What sets apart auxiliary verbs from linking verbs in English

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Jose A. Carillo

Jose A. Carillo

IN machine-gun fashion, a member of Jose Carillo’s English Forum who goes by the username Spelling asked me the following grammar questions that are very basic yet defy quick and easy answers:

“Can you please tell me if the verb ‘have’ is ever used as an auxiliary in the present tense? As full verb, it can be used in a sentence like ‘I have a book.’ Is that correct?

“The verb ‘be’ in the simple present tense can be used as an auxiliary, as in ‘Windows are made of glass.’ Is that correct?

“The verb ‘do’ in the simple present tense can be used as an auxiliary, as in ‘Does he play tennis?’ Is that correct?

“Are ‘have,’ ‘be,’ and ‘do’ considerednoncontinuous verbs?”

My reply to Spelling:

If I attempted to answer your questions quickly in the order that you asked them, I probably would have created more bedlam than understanding about the behavior of English verbs. I thus thought it more prudent to begin by first defining the grammar terms involved.

Recall that a verb is a word or phrase that describes an action, condition, or experience. It denotes either (a) what the subject of a sentence is doing or has done, like the verb “sing” in “She sings a love song” and “watch” in “They watched the parade”;or (b) indicates a state or situation of that subject, like the verb “were” in “We were stunned by the testimony of the senator’s former bodyguard ” and “exudes” in “She exudes self-composure despite the mounting evidence against her.”

An auxiliary verb or helping verb works with a main verb to form its tenses, voice and modality, as the auxiliary
“has” in “She has denied guilt” where it works to form the present perfect tense of the verb “denied.” On the other hand, a linking verb is one that connects the subject of a sentence to itscomplement, as the linking verb “be” (in its past-tense form “were”) in “They were lovers for seven years.”Take note that auxiliary verbs always need a main verb to function, but linking verbs are stand-alones that don’t need one.

Now we are in an excellentposition to answer the questions you raised.

First, about “have,” which can either be a main verb or an auxiliary verb: It definitely works as a main (stand-alone) verb in “I have a book” to denote possession. However, “have”can never be used as an auxiliary in the present tense; it can only be used in the perfect tenses, as in “The alleged drug lord and her lover have testified against the lady senator” (present perfect) and in “By early next year the first tranche of the social
security pension increase shall have been implemented” (future perfect conditional).

Second, about “be”: It is wrong to say that “be” (in the plural form “are”) works as an auxiliary in “Windows are made of glass.” On the contrary, “are” works in that sentence as a linking verb connecting the subject “windows” to the adjective complement “made of glass” (a state of the subject).

Third, about “do”: Yes, it works as an auxiliary in the question “Does he play tennis?” Indeed, one of the functions of the auxiliary “do” is to enable the main verb to form such questions.

Fourth and last, about “have,” “be,” and “do”:Can they be considered noncontinuous verbs? In general, noncontinuous verbs like “hate” and “love” denote a state, not an action, andcan’t be used to express the continuous or progressive aspect. This is why grammatically, we can’t say “We’re hating that lying woman” nor “I’m loving it” (remember that queasy burger slogan?). As main verbs, “have,” “be,” and “do” likewise can’t form the continuous or progressive aspect, so they can also be considered as noncontinuous verbs.

Visit Jose Carillo’s English Forum, http://josecarilloforum.com. Visit me on Facebook. Follow me at Twitter.com @J8Carillo. E-mail: j8carillo@yahoo.com

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