How would you give short answers to questions with multiple auxiliary verbs?

Example 1

Have you been sleeping?
a) Yes, I have.
b) Yes, I have been.

Example 2

Would you have left if you had had money?
a) Yes, I would.
b) Yes, I would have.

Example 3

Should you have told her?
a) Yes, I should.
b) Yes, I should have.

What's the general rule? Should we include all the auxiliary verbs used in the question, or just the first one? If both are correct, which is more common?

  • All of your examples sound correct both ways. I, however, personally like using option b in your examples, but that is not the rule; the rule is that both options are correct.
    – Nick
    Commented Jan 7, 2018 at 3:51
  • I prefer "I have", "I would", but "I should have", maybe because in the first two the expression carries little meaning beyond "yes" so the shorter form is fine, but in the last it implies "but I didn't" and hence is more significant and would receive more stress. But I agree, either is valid depending on what emphasis you want to provide.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Feb 8 at 10:32

3 Answers 3


I have just copy pasted the definition from the book "Oxford Guide to English Grammar". (Since that's a book, I can't give you a link, so I have copy pasted). I hope it will help you understand.

Leaving out words after the auxiliary

Sometimes we have to use two auxiliary verbs. When the first is a new word, we cannot leave out the second.

Have the team won? ~ Well, everyone's smiling, so they must have.

I don't know if Tom is still waiting. He might be.

When will the room be cleaned? ~ It just has been.

Here must, might and has are not in the previous sentence.

But when the two auxiliaries are both in the previous sentence, then we can leave out the second.

The corridor hasn't been cleaned, but the room has (been).

You could have hurt yourself. ~ Yes, I could (have).


Just found an answer to my question:

When there is more than one auxiliary, ellipsis usually happens after the first.
You wouldn't have enjoyed the film. ~ Yes, I would. (= ... I would have enjoyed the film.)
However, more auxiliaries can be included. The first is stressed.
Could you have been dreaming? ~ I suppose I could / COULD have / COULD have been.
We often include a second auxiliary verb if it has not appeared before in the same form.
I think Emily should be told. ~ She has been. (More natural than ... She has.)
And we normally include a second auxiliary verb after a change of modal auxiliary.
Emily should be told. ~ She must be. (More natural than ... She must.)

Michael Swan, Practical English Usage 4th edition, entry 279.5


I think that in everyday English either answer is acceptable and would have the same impact and meaning.

However, sometimes when multiple auxiliary verbs appear together the first auxiliary verb functions as a minor part of speech called an operator. Operators are often used in English grammar to make questions, to make negatives and to provide emphasis .

In each of your b) phrases/replies the operators are: have would, should . These words would be spoken with emphasis and given major stress i.e. spoken louder and longer probably to convey some emotion depending on the situation.

  • At least in the first answer there's no emphasis because the person is just saying "yes". In the second there may be an implied contrast, that someone else would not, so you would apply some emphasis. In the third the implied conclusion is "but I didn't" and here again you need emphasis and probably want both auxiliaries in the first case (even if you would be dropping "told" after "should have" and "tell" after "didn't").
    – Stuart F
    Commented Feb 8 at 10:35

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