Auxiliary Verb - Auxiliary Verbs in English - A List of Auxiliaries in English

A List of Auxiliaries in English

A list of verbs that (can) function as auxiliaries in English is as follows:

be (am, are, is, was, were, being), can, could, dare*, do (does, did), have (has, had, having), may, might, must, need*, ought*, shall, should, will, would
* The status of dare, need (not), and ought (to) is debatable; and the use of these verbs as auxiliaries can vary across dialects of English.

If the negative forms can't, don't, won't, etc. are viewed as separate verbs (and not as contractions), then the number of auxiliaries increases. The verbs do and have can also function as full verbs or as light verbs, which can be a source of confusion about their status. The modal verbs (can, could, may, might, must, shall, should, will, would, and dare, need and ought when included) form a subclass of auxiliary verbs. Modal verbs are defective insofar as they cannot be inflected, nor do they appear as gerunds, infinitives, or participles.

The following table summarizes the auxiliary verbs in standard English and the meaning contribution to the clauses in which they appear. Many auxiliary verbs are listed more than once in the table based upon discernible differences in use.

Auxiliary verb Meaning contribution Example
be1 copula (= linking verb) She is the boss.
be2 progressive aspect He is sleeping.
be3 passive voice They were seen.
can1 deontic modality I can swim.
can2 epistemic modality Such things can help.
could1 deontic modality I could swim.
could2 epistemic modality That could help.
do do-support/emphasis You did not understand.
have perfect aspect They have understood.
may1 deontic modality May I stay?
may2 epistemic modality That may take place.
might epistemic modality We might give it a try.
must1 deontic modality You must not mock me.
must2 epistemic modality It must have rained.
shall deontic modality You shall not pass.
should1 deontic modality You should listen.
should2 epistemic modality That should help.
will epistemic modality We will eat pie.
would epistemic modality Nothing would accomplish that.

Deontic modality expresses an ability, necessity, or obligation that is associated with an agent subject. Epistemic modality expresses the speaker's assessment of reality or likelihood of reality. Distinguishing between the two types of modality can be difficult, since many sentences contain a modal verb that allows both interpretations.

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