What are Helping Verbs? - Definition & Examples

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  • 0:02 Definition of Helping Verbs
  • 0:56 How Helping Verbs Work
  • 1:55 'To Be' Helping Verbs
  • 2:41 How Helping Verbs Define Tense
  • 3:29 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Debbie Notari
In this lesson, we will look at helping, or auxiliary, verbs and their roles in sentences. As the name indicates, helping verbs assist in making verbs complete, and they help with sentence meaning.

Definition of Helping Verbs

Helping verbs are verbs that come before the main verb, or the verb describing the action of the sentence. Helping verbs do just what they sound like - they help verbs by making them complete. More specifically, helping verbs can help a verb to tell us exactly when something occurred in time and refine the meaning of a sentence by setting the mood or tone.

Before we continue with examples, here is a list of the helping verbs in the English language:

has could should does
will have had might
shall did can must
ought to would might do
am is are was
were be being been

Modal auxiliaries, or modal helping verbs, don't change according to the subject. For instance, in the sentence 'They can go to the concert,' we could easily switch the word 'they' for 'he' and the helping verb 'can' still works.

How Helping Verbs Work

In this section, we are going to see how helping verbs are used in sentences. Let's take the helping verbs 'does' and 'did.' See how the sentence meanings differ according to the helping verb choices:

Mary does complete her homework.

Mary did complete her homework.

In the first sentence, we see that Mary does, on a regular basis, complete her homework, but in the second sentence, the meaning changes. Mary did complete her homework. The word 'did' gives us the idea that Mary completed her homework recently.

Let's look at another example:

Jim must complete two courses before he graduates.

Jim might complete two courses before he graduates.

There is a vast difference between the meaning of these two sentences above simply based upon the choice of either using the helping verb 'might' or 'must.' One indicates that Jim has to complete the courses, while the other says completing the courses is optional and may or may not happen.

'To Be' Helping Verbs

'To be' verbs - am, is, are, was, were, be, being, and been - can either be linking verbs or helping verbs, but there is a difference. Let's look at a few examples:

I am going to the store.

In this sentence, 'am' is a helping verb, and the complete verb in the sentence is 'am going.' Now contrast this sentence with this one:

I am glad.

In this sentence, the word 'am' acts as a linking verb, 'linking' the subject 'I' to the predicate adjective 'glad.'

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