THE following simple-sounding but actually rather complicated grammar question was posted in Jose Carillo’s English Forum recently by Education student Justine Aragones:
“How does the use of auxiliary verb ‘is’ and ‘has’ change the sense of these two sentences?
1. ‘The school board is decided that the erring principal vacate her post immediately.’
2. ‘The school board has decided that the erring principal vacate her post immediately.’”
My reply to Justine:
To answer that question properly, we need to amend it first to reflect the fact that while “has” is indeed an auxiliary verb, “is” is not an auxiliary verb but a linking verb. Auxiliary verbs always need a main verb to function, but linking verbs are stand-alones that don’t need a main verb. We will establish the basis for this telltale distinction by doing a quick review of verbs, auxiliary verbs, and linking verbs.
Recall that a verb is a word or phrase that describes an action, condition, or experience. It denotes what the subject of a sentence is doing, like the verb “talk” in “They talked last night” and the verb phrase “talk back” in “She talked back to her boss,” or it indicates a state or situation of that subject, like the verb “be” in “We were in shock with what she did last night” and the verb “exudes” in “He exudes confidence even in great adversity.”
An auxiliary verb, also called a helping verb, works with a main verb to form its tenses, voice, and modality; to provide a desired emphasis; and to form a question or the negative of the verb. The most common auxiliary verbs are, of course, “have,” “be,” and “do” with their various conjugations, namely “has” and “had” for “have”; “am,” “is,” “was,” “were,” “been,” and “being” for “be”; and “did,” “done,” and “doing” for “do.” For instance, in the sentence “Their checked-in luggage has been offloaded,” the auxiliary verbs “has” and “been” work with the main verb “offloaded” to form the present perfect tense.
In contrast, a linking verb, also known as a copula or copular verb, is a verb that connects the subject of a sentence with its complement, which is an adjective or noun or an adjective phrase or noun phrase that describes or identifies the subject. As we all know, the most frequently used linking verb is “be” and its conjugations (“am,” “is,” “was,” and “were”), as in “She is lovely” and “They were friends.” Other common linking verbs are “appear,” “seem,” “become,” and “feel,” as in “She appears unperturbed by the gossip against her.”
Now let’s go back and answer the question at issue here as amended.
How does the use of linking verb “is” and the auxiliary verb “has” change the sense of these two sentences?
1. “The school board is decided that the erring principal vacate her post immediately.”
2. “The school board has decided that the erring principal vacate her post immediately.”
The use of the linking verb “is” by Sentence 1 makes it a description of the predisposition of the school board members to order the erring principal to vacate her post immediately.
Here, the word “decided” functions as an adjective describing the apparently unanimous state of mind of the board members about the matter. That decision has yet to be finalized and declared, however.
On the other hand, the use by Sentence 2 of the auxiliary verb “has” in tandem with the main verb “decided” (“has” + past participle of “decide”) makes it a sentence in the present perfect tense. This means that the school board made the decision recently or at an unspecified time before now (the exact time is deemed not important by the one making the report).
I trust that this analysis has clarified the distinction between auxiliary verbs and linking verbs.
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