Grammar Helping Verbs: Examples of Helping Verbs |
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Helping Verbs: Examples of Helping Verbs

You may have heard of helping verbs, which are also referred to as modal and auxiliary verbs. In this discussion, we’ll review what a helping verb is and how it works with another verb.

What Is a Helping Verb?

A helping verb is a verb that combines with a main verb to form a verb phrase. Sometimes it is also called a verb marker, because it indicates that a verb is to follow.

In a sentence with one main verb in the simple present tense, it’s typically easy to identify the verb by looking for the action word. For example:

Jim walks quickly.

Walks is the action being performed by Jim, so that’s the main verb. But what if we want to express a different time (tense) of Jim’s activity? We need another verb to provide that information. In our example with Jim, let’s tell the reader more about his action by placing it in the present progressive tense to convey that he’s doing it right now:

Jim is walking quickly.

You see we now have two verbs. The main verb is walking. The word is has been added to “help” further describe the main verb. In this case, the helping verb (is) tells of the tense of the action (present progressive). Together, the helping verb and the main verb add clarity and context. If we say only Jim walks, that action can apply to any place and any time. By saying Jim is walking, we know his action is happening in this moment.

With that in mind, let’s change our helping verb for what we want the main verb to communicate. We’ll use a Type 1 conditional sentence with a possible condition and a probable result:

If he sees an ice cream truck at the end of the street, Jim will walk quickly.

The main verb is still walk, but our helping verb is now will to let the reader know the time of the action is in the future.

Three Common Helping Verbs

Once you understand the principle of helping verbs, finding and using them gets much easier. You can also begin to recognize many of their common forms, which can change depending on whether they are indicating a past, present, or future action. They can be singular or plural as well.

Here are some helping-verb varieties you probably use every day:

To be: is, am, are, was, were, will be

To have: have, has, had, will have

To do: do, does, did, will do

We were shopping at the mall yesterday.

Joan had been unaware of that until you informed her.

Chris will do what is required to make the delivery on time.

Let’s look at a few more examples:

The dog was eating the food in the bowl.

Janine has visited her mother.

If you’re wondering, Robert did rehearse for several weeks before opening night.

Other helping verbs you might see paired with main verbs include would, should, could, shall, may, might, and can.

Pop Quiz

Identify the helping verbs in the following sentences.

  1. Christy will be dancing at the wedding.
  2. Did you bake that cake on the counter?
  3. You have slept longer than usual today.
  4. I am flying to Cleveland next month.
  5. Bruce was seen by a specialist at the clinic.


Pop Quiz Answers

  1. Christy will be dancing at the wedding.
  2. Did you bake that cake on the counter?
  3. You have slept longer than usual today.
  4. I am flying to Cleveland next month.
  5. Bruce was seen by a specialist at the clinic.


Master Your Grammar One Tip at a Time

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9 responses to “Helping Verbs: Examples of Helping Verbs”

  1. Scot Young says:

    It is very important to be able to write and communicate effectively; however, it is not as easy as it may seem. I struggle and have struggled my entire life with writing and my oral communication skills. The articles and practice activities are useful in allowing me to improve my skills, but I know it will require a great deal of practice. I have reached out to family to help tutor me so I can be successful.

    • says:

      We agree that clear, well-expressed communication is an asset to all of us. It is also something we can all aspire to enhance with a little bit of patience, focus, and desire. We hope you continue to visit our website to further develop the areas of grammar and writing that matter to you.

  2. Stanley maheka says:

    Thanks for the explanation; it’s very clear and helpful.

  3. Jonathan Adjei says:

    Your explanation is very clear and understandable. Keep up the good work, and we will subscribe.

  4. Chinmayi says:

    Many of the officers_______ responded.

  5. Asmaa says:

    Thank you very much for your kind explanation in detail.

  6. Ellen Woods says:

    Can anyone give me an explanation that can be understood by an eight-year-old as to when to use a helping verb with past tense? For instance, why would I say, “Frances has visited his mother” instead of just “Frances visited his mother”?

    • says:

      “Frances visited his mother” is simple past tense. Past tense “visited” means he did it once and it’s completed. “Frances has visited his mother” is present perfect tense. “Has visited his mother” is more open-ended and less definite.
      Frances visited his mother (on Sunday).
      Frances has visited his mother (on occasion, through the years, periodically).
      See our post Present Perfect Tense for more information

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