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Unit 6 Auxiliary Verbs

You have already encountered three auxiliary (or helping) verbs:


be, do, and have. They are conjugated and used with another verb to
change that verb's meaning or tense:

I go I am going (changed to in progress or incomplete)

you sing do you sing? (changed to a question)

she makes she has made (changed to the present perfect tense)

There are several other auxiliary verbs you should know. Note that
many of the auxiliary verbs cannot be used in all tenses. And in
some cases, you have to change to a different verb to form a
specific tense. The following examples will be conjugated with
the third-person pronoun he :
to be able to to be supposed to
Present is able to is supposed to
Past was able to was supposed to
Present Perfect has been able to has been supposed to
Past Perfect had been able to had been supposed to
Future will be able to will be supposed to
Future Perfect will have been able to will have been
supposed to

can to have to
Present can has to
Past could OR had to
was able to
Present Perfect has been able to has had to
Past Perfect had been able to had had to
Future will be able to will have to
Future Perfect will have been able to will have had to

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Auxiliary Verbs 45

may must
Present may must
Past might had to
Present Perfect N/A has had to
Past Perfect N/A
N/A had had to
Future N/A will have
Future Perfect to
will have had to

ought to should
Present ought to should
Past N/A N/A
Present Perfect N/A N/A
N/A N/A
Past Perfect N/A N/A
Future N/A N/A
Future Perfect

to want to to need to
Present wants needs to
Past wanted needed to
Present Perfect has wanted has needed to
Past Perfect had wanted had needed to
Future will want will need to
Future Perfect will have will have needed to
wanted

Auxiliary verbs like these are followed by an infinitive:


I can go. I want to go.
You must learn. You have to learn.
We should help. We need to help.
He can drive. He ought to drive.

Exercise 6-1

Rewrite each sentence twice in the present tense: once by adding can and once by adding want to.

1. Serena buys a new car.


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2. We borrow some money.


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3. I leave at ten o'clock.


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Practice Makes Perfect: English Grammar for ESL Learners

4. The boys have cereal for breakfast.


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5. My sister is home by 6:00 P.M.


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6. They travel to California.


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7. Mr. Gutierrez carries the groceries for her.


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Exercise 6-2

Remove the auxiliary in each sentence and rewrite the sentence appropriately.

1. You ought to stay in bed all day.


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2. I should try hard.


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3. My brother may be a little late.


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4. We need to find a room for the night.


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5. Ms. Brown is able to get out of bed today.


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6. Ramon must remain at home today.


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7. They have to learn to behave well.


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Auxiliary Verbs 47

8. Can you hear me?


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9. His girlfriend wants to sell her condo.


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10. Do you have to work every day?


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When you use some of the auxiliaries with a verb, you tell to what degree of obligation someone
has to carry out the action of the verb. Look at the sentences below. The first one shows the least
degree of obligation. This is something someone doesn't have to do. The last sentence shows the
greatest degree of obligation. This is something that someone absolutely must do.
"We may return the books." (Least obligation. It's our choice.) "We can return
the books." (Little obligation. It's our choice.)
"We are able to return the books." (Little obligation. We have the ability to do
this.) "We need to return the books." (Slight obligation.)
"We ought to return the books." (Little obligation, but this would be a good
idea.)
"We should return the books." (Little obligation, but this would be a good idea.)
"We are supposed to return the books." (Some obligation. Someone has
suggested we do this.)
"We must return the books." (Greatest obligation. It is our duty to do this.) "We
have to return the books." (Greatest obligation. It is our duty to do this.)

When you add an auxiliary to a sentence, use the same tense for the auxiliary as that of the
original verb. For example: "Celeste found (past tense) a recent biography." When you add have
to to that sentence, you say, "Celeste had to (past tense) find a recent biography."

Exercise 6-3

Rewrite the following sentences with the auxiliary shown in parentheses. Be sure to keep the same
tense as in the original sentence.

1. Mr. Weston drives to Arizona. (to have to)


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2. We borrowed some tools from him. (to need to)


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3. I left for Mexico on the tenth of May. (to want to)


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4. Ms. McAdam will help you. (to be able to)


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48 Practice Makes Perfect: English Grammar for ESL Learners

5. Jolene repairs the car. (ought to)


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6. Did you understand them? (can)


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7. Aaron worked on Saturday. (to be supposed to)


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8. She orders the cake today. (must)


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9. Have you filled out the application? (to be able to)


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10. Our neighbors will paint their house. (to want to)
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