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Helping Verbs

Helping verbs, also known as auxiliary verbs, are verbs which have no meaning on their own but which we sometimes need to help us use main verbs. We call them helping verbs because even though they don't mean anything on their own we sometimes need their help in order to construct a correct sentence in English. They are part of the grammar of the English language and they help us say a wide variety of things. There are around 16 helping verbs in the English language divided into two groups: primary helping verbs and modal helping verbs.

Primary helping verbs
There are three primary helping verbs, to be, to do and to have. Each of these verbs will change depending on the type of sentence they are in. For instance, in the first person the verb to be becomes am as in I am.

The primary helping verbs can be used both as man verbs or helping verbs. Here we will consider their use as helping verbs.

To be can be used in the following different ways:
• to form continuous tenses (Alfred is currently eating a cookie)
• to make the passive voice (The cookies are eaten by Alfred)

To have can be used in the following different ways:
• to make the perfect or simple past tense (I have eaten all the cookies)

To do can be used in the following different ways:
• to ask a question (Do you like cookies?)
• to phrase sentences in the negative (No, I do not like cookies)
• to add emphasis to a sentence (I do think you might be right about cookies)
• to be used instead of a main verb in special cases (I like cookies more than you do)

Modal helping verbs
There are ten modal helping verbs which are used to modify the meaning of a main verb. The main ways in which modal verbs modify main verbs include allowing them to express necessity or possibility. The following are the ten modal verbs:

Can, could - to be able to do something
I can bake cookies (declarative)
I could bake cookies (condition)

May, might - for expressing uncertainty
I may bake some cookies, if you ask me politely
I might bake some cookies tomorrow

Will, would
I will bake some cookies (future)
I would bake some cookies if I had some sugar (conditional)

Shall, should - shall is sometimes used in place of will and should is used to express an expected or recommended behaviour
I shall bake some cookies tomorrow
You should buy some sugar if you're going to bake cookies
Must - when you need to do something
I must bake some cookies because I promised you

Ought to - similar in meaning to should
I really ought to stop using cookies in my examples

Semi-modal verbs
There are also three semi-modal verbs in the English language. They are called semi-modal as they share some characteristics with modal helping verbs and others with main verbs. These are the semi-modal verbs:

need - for it to be necessary to do something
I need to think of a new example

dare - to do something which requires courage
I would not dare to suggest certain examples

used to - to describe something that was done in the distant past
I used to only use cookies in my examples

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