What is the meaning of "do" in questions like "What do you like?", "Where do you live", "Do you have a large family?"

The verb 'to do' describes performing or executing an action, and in the first two cases the last word of the question could be (I suspect is) the infinitive of the verb(s) to like, to live.

Is the same meaning used in the 3rd question?

How is "do" used in these (or similar) contexts?

2 Answers 2


These are auxiliary verbs.

In some languages, it would be sufficient to say

He walking.

But in English, we have to say

He is walking.

In other structured languages, it would be acceptable to say (let me concoct the grammar)

ensufficiented says-he
ensufficienting him to-say

However, English having gone through various stages of creolization, did not have a population given to or sufficiently sophisticated to allow paradigmatic analytic grammar to blossom.

How else would early English literature translate philosophy, tales, yore and the Bible from Latin, Italian, Hebrew, Greek, Arabic into English? And yet retaining a sense of tenses and moods expressible in those languages. So that today we are able to differentiate between

  • What does he want?
  • What had he wanted?
  • What did he want?
  • What do they want?
  • What has he wanted?
  • What will he want?
  • What would he want?
  • What should he want?
  • What might he want?
  • What shall he want?

'Do' is certainly a verb. But, it is a multi-purpose word. Do in these context does not represent any action hence is not a verb. Here, 'Do' is used as a support for forming a question. Like the words 'Which', 'Who', 'Where', the words like 'Is', 'Do', 'Are', are also used as question tags. Eg: 1) Is it getting dark? 2) Are you doing your work? 3) Do you know?

In these cases, 'is' and 'are' are the forms of the 'to Be', and similarly with, 'to Do' which is a different verb itself. Thus, such words are not necessarily used as verbs but also Supporting/Main question tags.

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