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The power of DO, BE, HAVE

English has 23 auxiliary verbs. That’s a lot!

Today we focus on the three basic ones:
do, beand have.

This post will show you how powerful these short words are, and how they are able to transform a simple sentence into questions, negatives and different verb tenses.

All three verbs are irregular:

  • DO: do/does – did – done
  • BE: am/is/are – was/were – been
  • HAVE: have/has – had – had

To begin with, do, be and have are main verbs in their own right:

  • She does lots of exercise. You did a good job.
  • Where is my mobile? The weather was terrible.
  • He has three dogs. My teacher had great influence on me.

At the same time, these three verbs also act as auxiliary verbs (they are sometimes called helping verbs). They reveal their true power when they come before a main verb and transform the entire sentence.

  • While the main verb remains static in the infinitive, the past participle or the gerund, it’s the auxiliary verb that does all the work. 

    It takes any necessary form, such as simple or continuous, past or present, singular or plural.
     It moves to the beginning of the sentence when making a question.

  • Auxiliary verbs are indispensable in questions and negatives.
  • They are needed to form different verb tenses and passives.
  • In short answers to Yes/No questions, the auxiliary verb from the question is repeated.
  • Auxiliary verbs are also repeated in tag questions, with do replacing the verb in the simple tenses.

With all that being said, auxiliary verbs really ought to be called “working verbs”! 😄

Next, let’s see how these multi-talented little verbs really work.

What does each of the three auxiliary verbs do?

Each of the three verbs has some responsibilities of its own. Let’s see how they transform a basic sentence such as She paints.


  • Simple tenses: Questions | Negatives | Tag questions

  • The main verb remains in the infinitive.
  • Do / does forms questions and negatives in the present simple.
    Did forms questions and negatives in the past simple.
    Do / does / did also replace the main verb in tag questions.

Questions and short answers:
Does she paint every day? – Yes, she does. / No, she doesn’t.
Where does she paint?
Did she paint this picture herself? – Yes, she did. / No, she didn’t.
When did she paint it?

She doesn’t paint every day.
She didn’t paint yesterday.

Tag questions:
She loves painting, doesn’t she?
She started painting eight years ago, didn’t she?


  • Continuous tenses | Passives

  • The main verb is in the gerund (verb + -ing) for continuous tenses.
    It stands in the past participle for the passive.
  • Am / is / are are used in present continuous and present passive sentences.
    Was / were help to form past continuous tenses and past passives.

Present continuous:
She is painting right now.
What is she painting?
Is she painting a portrait? – Yes, she is. / No, she isn’t.

Past continuous:
She was painting when you called.
What was she painting?
Was she painting a landscape? – Yes, she was. / No, she wasn’t.

Passive present and past:
Our office is painted every two years.
Our office was painted last year.


  • Perfect tenses | Causative

  • The main verb is in the past participle.

Present perfect simple / Present perfect continuous:
Wow! She has painted a beautiful landscape.
She has been painting a lot recently.

Past perfect simple / Past perfect continuous:
After she had painted the landscape she cleaned all her brushes.
She was tired because she had been painting for hours.

We need to have the house painted.
They are having their office painted.
I had my kitchen painted last year.
Guess what, I have had my car painted!

A note on pronunciation:

In spoken English, auxiliary verbs are usually contracted.

To sum up,

  • DO is needed for questions, negatives and tag questions in simple tenses.
  • BE is necessary to form continuous tenses and the passive.
  • HAVE helps to make perfect tenses and the causative.

Did this post help? Are you finding auxiliary verbs difficult? Has this post made them clearer for you?

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