The two sentences here both indicate that, at some point in the past, I performed some work:

  • I did work

  • I worked

What is the difference between these two sentences? Does constructing one with did and the other with a simple past change the meaning?

  • One will be seen in most cases as ungrammatical unless the context asks for it (You didn't work - Yes, I did work!), the other will by everybody be seen as correct, if used in the right context. I think you will find your question feels better at home at English Language Learners
    – oerkelens
    Commented Jul 18, 2014 at 6:54
  • 3
    @oerkelens Actually, one is emphatic. There's probably a duplicate question...
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Jul 18, 2014 at 6:55
  • Yup, I edited my comment. Both sentences can be used in the correct context.
    – oerkelens
    Commented Jul 18, 2014 at 6:56
  • 1
    There's also the case that work in "I did work" might be a noun, although that would really need some sort of determiner.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Jul 18, 2014 at 7:32
  • 1
    Indeed, this question has been asked, and answered, 16 times before. Please search the site before asking.
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Jul 19, 2014 at 17:10

4 Answers 4


There are three common usages for the auxiliary verb do:

  1. Emphatic do - strongly stressed, often contradicting something in context
    Q: Why didn't you tell her? A: I did tell her.

  2. Active do - pro-verb substituting for active (non-stative) verb
    What I want to do is buy that house now ~ *What I want to do is own that house now

  3. Do-Support do - dummy verb, no meaning, necessary in questions, negatives, etc.

So, it depends on the construction. A simple sentence like I did work has to be Emphatic, because Active do is a pro-verb and pro-verbs only occur in certain constructions, which this is not; and Do-Support do never occurs in this construction either -- it's a marker of many constructions, but not of this one.

Auxiliary verbs are part of the syntax, and may or may not mean anything. It's the constructions they're in that are important; English syntax is about constructions, not words.


It is perfectly grammatical indeed, but this way of sentence construction is used to emphasize that you really performed the action you are talking about. Thus

I did work (and I did get results)

means that you really worked (and that you really got results).

More information on emphasis you can find here:


and here:



Full Answer

  • I worked.
  • I did work.

The word did in the second sentence is an example of do-support. This occurs because of the special role of auxiliary verbs in English. (I have changed the order of the examples for easier reading.)

English auxiliary verbs

Most verb phrases in English involve at least one AUXILIARY verb. These verbs appear before the main verb in the sentence. There are two main types. Firstly, there are the auxiliary verbs BE and HAVE. These appear in perfect, continuous, and passive constructions in English:

  • I have eaten. (perfect)
  • I am eating. (continuous)
  • It is eaten. (passive)

Secondly, there is the family of modal auxiliary verbs. These are used to express ideas about permission, obligation, probability and so forth:

  • You may leave.
  • You must be polite to them.
  • It might rain.

The nine central members of this group are: can, could, shall, should, may might, will, would and must.

NICE properties

The English auxiliary verbs have special grammatical functions, apart from the ones described above, which make them different from normal verbs. In particular, they play an important role in sentences featuring: Negation, Inversion, Code or Emphasis. (They are said, therefore, to have NICE properties).

Firstly, auxiliaries can take the adverb not (or contract with -n't) to form negative sentences. Normal verbs can't.

  • He is not eating it / He hasn't eaten it/ He couldn't eat it.
  • He ate not it/ aten't it * (wrong)

Secondly, some constructions in English require the subject and auxiliary verb to swap places. This is known as inversion. Normally, only auxiliary verbs can fullfil this function:

  • Neither have I/Neither am I/ Neither can I.
  • Neither travel I. * (wrong)
  • Has she?/Is she?/Can she?
  • Eats she? * (wrong)

In the following examples, the auxiliary verbs are said to be taking code. This means that they can appear stranded with the rest of the verb phrase omitted. The auxiliary seems to carry the meaning for the whole of the rest of the missing material. Lexical verbs can't do this:

  • Have you ever been to Paris on a Friday evening with your mother-in-law?
  • Yes, I have. (= been to Paris on a Friday evening with my mother-in-Law)

Compare with:

  • Do you like listening to Northern soul?
  • Yes, I like. * (wrong)

Lastly, we can stress auxiliaries in English when we want to add affirmative emphasis to our sentences. (We can also stress them for negative emphasis, but only when contracted with the negative particle):

  • Cinderella shall go to the ball.
  • I have finished my homework.
  • I can do my five times table.

Simple tenses and do-support.

The present simple and past simple verb forms in English, do not standardly use auxiliaries for affirmative sentences:

  • We worked.
  • I like elephants.

Here we see the main verbs worked and like occurring on their own without any auxiliaries. However, suppose we need to use Negation, Inversion, Code or Emphasis? As we've seen, only auxiliaries can enter into such constructions. If we need to do this in the present or past simple, we need to use a 'dummy' auxiliary. The dummy for these purposes is the special auxiliary DO. It functions as an auxiliary stand-in in present simple and past simple constructions:

  • I don't eat other animals. (negation)
  • I like elephants. - So do I. (inversion)
  • I do. (= take this man to be my lawful wedded husband) (code)
  • I did finish my homework. (emphasis).

Note that when we use do the main verb is an infinitive and doesn't have tense.

These occurrences of the dummy auxiliary DO, only occur because an auxiliary is necessary for these constructions. It does not occur in unmarked affirmative sentences. The above examples all illustrate do-support, in other words they show DO standing in as an auxiliary verb.

The original sentences

I worked, then, is an unmarked, everyday, past simple sentence. There is no special reading here. The main verb carries the tense, and there is, as we would expect, no auxiliary.

The other sentence, however, is definitely marked. The presence of the dummy auxiliary is an indication that this is one of the NICE constructions. As the sentence does not involve negation, inversion, or code, the sentence is interpreted as being emphatic. There will be a sense that the affirmative truth of the sentence is being underlined. This may be occurring because there is some contrast with a negative expectation or assertion:

  • You said I didn't work. I did work.
  • I wasn't expecting to work, but I did work.

To sum up, although the literal meaning of the two sentences is the same, the version with do-support is marked as emphatic. The two sentences are not, therefore, interchangeable. If we used emphatic forms when we didn't need them, our English would sound very strange, and we might be misunderstood.


I did work could mean 'I performed work' with work as a noun ( e.g. I did work on the second paragraph last week but it's still not right). I still think that the most common use is to contradict the suggestion that you didn't work. E.g.: 'You were supposed to do your homework, but I see you've done nothing...' 'No, I did work, but my dog got hungry...'

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