The link above describes some irregular verbs that require helping verbs (i.e., she had begun work before I arrived). I am trying to confirm whether one can choose to use a helping verb in the past perfect tense or if on has to one hundred percent of the time.

Another great resource for this kind of thing is:


Like I've shown, I've done the research...would just like some clarification. My question is:

Yes or No: Is the reality of the English language that some verbs will have helping verbs in the past perfect tense and others will not?

  • I don't understand your question. Are you asking whether all auxiliary verbs have past participles? In fact, some of them don't (notably the modals). – rjpond Oct 30 '17 at 22:28
  • yes I'm asking that. – Jackal21 Oct 31 '17 at 14:20
  • Has my answer answered your question then? (And if not, would you like to clarify your question further? Thanks.) – rjpond Nov 1 '17 at 19:45
  • Is the only downside of using this form so much that it can get quite redundant and you don't know how the action actually happened to get to the end result? I know that sounds like a leading question, but I'm trying to break it down to english-language learners so I need to make sure I can explain its place in the english language. (more clarification about the context of why I need to know about the helping verbs that was not appropriate in the initial question) – Jackal21 Nov 2 '17 at 8:25
  • Redundant in what way? There are some places where it doesn't work grammatically, other places where it is compulsory, and some where there is some variation in usage. There is a tag past-vs-present-perfect for discussing the decision about when to use the present perfect versus when to use the simple past. ell.stackexchange.com/questions/tagged/past-vs-present-perfect – rjpond Nov 7 '17 at 18:50

Yes, all perfect constructions require a form of the auxiliary HAVE, followed (with perhaps an intervening adverbial) by the past participle of its complement. In the past perfect the HAVE form will be the past form: had.

In older English some verbs of motion might take the past form of the auxiliary BE instead of HAVE, but that construction is no longer employed except in literary contexts.

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  • based on the website, some irregular verbs do not have that "had" that you're talking about....or is that an error with the particular source I used? – Jackal21 Oct 31 '17 at 14:19
  • @Jackal21 Can you give an example from either page of a past perfect which does not employ have? – StoneyB on hiatus Oct 31 '17 at 16:55

The modal auxiliaries have no past participles and so don't have perfects of their own (although they can govern perfect infinitives).

So, "can", "will", "shall", "may" have past forms "could", "would", "should", "might", but no past participles (nor present participles, nor infinitives). However, even the past forms are more often used with non-past meaning than with past meaning, so some people prefer to think of them as separate verbs. (For example, "could" often refers to a future potential event, as do "would" and "might".)

"Must" and "ought" also lack past participles (and present participles and infinitives), but these two verbs only have a single tense form, with no present/past distinction even notionally.

So, the past of "I can" is "I could", but there is no present perfect or past perfect. If you needed one, you would have to use a workaround such as "I have been able to" (present perfect) and "I had been able to" (past perfect). For "must", the workarounds are "I have had to" (present perfect) and "I had had to" (past perfect).

Although the modal verbs have no perfects of their own, they can govern perfect infinitives, e.g. "I could have been", "I will have gone", "I would have known", "I might have done".

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