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


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".


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.


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).

  • 1
    In Is John hungry? you have no actual main verb for the purported auxiliary to modify.
    – JdeBP
    Jun 10 '11 at 13:30
  • 1
    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
  • @JdeBP: That's like saying that the word "very" can't be an adverb in "a very good book" because there is no verb for it to modify. Things often have names due to convention that don't describe them very well. "Auxiliaries" is used by many modern linguists as the name of a group of words that show certain technical characteristics regardless of whether they are "helper verbs" or not.
    – herisson
    Mar 31 '17 at 6:54
  • No. You should read the answer at hand. It states what it thinks are main and auxiliary verbs, then gives a supposed example sentence that contradicts its own definitions.
    – JdeBP
    Jun 8 '17 at 12:25

Well..a( verb to be) is to give information about the intended person or thing concerning its character or place.EX:We are here, but Ali is sick,they were teachers ..here(are,is,were) functioned as verbs to be ..an auxiliary verb is the one used to recognise the tenses of the sentences.i.e. we differntiate between present simple and con. by involving (is, are,am) before the main verbs in continuous aspect...EX:Ahmed is reading a fiction book..Ahmed reads fiction books. Here we distiguished both tenses by using (is)in the first...may it make sense.

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