Tema 31- El verbo: clases de verbos. Los auxiliares "do, be, have" y los modales

Tema 31- El verbo: clases de verbos. Los auxiliares "do, be, have" y los modales

Major verb classes:

The term verb is used in 2 senses:

1. The verb is one of the elements in clause structure, like the subject and the object.

2. A verb is a member of a word class, like a noun and an adjective.

A verb phrase consists of one or more verbs (sense 2) and it operates as the verb in the clause (sense 1)

– I can believe you

As a word class, verbs can be divided into 3 major categories, according to their function within the verb phrase.

1. The open class of full verbs

2. Primary verbs the very small closed classes

3. Modal auxiliary verbs

  1. full verbs: believe, follow, like, see etc.
  2. Primary verbs : be, have, do
  3. Modal auxiliaries: can, may, shall, will, must, could, might, should, would.

a) If there is only one verb in the verb phrase, it is the main verb.

b) If there is more than one verb, the final one is the main verb, and the one or more verbs theta come before it are auxiliaries.

– She might be leaving soon.

Leaving is the main verb and might and be are auxiliaries.

Of the 3 classes of verbs, the full verbs can act only as main verbs, the modal auxiliaries can act only as auxiliary verbs and the primary verbs can act either as main verbs or as auxiliary verbs.

Sometimes the verb phrase can be discontinuous:

– They do not believe me and I can perhaps help you.

Sometimes the main verb is understood from the context, so that only auxiliaries are present in the verb phrase.

– I can´ t tell them, but you can.

There are also multi-word verbs which consist of a verb and one or more other words: turn on, look at, put up with etc.

Primary verbs and modal auxiliaries:

Verb as operators:

Auxiliaries have one important syntactic function in common, they become the operator when they occur as the fist verb of a finite verb phrase. The main verbs be and have are also operators when they are the only verb in the verb phrase. Bout the auxiliary do is only an operator f.i: She does not know me, not the main verb do: She does a lot of work.

Operators share the following main characteristics:

  1. To negate a finite clause, we put “not” immediately after the operator

– She may do it- She may not do it

– She saw the play- *She saw not the play

  1. To form an interrogative clause, we put the operator in front of the subject (subject- operator inversion)

– He will speak first- Will he speak first?

– He plans to speak first – * Plans he to speak first?

Subject- operator inversion occurs also in sentences with introductory negatives or semi- negatives.

– At no time was the entrance left ungarded

  1. The operator can carry nuclear stress to mark a finite clause as positive rather than negative.

– Won´ t you try again? – Yes, I w´ill try again

– You must speak to the teacher – I h´ave spoken to him

  1. The operator functions in a range of elliptical clauses where the rest of the predication is omitted. The clause is understood to repeat the omitted part.

– Won´ t you try again? – Yes, I will

If there is no operator in a corresponding positive declarative sentence, the dummy operator do is introduced under the above conditions.

– She saw the play- She did not see the play

– He plans to speak first- Does he plan to speak first?

– You never listen to your mother- But I d`o listen to her

– Do you drive a car? / Yes, I do/ No, I don´ t

The use of the operator do is termed do-support.

The main verbs be and have are operators in these sentences:

– I haven´ t a car

– Is she you sister?

The enclitic particle n´ t can be attached to most operators as a contraction of the negative word not: isn´ t, didn´ t, won´ t.

Many operators have contracted forms:

Modals Be Have

Will-´ll am- ´m have- ´ve

Would- ´d is- ´s has- ´s

are- ´re had- ´d

The contraction ´s may represent either is or has and the contraction ´d may represent either would or had

Characteristics of modal auxiliaries:

  1. They are followed by the bare infinitive (that is, the base form of the verb alone without a preceding to).

– You will ask the questions

  1. They cannot occur in non-finite functions, that is, as infinitives or participles:

– May- * to may/ maying/ mayed

In consequence, they can occur only as the first verb in the verb phrase.

  1. They have no –s forms for the 3rd p. singular of the present tense:

– She must write

  1. Their past forms can be used to refer to present and future time (often with a tentative meaning)

– I think he might be outside

The primary verbs: be, have, do:


The verb be is a main verb with a copular function:

– Ann is a happy girl

But “be” also has 2 auxiliary functions:

  1. As an aspect auxiliary for the progressive

– Ann is learning Spanish

  1. As a passive auxiliary

– Ann was awarded a prize

Be is unique in having a full set of both finite and non-finite forms in auxiliary function. It is also unique among English verbs in having as many as 8 different forms.



Uncontracted negative

Contracted negative



be /bi:/, /bi/



1st p. singular

Am /aem/ /Əm/


Am not

´m not

Aren´ t

3rd p. singular

Is /iz/

´ s /z/ /s/

Is not

´s not

Isn´ t

2nd p.

1st and 3rd p. plural

Are /a:/


Are Was

´re not

Aren´ t /a:nt/


1st and 3rd p. singular

Was /woz/ /w(Ə)z/

Was Was

Wasn´ t /woznt/

2nd p.

1st and 3rd p. plural

Were /w3 :/


Were not

Weren´ t

/w3 :nt/

-ing form


Being /bi:ing/

Not being


-ed participle


Been /bi:n/ /bin/

Not been


Ain´ t is a non-standard contraction used commonly, especially in American English in place of am not, is not, are not, has not and have not.

Aren´ t is the standard contraction for am not in questions: Aren´ t I tall?

There is a rare use of be as a perfect auxiliary with the verb go:

– The guests are/have gone.


The verb have functions both as an auxiliary and as a main verb.

  1. As an auxiliary for perfect aspect, have combines with –ed participle to form complex verb phrases.

– I have finished

  1. As a main verb it normally takes a direct object

– I have no money



Uncontracted negative

Contracted negative


have /haev/, /(h) Əv/

´ve /v/ /f/

Have not

´ve not

Haven´ t /haevent/

-s form

Has /haes/, /(h) Əz/

´s /z/ /s/

has not

´s not

Hasn´ t /haeznt/


Had /haed/, /(h) Əd/

´d /d/

had not

´d not

Hadn´ t /haednt/

-ing form

having /haeviŋ/

Not having


-ed participle

Had /haed/, /(h) Əd/

Not been


There is also the informal have got construction, which is frequently preferred, especially in Br. E. as an alternative to stative have. In some stative senses we have 3 alternatives:

– We haven´t any butter- We have some

– We haven´t got any butter- We have got some

– We don´ t have any butter- We do have some

In dynamic senses, have normally has do-support and have got is not possible: to have a drink, lunch, dinner, a look, a bath, a shower etc.

– Does she have coffee with her breakfast?

– Yes, she does.


Do like be and have can be both an auxiliary and a main verb.

  1. As an auxiliary, do has no non-finite forms, but only present and past forms.


Uncontracted negative

Contracted negative


do /du:/, /du/, /dƏ/

do not

Don´ t /dƏunt/

-s form

does /dΛz/, /dƏz/,

/s/, /z/

Does not

doesn´ t /dΛznt/


did /did/

did not

didn´ t /didnt/

-ing form

(main verb only)

doing /du:iŋ/


-ed participle

(main verb only)

done / dΛn /

  1. As a main verb do can function as a pro-predicate or pro-predication referring to some unspecified action or actions, alone or in combination with so, it, this, that, interrogative what or an indefinite pronoun.

– I ´m throwing these books away.

– Why are you doing that?

The main verb do has a wide range of uses as a general-purpose transitive verb, especially in informal speech

– Let´ s do the dishes

Modal auxiliaries:


Uncontracted negative

Contracted negative

Can /kaen/ /kƏn/


can´ t /ka:nt/

Could /kud/ /kƏd/

could not

couldn´ t /kudnt/

May /mei/

may not

(mayn´ t)

Might /mait/

might not


Shall /Sael/ /S(Ə)l/

shall not

Shan´ t /Sa:nt/

Should /Sud/ /S(Ə)d/

should not

Shouldn´ t /Sudnt/ /SƏdnt/

Will /wil/, ´ll /(Ə)l/

will not, ´ll not

Won´ t /wƏ unt/

Would /wud/, ´d /(Ə)d/

would not, ´not

Wouldn´ t /wudnt/

Must /mΛst/,/m Əst/

must not

Mustn´ t/mΛsnt/

Marginal modal auxiliaries:

They are used to, ought to, dare and need.

1. Used to always takes the to-infinitive and occurs only in the past tense:

– She used to attend regularly.

It is used both as an auxiliary and as a main verb with do-support:

– He usedn´ t to smoke

– He didn´ t use to smoke

The normal interrogative is with do-support.

– Did he use to drink?

2. Ought to normally has the to-infinitive, but the to is optional following ought in ellipsis

– You oughtn´ t to smoke so much

– Ought I to stop smoking?

– Yes, I think you ought (to).

3. Dare and Need can be use either as modal auxiliaries (with bare infinitive and without the inflected forms) or as a main verb (with to- infinitive and with inflected –s, -ing and past forms). The modal construction is restricted to non-assertive contexts (negative and interrogative sentences), whereas the main verb construction can always be used.

Modal idioms and semi-auxiliaries:

Two other categories of verbs are intermediate between auxiliaries and main verbs. They express modal or aspectual meaning.

  1. The modal idioms are a combination of auxiliary and infinitive or adverb. None of them have non-finite forms and they are therefore always the first verb in the verb phrase. The most common modal idioms are: had better, would rather, have got to and be to.
  1. The semi- auxiliaries are a set of verb idioms which are introduced by one of the primary verbs have and be. The have non-finite forms and can therefore occur in combination with preceding auxiliaries. They are: be able to, be about to, be bound to, be due to, be going to, be likely to, be supposed to, have to.

Meanings of the modals:

We distinguish 2 main kinds of meanings for modal auxiliaries:

  1. intrinsic modality: It includes permission, obligation and volition. It involves some intrinsic human control over events.
  1. extrinsic modality: It includes possibility, necessity and prediction. It involves human judgement of what is or is not likely to happen.

Each of the modals have both intrinsic and extrinsic uses:


  1. Possibility (theoretical): Even expert drivers can make mistakes
  2. Ability: Can you remember where they live?
  3. Permission: Can we borrow these books from the library?


  1. Possibility (factual): You may be right
  2. Permission: You may borrow my bicycle if you wish


  1. Logical necessity or deduction: There must be some mistake.

Must in this sense means that the speaker has drawn a conclusion from things already known or observed. Must meaning logical necessity cannot be used in interrogative or negative clauses and it is replaced by can.

– You can´ t be serious

– Can she be there?

  1. Obligation or compulsion: I must be back by 10 o´ clock.

The obligation comes from the speaker. If it comes from outside we use have to.


Need is used as the negative and question form of must in the sense of necessary for (needn´ t, don´ t need, don´ t have to)

– Need they make all that noise?

– You needn´ t worry about the test.

It is possible to replace auxiliary need by need to or have to accompanied by do-support.

Have got to can be substituted for must with little or no difference of meaning:

1. (Logical) necessity: There has (got) to be some mistake.

2. Obligation or compulsion: You have (got) to be back by 10 o´ clock.

Since must has no past tense form or no non-finite forms, have to is used where must is impossible.

– He ´ll have to be patient

– She had to go home quickly


  1. Tentative inference: The mountains should/ ought to be visible from here

The speaker does not know is his statement is true, but tentatively concludes that it is true on the basis of whatever he knows.

  1. Obligation: You should/ ought to do as he says.

With the perfect aspect, should and ought to have the implication that the recommendation has not been carried out.

– They should/ ought to have met her at the station

With should we give our own subjective opinion and ought to has a more rather objective force and talking about laws, duties and regulations.


  1. Prediction:

a) The common future predictive sense of will:

– You´ll feel better after this medicine

b) The present predictive sense of will:

– That will be the postman (on hearing the doorbell ring)

c) The habitual predictive meaning often occurs in conditional sentences:

– If litmus paper is dipped in acid, it will turn red

Or in timeless statements of predictability:

– Oil will float on water

It also occurs in descriptions of personal habits or characteristic behaviour:

– He will talk for hours if you let him

  1. Volition:

a) Intention: I will write as soon as I can.

b) Willingness: Will/would you help me with these letters?

It is common in requests and offers

c) Insistence: If you will go out without your overcoat, what can you expect?

This auxiliary is always stressed ad cannot be contracted to ´ll or ´ d.


It is in present-day English a rather rare auxiliary and only 2 uses both with a 1st p. subject are current

  1. Prediction: Shall is a substitute for the future use of will in formal style:

– When shall we know the results of the election?

  1. Volition:

– We shall uphold the wishes of the people

In questions containing shall I/we, shall consults the wishes of the addressee. It is suitable for making offers:

– Shall I deliver the goods to your home address?

Or for making suggestions about shared activities:

– Shall we go to the theatre?

It is only in such questions that shall cannot be replaced by will.