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Auxiliary Verbs

You have already encountered three auxiliary (or helping) verbs: bedo, and have. They are conjugated and used with another verb to change that verb’s meaning or tense:

  • I go → I am going (changed to in progress or incomplete)
  • you sing → do you sing? (changed to a question)
  • she makes → she has made (changed to the present perfect tense)

There are several other auxiliary verbs you should know. Note that many of the auxiliary verbs cannot be used in all tenses. And in some cases, you have to change to a different verb to form a specific tense. The following examples will be conjugated with the third-person pronoun he:

to be able toto be supposed to
Presentis able tois supposed to
Pastwas able towas supposed to
Present Perfecthas been able tohas been supposed to
Past Perfecthad been able tohad been supposed to
Futurewill be able towill be supposed to
Future Perfectwill have been able towill have been supposed to
canto have to
Presentcanhas to
Pastcould OR was able tohad to
Present Perfecthas been able tohas had to
Past Perfecthad been able tohad had to
Futurewill be able towill have to
Future Perfectwill have been able towill have had to
maymust
Presentmaymust
Pastmighthad to
Present PerfectN/Ahas had to
Past PerfectN/Ahad had to
FutureN/Awill have to
Future PerfectN/Awill have had to
ought toshould
Presentought toshould
PastN/AN/A
Present PerfectN/AN/A
Past PerfectN/AN/A
FutureN/AN/A
Future PerfectN/AN/A
to want toto need to
Presentwantsneeds to
Pastwantedneeded to
Present Perfecthas wantedhas needed to
Past Perfecthad wantedhad needed to
Futurewill wantwill need to
Future Perfectwill have wantedwill have needed to

Auxiliary verbs like these are followed by an infinitive:

I can go.I want to go.
You must learn.You have to learn.
We should help.We need to help.
He can drive.He ought to drive.

When you use some of the auxiliaries with a verb, you tell to what degree of obligation someone has to carry out the action of the verb. Look at the sentences below. The first one shows the least degree of obligation. This is something someone doesn’t have to do. The last sentence shows the greatest degree of obligation. This is something that someone absolutely must do.

  • “We may return the books.” (Least obligation. It’s our choice.)
  • “We can return the books.” (Little obligation. It’s our choice.)
  • “We are able to return the books.” (Little obligation. We have the ability to do this.)
  • “We need to return the books.” (Slight obligation.)
  • “We ought to return the books.” (Little obligation, but this would be a good idea.)
  • “We should return the books.” (Little obligation, but this would be a good idea.)
  • “We are supposed to return the books.” (Some obligation. Someone has suggested we do this.)
  • “We must return the books.” (Greatest obligation. It is our duty to do this.)
  • “We have to return the books.” (Greatest obligation. It is our duty to do this.)

When you add an auxiliary to a sentence, use the same tense for the auxiliary as that of the original verb. For example: “Celeste found (past tense) a recent biography.” When you add have to to that sentence, you say, “Celeste had to (past tense) find a recent biography.”

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