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I assume all be verbs are auxiliary verbs; is this correct?

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possible duplicate of Is "am" in "I am right" an auxiliary verb? – Cerberus Jun 6 '11 at 14:52
up vote 4 down vote accepted

Not necessarily. An auxiliary verb is one which is a verb functioning to give further semantic or syntactic information about the main or full verb following it.

"Be" could be an auxiliary verb i.e. "It has been done"

However, it can also be the main verb itself:

I will be there/ Chairs be confounded!

Note 'be' is main verb, and has auxiliary verb "will".

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Have a well-deserved upvote on me, you rep-whore! :-) – FumbleFingers Jun 6 '11 at 3:19
I'm flagging your comment!!!! jks. Don't get too scared. – Thursagen Jun 6 '11 at 5:06
I see I'm going to be forced to surf around and find out what comment flagging is all about. After which I'll have to decide whether to flag your comment on the grounds you're giving me all that extra work to do! – FumbleFingers Jun 6 '11 at 5:20
Hey! Calm down! I was only joking! Maybe you might not be? – Thursagen Jun 6 '11 at 5:21
Actually it was worth the look. Comment flagging is a new feature added in last couple of weeks, and now I have a favourited page so I can check for new features whenever I want. My understanding is flagging should be used with caution because you end up tying up valuable mods' time. Downvoting doesn't, and I also now know that they've recently made downvoting Questions 'free', whereas before you used to lose rep (not gain it, as has been mistakenly supposed by some). – FumbleFingers Jun 6 '11 at 5:31

One of the most common usages of auxiliary verbs is in creating past tenses: I have seen vs. I am seeing vs. I saw

You could not similarly use "run" in the place of "have" or "be". Auxiliary verbs are often called helping verbs--they "help" the reader understand a more specific meaning (that's just to help you remember what it means, not an actual etymology).

Wikipedia gives a list of auxiliary verbs, and it includes fewer than thirty entries including multiple tenses and modalities of the same verb.

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There's actually a fairly mechanical way to distinguish auxiliary verbs which does not rely at all on their meaning. Auxiliary verbs always move to the front of the sentence when the sentence is a question. Main verbs never do. If a main verb occurs with an auxiliary, then the auxiliary will move to the front in a question. If the main verb occurs without an auxiliary, then a dummy do will appear where an auxiliary would normally appear.

The examples below show be and have as auxiliaries:

  • Is John hungry?
  • Has John visited London?

In contrast, the examples below show the same verb as main verbs (and auxiliaries as well):

  • Is John being stupid, again?
  • Has John ever had a clue?

The reliability of this way of distinguishing auxiliaries from main verbs (in English) is well-supported by quite a large body of linguistics literature. There are further tests which distinguish, e.g., modals from others, etc. You might wish to take a look at the page Modals and auxiliaries to learn more (it's slightly technical, but overall fairly accessible).

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In Is John hungry? you have no actual main verb for the purported auxiliary to modify. – JdeBP Jun 10 '11 at 13:30
Yeah, this can't be correct. It's true that all modals and auxiliaries can move out to the front, but it is not true that any verb that can move out to the front is a modal or auxiliary. "be", whether used as a main verb or an auxiliary always moves to the front. In BrE, "have" behaves similarly when it is used in its lexical meaning. – siride Jun 10 '11 at 16:50

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