23 helping verbs

Hello lovely students! In this article, I’ll be showing you what the 23 helping verbs are and why we use them. 

Ready to go?

A teacher explaining helping verbs

Why do we use helping verbs?

Helping verbs, also known as auxiliary verbs, are used for many reasons in English. They allow us to construct sentences and questions and to demonstrate times. They also help us to differentiate between active and passive voice and question tags.

You must think of helping verbs like this: they are there only to support the main verb and for no other reason.

Remembering this is vital, as some helping verbs are also action verbs.

Let’s take a look at common helping verbs, do and have. Do and have are also action verbs.

Look at the difference.

1) Do

I did the shopping.

I did not like what he said.

2) Have

I had breakfast.

I have eaten breakfast.

Can you spot the difference? The second sentences in each section are auxiliary verbs. Did supports the main verb like and have the main verb eaten.

Auxiliary verbs are second to the main verb. Think of them as supporting actors in a film.

What tenses do we use auxiliary verbs in?

We use auxiliary verbs in every tense, but there are four where they are used consistently: have and has with perfect simple tenses, have/has and been with perfect continuous tenses, will with future simple tense and am, is, are, was and were with the past and present continuous tenses.

What are the 23 helping verbs?

Now that you know why we use helping verbs and what tenses we use them in, take a look at the table below to see what the 23 are.


Modal auxiliaries and subject-verb agreement

You may be surprised to see modals in the table. You shouldn’t be, as they are helping verbs too.

Think of helping verbs as having two categories: the main helping verbs (be, do and have) and modal auxiliaries (such as may, might, must).

Modal auxiliaries sound complicated but trust me, they aren’t. Will and would are used for the future, might and may for a possibility, can for an ability, must for an obligation and should for a suggestion. Of course, there are many other ways we use modal verbs, all of which you can read about here.

When we use modal auxiliary verbs, we do not have to change the verbs to fit the subject.

For example, he must leave is correct even if he is a third-person singular pronoun. He musts leave is incorrect.

This formation is different to be, do and have. When we use these helping verbs in speech and writing, we must change the form of the verb.

For example, has, does and is are used with third-person singular pronouns (he, she and it) in the present.

She has done her homework.

It does not work.

He is getting here soon.

Look at this table for more information on what helping verb to use with what subject.

IPresent – amPast – wasPresent – havePast – hadPresent – doPast – did
youPresent – arePast – werePresent – havePast – hadPresent – doPast – did
she/he/itPresent – isPast – wasPresent – hasPast – hadPresent – doesPast – did
we/theyPresent – arePast – werePresent – havePast – hadPresent – doPast – did

Helping verbs in subject questions and passives

1) Questions

Usually, when we use helping verbs in sentences, the form is subject + helping verb. In subject questions, it changes to helping verb + question.

For example, You like tennis becomes do you like tennis?

It is the same for all tenses.

2) Passives

In the passive voice, we use the form object as subject + verb to be + past participle of the main verb.

The flowers were picked by me.

Examples of helping verbs

1) Be (be, am, are, is, was, were, been, being)

Do you want to be liked?

I am working.

You are playing tennis.

He is annoying me.

She was watching TV.

They were going out.

Nathan has been to Canada.

I am being grumpy.

2) Have (have, has, had)

I have published books all day.

He has asked everyone in that room three times.

Alex had banned Stefan from the party as he was trouble.

3) Do (do, does, did)

Do you want to go?

Jeff does love Tanya; he told me himself.

We did not go skiing in the end.

4) Modals

You wouldn’t dare.

They may enter the building.

She should finish on time.

He must pay his fine.

She might talk to you.

Policeman issuing a fine for violating the traffic rules to a young woman driver, close-up view focused on the folder

Is that everything?

Absolutely not! Check out my YouTube channel English with Lucy for more engaging English content.