Oxford defines an auxiliary verb as "a verb used in forming the tenses, moods, and voices of other verbs."

However, "going to" is never listed as one. It would seem fair to consider it as such since it is a common way to construct the future in English.

Would it be wrong to consider it is an auxiliary verb? If so, what is the reasoning behind it?

  • 1
    It's "be going" + infinitive (to + verb) englishtenses.com/going_to.html
    – Mari-Lou A
    Mar 16, 2015 at 11:10
  • 1
    Wikipedia says 'be going [to]' may or may not be so considered: 'The going-to future construction consists of the subject, a form of the copula verb be, the word going, and the to-infinitive of the main verb. (An alternative description is that it uses the verb go in the progressive aspect, most commonly in present progressive form, serving as an auxiliary verb and having the to-infinitive phrase as its complement.)'. Mar 16, 2015 at 11:20
  • @EdwinAshworth It is available in both present and past form I am going to play, I was going to play but.... The latter creates a new tense, I don't know what that's called. Interestingly French uses the verb to go similarly. Perhaps that's how it originates in English. Il va construire une maison Il irais construire une maison (I think the latter is possible, though I don't think I've used it.
    – WS2
    Mar 16, 2015 at 12:20
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    I was going to have finished it is also available. Then there was Lister's 'will be going to have happened happened' or whatever which time-travel seemed to necessitate on Red Dwarf. Mar 16, 2015 at 12:27
  • Be going to is a construction on its way to becoming an auxiliary verb. The be is frequently elided or deleted, and the velar nasal is reduced to a nasalized vowel in some cases. In colloquial American English, what is written as I'm going to do that is pronounced [ãmõ'du:ðæt]. It's so common that there's an eye spelling for it: gonna. It doesn't fit into the syntagma of the verb chain that produces spurious "tense" forms like I could have been being photographed, but it's like other modal paraphrases (ought to/oughta, have to/hafta, want to/wanna, (have) got to/gotta, etc. Mar 16, 2015 at 16:44

3 Answers 3


Once again, piece by piece...

Oxford defines an auxiliary verb as

  • a verb used in forming the tenses, moods, and voices of other verbs

This definition is not restricted to English. English does, however, have its own
collection of prominent auxiliary verbs; the most common are

  • be, have, and do

and the modal auxiliaries

  • must, may, might, can, could, shall, should, will, would,
    and sometimes need and dare.

Note that all of these English auxiliary verbs are in fact verbs. Single verbs. No prepositions, articles, particles, quantifiers, or adverbs -- no extra words attached; just the verbs. That's what Oxford is saying.

However, going to is never listed as one.

However, be going to has stuff attached. It's not a verb so much as an idiomatic construction like there is. Some form of be is required before the progressive form going (and it has to be the progressive form only), and then to has to come right after going.

So it's not an auxiliary verb. What it is is a paraphrase of a modal, in this case the modal will, often used to indicate the future like most modals. That's not the future tense (there isn't a future tense in English), but it is a modal meaning, so in fact it's like an auxiliary verb, though it's made and used differently. The technical name for it is a periphrastic modal construction.

There are a lot of them. Most modals have one or two. Since modals can't take tense and don't have infinitives or participles, they can't be used in a lot of ways, so we use the periphrastic modal constructions instead:

  • *Yesterday I musted skip breakfast. ~ Yesterday I had to skip breakfast.
  • *He must have been willing leave ~ He must have been going to leave.

Have to paraphrases must, be going to is will, and ought to (without auxiliary be) is should. Each is idiomatic and has its own usages and idioms.

It would seem fair to consider it such since it is a common way to construct the future in English.

All modals and modal paraphrases are common ways of constructing a future meaning. That's not the future tense, however; that's just imagination.

  • Bill will/must/has to/may/would/intends to/is going to leave tomorrow.

All of the variants above refer to the future; are they all future tense?
Of course not; there is no future tense in English.

Would it be wrong to consider it an auxiliary verb?

No, not as long as you can consider the quick brown fox to be a noun; a periphrastic modal construction is a phrase being used as an auxiliary verb, just like a noun phrase is a phrase being used as a noun. This is the principle of constituency -- words can aggregate into phrases with the same use. And when that happens with grammatical parts like auxiliaries, the new constructions get very very idiomatic and irregular because they're frozen in place.

If so, what is the reasoning behind it?

It's not, so don't worry about it.

Summary: Don't depend on dictionaries for grammatical information. That's not what they're for.


Very simply, regardless of any big complex explanations, we have the following:

  • I will do the laundry.
  • I will go home.
  • I will do to him what he did to me.
  • I will go to school.
  • I will do my homework.
  • I will go downwards, near the basement.

When we say: I will do...

The natural question is "what"? The answer is a noun phrase describing an action, in other words something that can be done.

If we say: I will go...

The natural question is "where"? The answer is a noun phrase describing a location, in other words some place you can either go FROM or go TO.

For both, you can ask "why" and "how".

It seems quite obvious that "go" is a specific kind of "doing", and should therefore be treated just like "do". All this business above about having to be combined with other words, etc. is misleading. I just cited cases where neither "do" nor "go" is joined with another word like "to", and also why the word "to" is often following the word "go". You go "from" places, and "to" places. A place can also be metaphorical, such as a job or body of work. So saying "I'm going to give you the money" is saying you are going to journey to a metaphorical destination of paying out money.

  • I don't understand how that relates to the Question. Feb 27, 2018 at 15:55

No! The definition of 'auxiliary verb' is wrong. Auxiliary verbs are a very specific type of subordinate verb; they have two characteristics: first, they are followed by the infinitive WITHOUT to, and second, they form the third person present aorist indicative without the 's' suffix. So 'I am going' is not auxiliary - it is followed by the infinitive with to, and it does not form the 3ppai without s. Yes there are some weird ones: the worst is probably 'need' which can be auxiliary in the negative, but never in the positive! 'He needs to breathe' and 'He need not breathe'.

  • Also, "going to" can't be inverted in yes-no questions (though of course the preceding "be" can), which is another, even better reason for thinking it is not an auxiliary. Perhaps "aspectual verb" expresses what is special about "going to".
    – Greg Lee
    Mar 23, 2015 at 0:51
  • "Ought (to)" is an exception to your first criterion. I like the "NICE" criteria for auxiliaries
    – herisson
    Mar 8, 2017 at 15:25

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