Auxiliary Verbs or Helping
- As of next August, I will have been studying chemistry for ten years.
Shall, will and forms of have, do and be combine with main verbs to indicate time and voice. As auxiliaries, the verbs be, have and do can change form to indicate changes in subject and time.
- I shall go now.
- He had won the election.
- They did write that novel together.
- I am going now.
- He was winning the election.
- They have been writing that novel for a long time.
|In England, shall is used to express the simple future for first person Iand we, as in "Shall we meet by the river?" Will would be used in the simple future for all other persons. Using will in the first person would express determination on the part of the speaker, as in "We will finish this project by tonight, by golly!" Using shall in second and third persons would indicate some kind of promise about the subject, as in "This shall be revealed to you in good time." This usage is certainly acceptable in the U.S., although shall is used far less frequently. The distinction between the two is often obscured by the contraction 'll, which is the same for both verbs.|
In the United States, we seldom use shall for anything other than polite questions (suggesting an element of permission) in the first-person:
Shall is often used in formal situations (legal or legalistic documents, minutes to meetings, etc.) to express obligation, even with third-person and second-person constructions:
|In the simple present tense, do will function as an auxiliary to express the negative and to ask questions. (Does, however, is substituted for third-person, singular subjects in the present tense. The past tense didworks with all persons, singular and plural.)|
|Forms of the verb to have are used to create tenses known as thepresent perfect and past perfect. The perfect tenses indicate that something has happened in the past; the present perfect indicating that something happened and might be continuing to happen, the past perfect indicating that something happened prior to something else happening. (That sounds worse than it really is!) See the section onVerb Tenses in the Active Voice for further explanation; also review material in the Directory of English Tenses.|
To have is also in combination with other modal verbs to express probability and possibility in the past.
|can write well.|
The analysis of Modal Auxiliaries is based on a similar analysis in The Scott, Foresman Handbook for Writersby Maxine Hairston and John J. Ruszkiewicz. 4th ed. HarperCollins: New York. 1996. The description of helping verbs on this page is based on The Little, Brown Handbook by H. Ramsay Fowler and Jane E. Aaron, & Kay Limburg. 6th ed. HarperCollins: New York. 1995. By permission of Addison-Wesley Educational Publishers Inc. Examples in all cases are our own.
|The modal auxiliary can is used|
|Whether the auxiliary verb can can be used to express permission or not — "Can I leave the room now?" ["I don't know if you can, but you may."] — depends on the level of formality of your text or situation. As Theodore Bernstein puts it in The Careful Writer, "a writer who is attentive to the proprieties will preserve the traditional distinction: can for ability or power to do something, may for permission to do it.|
The question is at what level can you safely ignore the "proprieties." Merriam-Webster's Dictionary, tenth edition, says the battle is over andcan can be used in virtually any situation to express or ask for permission. Most authorities, however, recommend a stricter adherence to the distinction, at least in formal situations.
Authority: The Careful Writer by Theodore Bernstein. The Free Press: New York. 1998. p. 87.
|Two of the more troublesome modal auxiliaries are may and might. When used in the context of granting or seeking permission, might is the past tense of may. Might is considerably more tentative than may.|
|In certain contexts, will and would are virtually interchangeable, but there are differences. Notice that the contracted form 'll is very frequently used for will.|
Will can be used to express willingness:
Would can also be used to express willingness:
|The auxiliary verb construction used to is used to express an action that took place in the past, perhaps customarily, but now that action no longer customarily takes place:|