canceled because of rain.

Perfect tense with Have

These sentences use Have/Had with the verb Studied to show the perfect tense.

  • I have studied French for two years.
  • I had studied French for two years before I went to Paris.
  • I will have studied French for three years in August.

Questions with Have

Have is used with the verb Seen to make a question.

  • Have you seen that new movie yet?

Modals

Modals are a special kind of helping verb, used to show possibility, probability, and necessity. They:

  • Do not show tense
  • Do not follow subject/verb agreement
  • Do not add an “-s” in the third person singular (he, she, it)
  • Are not conjugated

Like other helping verbs, modals are always followed by a second verb. But the second verb follows a different conjugation pattern if a modal is present. The second verb can never add “-s,” “-es,” “-ed,” or “-ing.” It also cannot be in the infinitive form (“to …”) or in the gerund form (“…-ing”).

When using modals, the sentence structure will be:

  1. Subject (noun, pronoun, or noun phrase)
  2. Modal (should, would, could, may, might, etc.)
  3. Verb
  4. The rest of the sentence (adj, adv, noun, prepositional phrase, etc.)

The Modal page of this guide includes more information on modals, including sentence examples.

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