This week’s blog is based on auxiliary verbs. In English there are two types of auxiliary verb, primary auxiliaries and modal auxiliaries.

The three primary auxiliary verbs are ‘be’, ‘have’ and ‘do’. There are ten common modal auxiliary verbs and they are ‘can’, ‘could’, ‘will’, ‘would’, ‘shall’, ‘should’, ‘may’, ‘might’, ‘must’ and ‘ought’.

Modal auxiliary verbs often express the ideas of necessity and possibility.

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We use the primary auxiliary ‘do’ for the present simple and the past simple and we generally only use it in questions and negative sentences. It isn’t commonly used in positive sentences. For example we say “do you have a pen, please?” “Yes, I have a pen” or “no, I don’t have a pen”. “Does he play football”? “Yes he plays football” or “no, he doesn’t play football”.

We use the primary auxiliary ‘have’ to form the perfect tenses. We say “I have eaten some chocolate” or “he has been to Sevilla”. We could also say “I have been sitting here for ten minutes”. Remember each perfect tense has a different use. For example we use the present perfect when we are thinking about the time before and up to now, we use the past perfect when we are thinking about the time before and up to a point in the past and we use the future perfect when we are thinking about the time before and up to a point in the future. We use the perfect continuous tenses to communicate the duration of an action up to a point in time.

The primary auxiliary ‘be’ is used to form the continuous tenses and the passive voice. For example we say “I am speaking to you now”, which is a sentence in the present continuous. In the passive voice the verb ‘be’ tells us when the action happened. For example if I say, “the window is being opened by him” we know that the action is happening now because the verb ‘be’ is in the present continuous tense.

Modal auxiliaries are used to express necessity and possibility. When we say “I could be free at seven o’ clock this evening”, it means there is a possibility that I will be free at seven o’ clock this evening.

If I say “you must study, if you want to pass the exam”, it communicates that there is a necessity for you to study in order to pass the exam.

We use the modal auxiliary ‘can’ to communicate the ability to do something, for example “I can speak English”. When we use the first conditional tense and say, for example, “you can go out to play with your friends, if you eat all your dinner”, we are expressing the possibility of being allowed outside to play on the condition that first you eat all your dinner.

We use ‘shall’ when we are making a suggestion with the pronouns ‘I’ and ‘we’, instead of using the auxiliary ‘will’. For example we say “shall we go for a walk”? “Shall I take the rubbish out”? We can also use ‘shall’ to ask for a suggestion, for example “where shall we go this weekend?”

We can use ‘should’ to communicate probability. For example if we say “he should be in the office”, it means there is a probability that he is in his office. We can also use ‘ought’ instead of ‘should’ because they mean the same thing, but we follow ‘ought’ with the infinitive with ‘to’. For example “I ought to finish my homework”.

‘May’ and ‘might’ express possibility too. If we say “he might be from England”, it means he is possibly from England. If we say “she may have gone home”, it means that there is a possibility she has gone home.

The auxiliary ‘will’ is used to express the future. For example “I will take the exam today”. We use the auxiliary ‘would’ in conditional sentences. For example “if I went to the beach, I would swim in the sea”.

Remember that after an auxiliary verb we use the infinitive without ‘to’, except the auxiliary ‘ought’. For example we say “I must go”, not “I must to go”, but we say “I ought to watch the film”, not “I ought watch the film”.

Practise using primary and modal auxiliaries.


G. Harman

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