I know lexical verbs are main verbs and auxiliary verbs are helpers (be, do, have) to main verbs but I can not find a logical way to think of "are" as a lexical verb. Can you please describe to me the logic behind it?


"Are they still here?"

I can not find a logical way to think ''are'' as a lexical verb.

Because "are" in this case is taken to mean "exist, be present". "Are" exists on its own, it is the only verb in the sentence, therefore it is impossible that it is auxiliary.

It might help to remember what an auxiliary verb is, if you remember what "auxiliary" inherently means:


Providing supplementary or additional help and support.

When something is an auxiliary verb, then it exists to assist another verb in the sentence.

Thomas is working.

"is" has no meaning by itself. The main focus of the sentence (in regards to verbs) is work. "Is" is only added to the sentence because it would otherwise sound silly.

"Is" supports the presence of "working", in my example.

Compare this to:

Thomas is here.

But in this example, there is no other verb, and therefore "is" cannot be auxiliary. It is lexical, because it stands on its own.

I've tried to explain it with common sense, rather than pointing to generalized grammatical descriptions that are often hard to understand. I hope my explanation helps you.

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  • Actually, it seems that modern linguists often use a different definition of "auxiliary verb" in English that doesn't require it to be a "helping verb". That may seem incongruous, but consider that the name is just a name, not a definition. An "adverb" doesn't always modify a verb, despite the name, and a preposition doesn't always come before a noun (in most current accounts of English grammar). – herisson Jul 28 '17 at 21:14
  • Here's an answer where I link to some of the arguments for this: english.stackexchange.com/a/362824/77227 For people who use this definition, "lexical be" is a thing, but it doesn't occur in ''Are they still here?'' It only refers to "be" with do-support; some examples are given in the following answer: english.stackexchange.com/a/297551/77227 – herisson Jul 28 '17 at 21:17
  • @sumelic as I understand it, adverb comes from adverbum, and in Latin, verbum means "word", not "verb". Thus it modifies another word (which is vague too, as that broad definition would also include adjectives) – Flater Jul 28 '17 at 23:18
  • Perhaps it is possible to explain the etymology of "adverb" that way. I don't think it changes the point I was trying to make, which is that the name of a grammatical term does not necessarily designate its correct definition. – herisson Jul 28 '17 at 23:23
  • @sumelic: my previous comment was an addition, not a counterpoint. My version isn't any more clear because "words" includes "nouns", which is the territory of an adjective, not an adverb :) – Flater Jul 29 '17 at 0:35

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