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What kind of verbs are -- is, are, were ? How do these words effect the tense of a sentence?

What tense is the sentence " They are engaged in something...." ?

1) They engage in doing something. 2) They are engaged in doing something.

With respect to above two sentences,

-- when is one used over the other. -- what tense is sentence 1, what tense is sentence 2?

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closed as general reference by FumbleFingers, Mitch, Matt Эллен, kiamlaluno, jwpat7 Apr 25 '12 at 5:09

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1 Answer

They're auxiliary verbs, used with a ‘main’ verb to help form a specific tense, and also negatives and questions. Meaning a ‘helping’ verb, the auxiliary verbs are to be, to have, and to do, as in ‘That can be changed’, ‘You must have known’, and ‘You do see’.

OP's examples are both present tense. The "main" verb is "to engage [in]" - followed by the present participle doing [something].

But in the second sentence, "to be" (as present tense "are") is the auxiliary verb forming "present continuous" tense. The main verb, relieved of any requirement to carry tense, adopts an almost "adjectival" role describing a "state of being" (as in, say, "They are annoyed"), where we naturally use the past participle.

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Thank you FumbleFingers –  user892871 Apr 19 '12 at 18:33
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