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Auxiliary verbs and modal auxilaries

Sometimes we can chose to use
verb forms, sometimes we must use an
form. Sometimes we can't use an

Some Questions

Image What is a modal auxilary? In the sentence Where did you go? is do an auxilary? Can we use went without an
'Where went you?'

Nine Modal auxiliaries
  1. can
  2. could
  3. may
  4. might
  5. shall
  6. should
  7. will
  8. would
  9. must

If there is only one verb in the verb phrase, it is the MAIN VERB. and not a modal auxiliary.
The form of an auxiliary verb, You can recognise an auxiliary verb by the form auxiliary + present simple verb.

Image NOTE: (a) Some verbs have an intermediate status between that of the main verbs and that of auxiliary verbs. They are called MODAL IDIOMS (had better, would rather, have got to, and be to) and SEMI-AuXIliARIES (be able to, be bound to, be going to, be supposed to, be about to, be due to, be likely to, have to and some others).
(b) Notice that in Did they believe you? The verb phrase Did believe is discontinuous. The verb phrase is similarly discontinuous in sentences such as They do not believe me and I can perhaps help you.
(c) Sometimes the main verb (and perhaps some other words too) is understood from the context, so that only auxiliaries are present in the verb phrase: I can't tell them, but you can. (ie can tell them'). Your parents may not have suspected anything, but your sister may have. (ie may have suspected something'). Sentences or clauses in which the main verb is missing but can be understood from the context are called elliptical. Ellipsis is common in English.
(d) There are also multi-word verbs, which consist of a verb and one or more other words, eg: turn on, look at, put up with, take place, take advantage of

Modal auxiliaries in verb groups

Modal auxiliary verbs are always part of a verb group.
She might beautiful." is clearly wrong. (She might be beautiful.)
Sometimes the main verb, and perhaps other words too, are implied and can be understood from the context.
"Yes, I can." only works in response to a question such as "Can You do that?" and so there is an 'implied' second verb which does not have to be re-stated. This is known as an ellipsis.

Marginal modal auxiliaries

  1. used to always takes the to-infinitive and occurs only in the past tense: She used to attend regularly. It is used both as an auxiliary and as a main verb with DO-support: He usedn't (or: used not) to smoke. (British English)
    He didn't use(d) to smoke. (British English and informal AmE)
    The normal interrogative construction is with DO-support, even in British English (British English). Did he use to drink? He used to drink, didn't he?
  2. Ought to normally has the to-infinitive, but the to is optional following ought in ellipsis:
    You oughtn't to smoke too much.
    A: Ought I to stop smoking?
    B: Yes, I think you ought (to).
    'Dare' and 'need' can be used either as modal auxiliaries (with bare infinitive and without the inflected forms) or as a main verb (with to-infinitive and with inflected -s, -ing, and past forms). The modal construction is restricted to nonassertive contexts, ie mainly negative and interrogative sentences, whereas the main verb construction can always be used, and is in fact more common.
  3. dare
    NOTE: Blends of the two constructions (modal auxiliary and main verb) are widely acceptable for 'dare':
    They do not dare ask for me. Do they dare ask for me?
  4. need

Rules for modal auxiliaries

  1. Modal auxiliaries are always the first verb of at least two verbs. I might go (Not, 'They could beautiful').
    Implied main verbs Can you (do that)? Yes I can (do that).
  2. Modals have only one form (No conjugation of 's' form for the third person).
  3. The verb following the modal auxiliary is a bare infinitive in the present simple form. (without to or -ing). For example: "She might be leaving soon."
    leaving is the main verb in the sentence, and might and be are auxiliaries:

The primary verbs BE, HAVE, and DO

  1. Be The verb be is a main verb (with a copular function; in other words it is not a helping verb - an auxiliary , but a linking one, linking the subject of the sentence with its complement) in:
    Ann is a happy girl. Is that building a hotel?
    But be also has two auxiliary functions: as an aspect auxiliary for the progressive :
    Ann is learning Spanish.
    The weather has been improving.
    As passive auxiliaries
    1. Ann was awarded a prize.
    2. Our team has never been beaten.

    Be is unique in having a full set of both finite and nonfinite forms in auxiliary function; it is also unique among English verbs in having as many as eight different forms (see 2. above).
    NOTE: There is a nonstandard contraction ain't used commonly (especially in the united States of America) in place of am not, is not, are not, has not, and have not. Aren't is the standard contraction for am not in questions (esp. in Bristish English). Aren't I tall?
    (b) There is a rare use of be as a perfect auxiliary with the verb go: The guests are (also have) gone.
  2. Have functions both as an auxiliary and as a main verb. As an auxiliary for perfect aspect, have combines with -ed participle to form complex verb phrases:
    I have finished. It must have been eaten.
    As a main verb, it normally takes a direct object: I have no money. In this sentence have has a stative sense.
    Note: (a) In stative senses, have is used (generally in rather formal style) as an operator, especially in British English. There is also the informal have got construction, which is frequently preferred (esp. in British English) as an alternative to stative have. In some stative sentences, we can therefore have three alternatives:
    1. We haven't any butter. ~ We have some.
    2. We haven't got any butter. ~ We have got (We've got) some.
    3. We don't have any butter. ~ We do have some.
    Of these, (a) is especially British (more formal); (b) is especially British English (informal); (c ) is American English, and also common now in British English. (b) In dynamic senses, have normally has DO-Support, and have got is not possible:
    A: Does he have coffee with his breakfast?
    B: Yes, he does.
  3. Do like be and have can be both an auxiliary and a main verb. As an auxiliary, do has no nonfinite forms, but only present and past forms. And used in negative and interrogative sentences
    As a main verb, do has a wide range of uses as a transitive verb:
    What are you doing? Let's do the dishes.

Verbs and auxiliaries understanding the verb

Major verb classes and verb forms

The term VERB is used in two senses:
  1. The verb is one of the elements in clause structure, like the subject and the object.
  2. A verb is a member of a word class, like a noun and an adjective.
The two senses are related in this way: A VERB pHRASE consists of one or more verbs (sense 2), eg linked, is making, can believe, might be leaving in the sentences below; the verb phrase operates as the verb (sense 1) in the clause, eg:
They linked hands.He is making a noise.
I can believe you.She might be leaving soon.

As a word class, verbs can be divided into three major categories, according to their function within the verb phrase: the open class of FuLL VERBS (or lexical verbs) and the very closed classes of primary verbs and modal auxiliary verbs. Since the primary verbs and modal auxiliary verbs are closed classes, we can list them in full. Full verbs Regular full verbs, eg: CALL, have four morphological forms:
  1. base form
  2. -s form
  3. -ing participle form
  4. -ed form.
Irregular full verbs vary in this respect; for example, the verb Speak has five forms, whereas CuT has only three. Since most verbs have the -ed inflection for both the simple past (They called) and the past participle or passive participle (They have called; They were called), we extend the term '-ed form' to cover these two sets of functions for all verbs.
In some irregular verbs, eg: SpEAK, there are two -ed forms with distinct syntactic functions: the past -ed form and the -ed participle. In other irregular verbs, eg: CuT, and in all regular verbs, eg: CALL, the two-ed syntactic forms are identical.
They spoke to me.They have spoken to me.
She cut herself.She has cut herself.
I called him.I have called him.

NOTE: Regular verbs are called such because if we know their base form (ie the dictionary entry form) we can predict their three other forms (-s, -ing, and -ed) by rule. The vast majority of English verbs are regular, and new words that are coined or borrowed from other languages adopt the regular pattern. The primary verb BE has eight forms: be, am, is, are, was, were, being, been.

The finite and nonfinite verb forms

Verb forms are either FINITE or NONFINITE. Finites are those which (a) can occur as the verb phrase of independent clauses as in I called early, I have called him.. (Compare: Calling early, she found him at home). (b) have tense contrast, as in eg: He is a journalist now. He worked as a travel agent last summer. (c) There is number concord between subject and the finite verb phrase: I am here, You were there, He goes, They go etc. (d) have mood: indicative, imperative and subjunctive. Verbs which lack these categories are called nonfinite. The -s form and the past form are always finite, whereas the -ing participle and the -ed participle are always nonfinite. The base form (the form which has no inflection) is sometimes finite, and sometimes nonfinite as in We read, we can read. (In the latter sentence 'read' is part of the finite verb phrase 'can read').

primary verbs and modal auxiliaries

Verbs as operators

Auxiliaries have one important syntactic function in common: they become the Operator when they occur as the first verb of a finite verb phrase. The main verb BE and (sometimes, especially in British English) the main verb HAVE are also operators when they are the only verb in the verb phrase (which in this case is of course finite). Eg. They were there. - Were they there? Some of the pupils have computers. Have some of the pupils computers? (This is not used in AmE). On the other hand, only the auxiliary DO is an operator (as in 'She does not know me'), not the main verb DO (as in 'She does a lot of work'). Operators share the following main characteristics:
  1. To negate a finite clause, we put "not" immediately after the operator.
    She may do it. - She may not do it.
  2. To form an interrogative clause, we put the operator in front of the subject (subject-operator inversion).
    He will speak first. - Will he speak first?
  3. The operator functions in a range of elliptical clauses where the rest of the predication is omitted. The clause is understood to repeat the omitted part.
    Won't you try it again? - Yes, I will.
If there is no operator in a corresponding positive declarative sentence, the dummy (or 'empty') operator DO is introduced:

The use of the operator DO is termed DO-Support. The main verbs BE and HAVE are operators in these sentences.

I haven't a car. (esp. British English). Is she your sister?

Characteristics of modal auxiliaries

Certain characteristics additional to those listed above apply specifically to modal auxiliaries:
  1. They are followed by the bare infinitive (ie the base form of the verb alone without a preceeding to).
    You will ask the question. They might have stolen it.
  2. They cannot appear in nonfinite functions, ie as infinitives or participles: may ~ *to may, *maying, *mayed. (Remember words, phrases, clauses etc. marked with an * (asterisk) - are not acceptable grammatically). In consequence they can occur only as the first verb in the verb phrase.
  3. They have no -s forms in the 3rd person singular of the present tense. Contrast:
    1. You must write. ~ She must write.
    2. You like to write ~ She likes to write.
  4. Their past forms can be used to refer to present and future time (often with a tentative meaning):
    I think he may/might be outside.
    Will/Would you phone him tomorrow?
    NOTE: The dummy auxiliary DO, like the modal auxiliaries, is followed by the bare infinitive and cannot occur in nonfinite functions. The primary auxiliaries BE, HAVE, and DO have an -s form, but it is irregular (is, has, and does respectively).

Verbs not used in progressive tenses

  1. I am hungry.
    But: You are being stupid. (meaning: you are not stupid in general but stupid just now.)
  2. VERBS OF SENSES: hear, taste, smell, see
    1. I hear a noise.
    2. This food tastes good.
    3. I smell gas.
    4. I see a butterfly.
    But: You will be hearing from me. (meaning: I will write or phone you.) The doctor is seeing a patient. (meaning: meeting with).
    1. know
    2. believe
    3. think
    4. understand
    5. recognise
    6. remember
    7. mean


    (e) I know his phone number
    (g) I believe his story (h) I think he is a kind man (meaning: believe). (i) I understand your problem now. (j) I don't recognise him. (k) I remember my first teacher. (l) I forget his name. (m) I mean this book, not that one.
    But: I am thinking about this grammar. (meaning: Certain thoughts are going through my mind right now.) I have been meaning to call you. (meaning: intending.)
  4. Verbs of Possession: possess, own, have, belong
    He possesses many fine qualities.
    She owns a house.
    He has a car.
    That belongs to me.
    But: I am having trouble. He is having a good time. (meaning: experiencing.)
  5. VERBS OF Attitude: want, prefer, need, appreciate, love, like, hate, dislike, seem, look, appear I want to leave now. (s) He prefers to stay here.
    I need some help. (u) I appreciate your help.
    I love my family. (w) I like this book.
    She hates dishonesty. (y) I dislike this book
    He seems to be a nice person.
    She looks cold. (meaning: seems to be.)
    He appears to be asleep. (meaning: seems to be.)
    But: I am looking out the window. (meaning: using my eyes to see.) The actor is appearing on the stage.
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