Auxiliary Verbs including Tense, Aspect, Mood and Voice

Helping verbsAuxiliary (helping) verbs

Verbs that add functional or grammatical meaning to a clause are auxiliary verbs. Auxiliary verbs express tense, aspect, modality, voice and emphasis.  Auxiliary verbs accompany a main verb.  The main verb expresses the content of the clause and the auxiliary verb adds additional meaning to the main verb.  An example is a sentence is I have finished my lunch.  the main verb is finished, and the helping verb have helps to express the perfect aspectA sentence can have two helping verbs,

Modal Verbs

Modal Verbs are a type of verb that indicates modality (an expression of intention).  Modal verbs include:

  • likelihood
  • order
  • ability
  • permission
  • request
  • capacity
  • suggestions
  • obligation
  • advice

Modal verbs accompany the base, infinitive form of another verb.

The most common modal verbs are:

  • can
  • could
  • may
  • will
  • might
  • should
  • must
  • shall,
  • should
  • ought to
  • had better
  • have to
  • need
  • dare

Modal verbs are auxiliary (helping) verbs, that help the main verb.


I must go to sleep by 9 pm

Janet will go to Japan

You can learn anything

Auxiliary verbs denoting tense

There are sixteen tenses in the English language.  Refer to this article for a complete list of English language tenses.


  • Progressive aspect – he is sleeping
  • Perfect aspect – they have understood
  • Future tense – The moon will rise tonight
  • Future in the past tense – We would never do that again after what happened in 2000

Linking verbs

A linking verb describes the subject by connecting it to a predicate adjective or predicate noun.


  • Roses are red
  • The man felt ill
  • The chicken tasted awful

Passive voice

The subject of the sentence changes.  In other words, the person or thing that undergoes some action (verb) changes.  for example.  The tree was pulled down.  The subject is the tree, the main verb is pulled, the object is not identified, in other words, we do not know who or what pulled the tree down.  With an active voice, the object (the person or thing acting on the subject) is identified, for example.  Someone pulled the tree down.  

A passive voice weakens a sentence and can be confusing.

Deontic modality

Deontic modality indicates how the world should be according to certain norms, expectations, and desires.


  • shall help you
  • You’ve got to  taste this curry
  • If only I were rich

Epistemic modality

Epistemic modality deals with a speaker’s evaluation, judgment, or degree of confidence about a proposition.  In other words, epistemic modality refers to the way speakers communicate their doubts, certainties, and guesses.


  • He may be a good chess player
  • doubt  that it rained yesterday
  • heard that it rained yesterday


Most clauses contain at least one main verb and can contain, zero, one or multiple auxiliary verbs. From the point of view of predicates, each of the main verbs constitutes the core of the predicate, and the auxiliary verbs contribute meaning to the main predicate.  Refer to English Grammar in Use by Raymond Murphy for more complete studies on helping verbs.

These books provide both study and reference material for English Grammar

Understanding and Using English Grammar by Betty Azar understandingEnglishGrammar
Grammarly. Correct your grammar as you type. Grammarly logo
English Grammar in Use by Raymond Murphy English Grammar in Use
The Blue book of Grammar and punctuation – An easy to use guide with clear rules, real-world examples, and reproducible quizzes. thebluebookofgrammar


Aaron Skudder

One Comment

  1. Hi, I am currently learning Chinese (Mandarin). I have been doing this for about 2 years now. I simply use a language app on my phone. (Memrise)

    It is similar in that people learning a new language have so many different things they need to learn..

    I will be honest and say that I am naturally good at English. I did well in University English for some reason. I am a good writer.

    However I still do not understand verbs, nouns, adjectives, and all that stuff.

    Maybe it’s because I learned it growing up in school.

    I want to also say that learning a language requires daily practice. There is no finish line. You will need to continue studying every day in order to keep your skills sharp.

    Luckily, we have apps on our phones that are great for this.

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