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Auxiliary verbs


Grammatical form

subject + auxiliaries + main verb

I am having my lunch.
He has been shopping.
She doesn't play tennis.
Have you seen Peter?
Where does he work?

General use of auxiliaries

The auxiliaries be, do and have have the following functions in English:

(1) To form certain tenses - continuous tenses (be); perfect tenses (have)
(2) To form the passive voice (be)
(3) To form questions
(4) To form negative statements
(5) To give emphasis
(6) To make short answers to questions and to avoid repetition
(7) To form question tags


Pronunciation: contraction of subject and auxiliary

Auxiliary verbs are often 'contracted' when the are used in statements. This means they are not always fully pronounced.

I am becomes I'm
She has becomes She's
They had becomes They'd
The dog has becomes The dog's

This is common in fast speech and can cause problems for students because:

(1) Students find it difficult to hear which auxiliary is being used.

Compare the following:
He's seen it already.
He'd seen it already.

(2) In the past perfect tense, the contracted auxiliary 'had' can be very difficult to hear:

He'd worked all day.
He worked all day.

(3) The contracted form of 'has' is the same as the contracted form of 'be' in the third person.

He's taken a course.
It should be clear that the 's must be has because it is followed by the past participle taken. However, compare:

He's taking a course.

The pronunciation of taken and taking is quite similar in fast speech.

Contraction of subject and auxiliary in written English

The contraction of subject and auxiliary is often written in novels and other texts where natural speech is recorded. However, these contractions are not written in the more formal written style used for business correspondence, academic essays and so on.


(1) Novel
We'd better get out of here.

(2) Formal letter
I have sent the samples by courier.

When auxiliaries are stressed

In statements, as noted above, auxiliaries are often contracted and are not usually stressed.

However, in the following situations, it is normal to stress an auxiliary. In these cases, the auxiliary is never contracted.

(1) When using an auxiliary for emphasis:

I have done my homework.

(2) When an auxiliary is used as a short response or to avoid repetition:
Did you lock the door?
Yes, I did.

Have you seen the film?
I haven't but Peter has.
ESL quizzes for Auxiliary verbs
Auxiliaries quiz 1
Mulitple-choice quiz. Choose the correct phrase using auxiliaries.

ESL lesson plans

How Donald Trump Got Rich: A Tale of Three Trumps

US Election ESL worksheet 1 Donald Trump ESL worksheet 2 Donald Trump worksheet 3 Donald Trump ESL worksheet 4 Donald Trump ESL worksheet 5 Donald Trump ESL worksheet 6
B1 / B2 Complete lesson Skills: split reading; discussion; role play Vocabulary: business and economics

Download A Tale of Three Trumps for B1/B2 (PDF)
C1 Complete lesson Skills: split reading; discussion; Grammar: participle clauses

Download A Tale of Three Trumps for C1 (PDF)

US Election Special 2016

US Election ESL worksheet 1 US Election ESL worksheet 2 US Election ESL worksheet 3 US Election ESL worksheet 4
B2/C1 Complete lesson Vocabulary: politics, elections; skills: discussing elections and issues.

Download Politics and the US Election (PDF)

Wear high heels or go home: gender discrimination at work

Gender descrimination ESL worksheet 1 Gender descrimination ESL worksheet 2 Gender descrimination ESL worksheet 3
B2/C1 Complete lesson Vocabulary work clothes; skills: gender discrimination; grammar: reported speech.

Download Workplace gender discrimination (PDF)

English grammar notes

Comparison with as...as

Comprehensive grammar reference notes, illustrated.
Grammar notes on comparison with as..as 1 Grammar notes on comparison with as..as 2 Grammar notes on comparison with as..as 3
Download English grammar notes: comparison with as...as (PDF)