Basic Helping Verbs in English


Advanced English Grammar Course

Helping verbs, also called “auxiliary verbs,” are verbs that don’t have a specific definition by themselves, but instead “help” the main verb of the sentence. A lot of students make mistakes with helping verbs in English, so here’s a complete guide to using this type of verb!

Helping Verb #1 – DO

Use a form of the word “DO” to ask questions:

  • Do you like ice cream?
  • Where do they live?
  • What time does the bank open?
  • Does Bill have a dog?
  • Did you go to the party?
  • Why did she go home early yesterday?

Use DO with I, you, we, and they (in the present).

Use DOES with he, she, and it (in the present).

Use DID for all forms in the past.

Advanced tip: When asking questions in the past with WHY, WHERE, and HOW + DID, we often shorten the word “did” in spoken English.

  • Why‘d she go home early yesterday?
  • Where‘d you buy that T-shirt?
  • How‘d he finish his homework so fast?

Use DON’T, DOESN’T, and DIDN’T to form negative statements:

  • I don’t like ice cream.
  • They don’t live in this neighborhood.
  • The bank doesn’t open on Saturdays.
  • Bill doesn’t have a dog.
  • We didn’t go to the party.
  • She didn’t have any more work to do, so she went home.

Avoid this common error: Using NO or NOT as the helping verb.

I no like ice cream.
I not like ice cream.
I don’t like ice cream.

We no go to the party.
We not go to the party.
We didn’t go to the party.

Helping Verb #2 – BE

Use a form of the word BE to make the present, past, and future continuous tenses:

Present Continuous: AM, IS, ARE + -ing form

  • I‘m studying English.
  • He‘s talking on the phone.
  • We‘re having dinner right now.

Past Continuous: WAS, WERE + -ing form

  • He was singing in the shower.
  • We were driving home from work.

Future Continuous: WILL BE + -ing form

  • Tomorrow morning I‘ll be teaching an English class.
  • Next month we‘ll be traveling to Europe.
  • Ted will be speaking at the conference in July.

Forming Questions with Helping Verbs

When you ask a question in the present, past, or future continuous, the word order changes and the helping verb comes BEFORE the subject:

Is he talking on the phone?
He‘s talking on the phone.

Were you driving home from work?
We were driving home from work.

Will Ted be speaking at the conference?
Ted will be speaking at the conference.

Finally, use a form of the word BE to make the passive voice. Click here for a lesson on the passive voice.

Helping Verb #3 – HAVE

Use a form of the verb HAVE to make perfect tenses:

Present perfect: Use HAVE (with I, you, we, they) and HAS (with he, she, it)

  • I‘ve finished my homework.
  • She has just left the office.
  • Bob and Karen have already spoken to me.

Advanced tip: In spoken English, we often shorten “he has” and “she has” to “he’s” and “she’s”:

  • She’s (she has) just left the office.
  • He’s (he has) borrowed my textbook.

Past perfect: Use HAD in all cases

  • He said he had bought the tickets.
  • We had hoped to finish early, but we didn’t.

Advanced tip: In spoken English, we often shorten “had” to ‘d

  • He said he‘d bought the tickets.
  • We‘d hoped to finish early, but we didn’t.

Future perfect: Use WILL HAVE in all cases

  • By this time tomorrow, I will have finished this project.
  • By the time I’m 30, I will have traveled to over a dozen countries.

Forming Questions with Helping Verbs

Again, when you ask a question with HAVE, the word order changes and the helping verb comes BEFORE the subject:

Have you finished your homework?
I‘ve finished my homework

Has she left the office?
She has just left the office.

Have Bob and Karen spoken to you?
Bob and Karen have spoken to me.

Ready for something more advanced? Click here to learn about Modal Helping Verbs.

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