We divide verbs into two broad classifications:
1. Helping Verbs
Imagine that a stranger walks into your room and says:
* I can.
* People must.
* The Earth will.
Do you understand anything? Has this person communicated anything to you? Probably not! That's because these verbs are helping verbs and have no meaning on their own. They are necessary for thegrammatical structure of the sentence, but they do not tell us very much alone. We usually use helping verbs with main verbs. They "help" the main verb. (The sentences in the above examples are therefore incomplete. They need at least a main verb to complete them.) There are only about 15 helping verbs.
2. Main Verbs
Now imagine that the same stranger walks into your room and says:
* I teach.* People eat.
* The Earth rotates.
Do you understand something? Has this person communicated something to you? Probably yes! Not a lot, but something. That's because these verbs are main verbs and have meaning on their own. They tell us something. Of course, there are thousands of main verbs.
In the following table we see example sentences with helping verbs and main verbs. Notice that allof these sentences have a main verb. Only some of them have a helping verb.
Noun | Helping verb | | Main verb | Complement |
John | | | likes | coffee. |
You | | | lied | to me. |
They | | | are | happy. |
The children | are | | playing. | |
We | must | | go | now. |
I | do | not | want | any. |
Helping verbs and main verbs can be further sub-divided, as weshall see on the following text.
HELPING VERBS ALSO CALLED “AUXILIARY VERBS”
Helping verbs have no meaning on their own. They are necessary for the grammatical structure of a sentence, but they do not tell us very much alone. We usually use helping verbs with main verbs. They "help" the main verb (which has the real meaning). There are only about 15 helping verbs in English, and we divide them intotwo basic groups:
Primary helping verbs (3 verbs)
These are the verbs be, do, and have. Note that we can use these three verbs as helping verbs or as main verbs. On this page we talk about them as helping verbs. We use them in the following cases:
* To make continuous tenses (He is watching TV.)
* To make the passive (Small fish are eaten by big fish.)
*To make perfect tenses (I have finished my homework.)
* To make negatives (I do not like you.)
* To ask questions (Do you want some coffee?)
* To show emphasis (I do want you to pass your exam.)
* To stand for a main verb in some constructions (He speaks faster than she does.)
Modal helping verbs (10 verbs)
We use modal helping verbs to "modify" the meaningof the main verb in some way. A modal helping verb expresses necessity or possibility, and changes the main verb in that sense. These are the modal verbs:
* can, could
* may, might
* will, would,
* shall, should
* ought to
Here are examples using modal verbs:
* I can't speak Chinese.
* John may arrive late.
* Would you like a cup of coffee?
*You should see a doctor.
* I really must go now.
MAIN VERBS ALSO CALLED “LEXICAL VERBS”
Main verbs have meaning on their own (unlike helping verbs). There are thousands of main verbs, and we can classify them in several ways:
Transitive and intransitive verbs
A transitive verb takes a direct object: Somebody killed the President. An intransitive verb does not have a direct object: He died. Manyverbs, like speak, can be transitive or intransitive. Look at these examples:
* I saw an elephant.
* We are watching TV.
* He speaks English.
* He has arrived.
* John goes to school.
* She speaks fast.
A linking verb does not have much meaning in itself. It "links" the subject to what is said about the subject. Usually, a linking...