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I’m Seonaid and I hope you like the website. Please contact me if you have any questions or comments. Auxiliary verbs usually accompany a main verb. The main verb provides the main semantic content of the clause. I have finished my dinner. Some sentences contain a chain of two or more auxiliary verbs.
I have taken your pencil. That was said many times. We are hosted by a friend. Auxiliaries like these typically appear with a full verb that carries the main semantic content of the clause.
They typically appear together with a main verb. The auxiliary is said to “help” the main verb. They are often among the most frequently occurring verbs in a language. Definitions of auxiliary verbs are not always consistent across languages, or even among authors discussing the same language. In the case of English, verbs are often identified as auxiliaries based on their grammatical behavior, as described below.
The following sections consider auxiliary verbs in English. 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. 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. A third diagnostic that can be used for identifying auxiliary verbs is verb phrase ellipsis. Auxiliary verbs can introduce verb phrase ellipsis, but main verbs cannot. The literature on auxiliary verbs is somewhat inconsistent in this area.
There are also some properties that some but not all auxiliary verbs have. Their presence can be used to conclude that the verb is an auxiliary, but their absence does not guarantee the converse. One such property is to have the same form in the present tense, also for the first and the third person singular. The two are similar insofar as both verb types contribute mainly just functional information to the clauses in which they appear.
When they are light verbs, they fail the inversion and negation diagnostics for auxiliaries, e. Sometimes the distinction between auxiliary verbs and light verbs is overlooked or confused. Most clauses contain at least one main verb, and they can contain zero, one, two, three, or perhaps even more auxiliary verbs. The auxiliary verbs are in bold and the main verb is underlined. A single finite clause can contain more than three auxiliary verbs, e. Viewing this sentence as consisting of a single finite clause, there are five auxiliary verbs and two main verbs present. The hierarchy of functional categories is always the same.
The verbs expressing modality appear immediately above the verbs expressing aspect, and the verbs expressing aspect appear immediately above the verbs expressing voice. English allows clauses with both perfect and progressive aspect. When this occurs, perfect aspect is superior to progressive aspect, e. Fowler’s Modern English Usage, p. In Handbook of English Linguistics. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.