The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language consistently uses the term "auxiliary (verb)" to refer to be, have, do, will/can/may/must, etc., but CGEL doesn't treat auxiliaries as mere assistants (i.e., auxiliaries) of lexical verbs since CGEL adopts the catenative-auxiliary analysis over the dependent-auxiliary analysis.

The former analysis treats "auxiliaries" as the heads of the VPs whereas the latter analysis treats them as dependents of the following lexical verb.

Why would CGEL keep the term "auxiliary (verb)", which I think is incongruous with the catenative-auxiliary analysis?

Is there an alternative grammar term for 'auxiliary (verb)' that is in use in a modern grammar that adopts the catenative-auxiliary analysis?

This question arose out of an earlier answer to the question Is “Helper Verb” Old School?

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    CGEL has unique views on some things, and tailors (sometimes hijacks) terms to fit. // Elsewhere, we've had threads trying to tie down what 'sentence', 'clause' and 'phrase' mean. Oh, and 'word'. I wouldn't expect much of an epiphany on this one. May 15, 2020 at 16:28
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    @EdwinAshworth I don't think treating auxiliaries as heads of VPs is unique to CGEL. For example, X-bar theory treats auxiliaries as heads of VPs, and there are a number of modern schools of grammar that are at least partially based on X-bar theory. But I'm still unaware of any modern grammars that have abandoned or at least questioned the term "auxiliary" because they treat auxiliaries as heads, which doesn't make sense to me.
    – JK2
    May 15, 2020 at 17:01
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    Aarts in Oxford Modern English Grammar (p67) uses the term auxiliary verb and lists four types: modal, aspectual, passive and dummy (do). FYI, as you have asked many questions related to the CGEL, the end of Aarts' book contains a useful Notes and further reading section in which he lists chapter by chapter the many differences in analysis and terminology between his own book and the CGEL. On auxiliaries, Aarts makes reference to Warner, A (1993). English auxiliaries: structure and history. CUP.
    – Shoe
    May 16, 2020 at 10:00
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    @Edwin Ashworth. Thanks. And I appreciate it when you frequently point out in comments under answers with categorical claims (e.g. X is a pronoun, Y is a modifier, Z is a dependent clause) that that is not the only analysis. It is desirable if answerers who make such categorical claims could state on whose analysis the claim is based - preferably by citing the work and the page number.
    – Shoe
    Nov 4, 2020 at 11:10
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    @Shoe I feel that answers not doing so are prescriptivist, unscholarly and contrary to the mission statement of ELU. They'd be rejected in theses / articles. A pity, because they may be very good answers, perhaps the best analyses available at the present time. Feb 9, 2021 at 12:05

2 Answers 2


Auxiliary verbs also called as helping verbs/helper verbs.

For Example # I have completed my today's Todo-List.

Here, main verb = complete and
helping/auxiliary = have, which used to express complete meaning of sentence.


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    Hello. prachi. I'm afraid this term is used at say GCSE level; OP is after a doctorate-level term. 'Helper', like 'auxiliary', is informed by its non-grammatical sense, an assistant, aide: not the master, head. However, OP apprises us: 'CGEL doesn't treat auxiliaries as mere assistants (ie auxiliaries) of lexical verbs – CGEL adopts the catenative-auxiliary analysis over the dependent-auxiliary analysis. The former analysis treats "auxiliaries" as the heads of the VPs ...' (and thus 'helper verbs' is, if anything, an even worse term for such analyses). May 15, 2020 at 11:06
  • @EdwinAshworth Right on.
    – JK2
    May 15, 2020 at 15:50


Periphrastic Adj.

Compound - periphrastic conjugation n.

Grammar a conjugation formed by the combination of a simple verb and an auxiliary, rather than by an inflection of the simple verb.

1874 Presbyterian Q. & Princeton Rev. July 449 We find a so-called periphrastic conjugation, ic maeg, can, mot, scyle, ‘I may, can, must, shall, &c.’

1984 Amer. Jrnl. Philol. 105 413 Periphrastic conjugations emerged as substitutes for the now much weakened monolectic perfect.

See also https://www.thoughtco.com/periphrastic-grammar-1691610 = Periphrastic Constructions in English Grammar.

(I often think that Pullum & Huddleston delight is being contrarians on the basis that you can only be called a grammarian if you have your own theory - if you agree with someone else, you are merely an acolyte...)



periphrastic in British English


  1. expressed in two or more words rather than by an inflected form of one: used esp of a tense of a verb where the alternative element is an auxiliary verb. For example, He does go and He will go involve periphrastic tenses



periphrastic adjective

2 (grammar) using separate words to express a grammatical relationship, instead of verb endings, etc.

  • Sorry, but I'm not looking for a term for "the combination of a simple verb and an auxiliary", but one for an auxiliary only.
    – JK2
    May 15, 2020 at 16:02
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    "The rise of auxiliary DO: verb-non-raising or category-strengthening?" Richard Hudson UCL - Auxiliary DO is often called `periphrastic' DO because it has no meaning independent of the meaning of the construction concerned; the only reason for using auxiliary DO in Modern English is because the syntax requires an auxiliary and no other auxiliary is needed by the sentence's meaning. DO fills the gaps where non-auxiliary verbs are not allowed and where other auxiliaries are not needed. See thoughtco.com/periphrastic-grammar-1691610 and "modal verbs"
    – Greybeard
    May 15, 2020 at 17:54
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    Thanks. But periphrastic is a bit too broad to be used as an alternative term for 'auxiliary'.
    – JK2
    May 16, 2020 at 1:42

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