Share quotes from famous books or tips for budding writers.

List of Helping Verbs - Meaning, Purpose, and Examples

Helping Verbs List
Helping verbs are an important part of English grammar basics. This article will help you understand helping verbs and their usage in sentences.
Aishwarya Nirmal
Last Updated: Feb 14, 2018
Helping verbs, popularly known as auxiliary verbs, are words that occur in the sentence along with the main verb, to give a better idea of the tense of the sentence. Helping verbs enhance the quality and meaning of the sentence to a great extent. The user can definitely tell about the actions if the proper helping verb is used to complement the main verb. In short, a helping verb can specify the link or relation between the verb (action) and the time (tense). The following helping verbs list and examples will shed some light on the usage of helping verbs in the context of rules of English grammar.
The purpose of auxiliary verbs is to help the action verbs. The latter are the verbs that describe what the subject of the sentence is doing. For example, 'A person is crying/standing/eating. Here, crying, standing and eating are the actions. Most of the time, helping verbs are not alone. They accompany the action verbs and help in defining or changing the meaning of the sentence. E.g. 'We were waiting for you at the mall.' On the other hand, linking verbs are those verbs that do not express any action. For example, 'She is my friend'. Here 'is' the verb that links the subject 'she' to the complement 'my friend'. Sometimes, it becomes difficult to distinguish between a linking verb and a helping verb. For example, 'Julia was dancing with Bill at the party'. To determine that the 'to be' verb in this case is a helping verb, you need to see whether the 'to be' verb precedes the 'action verb'. In this case, the 'to be' verb is 'was' and the action verb is 'dancing'. That means, 'was' is an auxiliary verb that is helping the action verb 'dancing' to define time of the action.
In all, there are 23 helping verbs in English language. These helping verbs further fall into two subcategories namely, primary helping verbs and modal helping verbs.
Primary Helping Verbs
Primary helping verbs are those verbs that can also be used as main verbs in a sentence. The sentence makes complete sense even if any one of these verbs is used without any other verb acting as the main verb; provided they are used in a grammatically correct manner. It means that any one of the below specified verb can act as the main verb of the sentence.
be do have
is does had
are did has
am - -
were - -
was - -
being - -
been - -

Examples: Following are the sentences that will show how these words can be used as main verbs as well as helping verbs.
'be' as a main verb: To be in this position is a great honor.
'be' as a helping verb: It is an honor for me to be standing here with you.
In the first sentence, 'be' is acting as the main verb whereas in the second sentence, 'be' is acting as a helping verb to the main verb 'standing'. The same goes for all the forms of 'be', 'do' and 'have' verbs.
Modal Helping Verbs
Modal helping verbs are those verbs that can never be used as a main verb in a sentence. Modal verbs modify the meaning and tense of the sentence. Modal helping verbs help in directing some stress on the main verb and express the possibility or necessity of the action in the sentence. You will never find any of the following verbs occurring by themselves in a sentence; there will always be some main verb accompanying them.
may should will
might would can
must could shall

Examples: Following are the sentences that will show what effect these words produce when used with and without a main verb.
'may' as a helping verb: You may have a drink from the bottle.
'may' as a main verb: You may (?) a drink from the bottle.
In the above example, 'may' acts as a helping verb to the main verb 'have' (shows the use of the primary helping verb 'have' as the main verb in this sentence) whereas in the second sentence there is no main verb after the helping verb 'may', due to which the sentence does not make sense grammatically. The same rule applies to all modal helping verbs.
You may say that in the second sentence if you remove the article 'a', the sentence makes sense grammatically. So, let me bring it to your notice that due to the article 'a that comes before 'drink', the word 'drink' is acting as a noun in the sentence. If you remove the 'a' and make the sentence 'You may drink from the bottle.', the word 'drink' no more remains a noun and becomes the main verb of the sentence.
'may' as a helping verb: You may eat the pizza.
'may' as a main verb: You may (?) the pizza.
Here, the main verb 'eat' is a proper action and not a verb that can be used as a helping verb too. Again, in the second sentence there is no main verb due to which the sentence has become grammatically meaningless.
Verbs are one of the most important parts of speech of English grammar. Once you learn to implement the rules of grammar correctly, you can master the English language. Hope the helping verbs list as well as the examples and their explanations have been helpful to you in understanding the grammar related to verbs.