I think I didn't understand auxiliary verbs. What is the difference between is(main verb) and is(auxiliary verb), have or do? Or I should ask this: Does have the common mean these verbs(auxiliary and main)?

Take a look:

Present simple “Hanna is at home.”
Auxiliary verb: none
Full/mainverb: is (base form: to be)

Why "is" don't acknowledge as auxiliary verb?

Present continuous: “Harold is waiting at work.”
Auxiliary verb: is (to be)
Full/main verb: waiting (to wait)

Why "is" acknowledge as auxiliary verb?

  • Have you looked for a definition of auxiliary verbs? Here is a simple explanation. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Auxiliary_verb
    – JavaLatte
    Commented Sep 12, 2020 at 12:11
  • The verb "be" is always an auxiliary verb even when it's the only verb in the clause. Auxiliary verbs are verbs with the NICE properties. "Be" is one of them. See the link that Java has provided.
    – BillJ
    Commented Sep 12, 2020 at 12:14
  • @JavaLatte thanks. I'll look.
    – user123960
    Commented Sep 12, 2020 at 12:15

3 Answers 3


[1] Hanna is at home.

[2] Harold is waiting at work.

I would advise you to avoid using the term 'main verb', since it's misleading.

"Be" is always an auxiliary verb, even when it's the only verb in the sentence.

Auxiliaries are verbs with the NICE properties (The acronym NICE means Negation, Inversion, Code, Emphasis). "Be" has those 'special' properties and hence is an auxiliary verb irrespective of its function in the clause.

Take Inversion, for example. In the case of a declarative clause like your example "Hanna is at home", the verb "is" inverts with the subject "Hanna" to form the interrogative "Is Hanna at home?" thus proving that "be" is an auxiliary. By contrast, lexical verbs require do support to form interrogatives, cf. "Hanna lives here" ~ "Does Hanna live here?"

  • Is always auxiliary? Isn't auxiliary means helping verbs? I learned such. If so "is" is singly in sentence, how helps the verbs? I hope I had explained.
    – user123960
    Commented Sep 12, 2020 at 12:55
  • @user123960 No, auxiliary verbs are not just 'helping' verbs, but any verb that has the NICE properties. In my example "Ed is a teacher", the verb "is" is the only verb, so you would probably call it the 'main' verb. But it is still an auxiliary Did you look at the link that Java gave you? Also link
    – BillJ
    Commented Sep 12, 2020 at 13:02
  • I can't look for now. But I'll look. And I have a question. What do you mean that you write(niCe) "code"?
    – user123960
    Commented Sep 12, 2020 at 13:06
  • Could you send any website about of code subject?
    – user123960
    Commented Sep 12, 2020 at 13:12
  • 1
    @DanGetz The OP’s exercise is clearly treating auxiliary and main as mutually exclusive, which is how I was also taught. And the very name “auxiliary” supports that; it must be an auxiliary to something other than itself.
    – StephenS
    Commented Sep 12, 2020 at 19:08

A verb phrase is a set of verbs that work together to form a single meaning. Every verb phrase has one main verb, which always comes last. Any other verbs in the verb phrase are auxiliary verbs (or helping verbs).

Hanna is at home.

The verb phrase here is “is”. Since there is only one verb, it must be a main verb.

Harold is waiting at work.

The verb phrase here is “is waiting”. The last verb, “waiting”, is the main verb. The other verb, “is”, must be an auxiliary verb.

(Note: not all sources agree with this model, but it is the way I learned and apparently the way you are being taught, so I will treat it as correct for the purposes of this answer.)

  • That is schoolboy grammar -- not at all scholarly and potentially misleading. Those who claim that "be" is a lexical verb are mistaken.
    – BillJ
    Commented Sep 13, 2020 at 7:02
  • Incidentally, in the example "Hanna is at home", the VP is not just "is", but "is at home". "Is" is simply the head of the VP. The VP is the predicate of the sentence and contains all the dependents of the verb, i.e. complements and adjuncts. Likewise in "Harold is waiting at work" the VP is not "is waiting", but "is waiting at home".
    – BillJ
    Commented Sep 13, 2020 at 7:13
  • ‘Auxiliary verb’ must be defined in grammatical terms, not in semantic terms. Thus auxiliary verbs are verbs with the NICE properties, not verbs that help other verbs: you couldn’t identify them by asking whether or not they help the following verb. They are called auxiliary verbs because they characteristically express meanings similar to those expressed (either in the same language or in other languages) by verb inflection – but this property provides a basis for naming the grammatical class ‘auxiliary verb’ not for identifying individual instances.
    – BillJ
    Commented Sep 13, 2020 at 7:17
  • @BillJ Perhaps this merits a meta discussion, but I would think “schoolboy” grammar, as I was taught in school and has sufficed my entire life as a native speaker, is more appropriate for learners than “scholarly” grammar that does not usefully answer the question posed.
    – StephenS
    Commented Sep 13, 2020 at 10:27

The meanings of a verb when used as an auxiliary are almost always different from those when not used as an auxiliary. Instead of trying to consider them all the same word, I find it easier to treat the different meanings of a word as different words, as if they're homophones. This is useful for words whose different meanings have different grammar, and "be", "have", and "do" are excellent examples of that.

Wikipedia has a nice table of auxiliary verbs in English. Here's what is has for "be":

be1 | copula (= linking verb) | She is the boss.
be2 | progressive aspect | He is sleeping.
be3 | passive voice | They were seen.

These three uses mean different things: the copula (#1) links a subject to its identity or characteristics, the progressive aspect (#2) forms a progressive tense of a different main verb, and the passive voice (#3) puts the main verb into the passive voice.

As the Wikipedia article notes, some people consider the copula to be an auxiliary, in which case it's both an auxiliary verb and the main verb, and others consider auxiliary verbs to only be verbs which are not the main verb. With this in mind, you can check to see which definition is being used. The example you had found clearly treats the copula form of "be" as not an auxiliary, so it considers main verbs to never be auxiliary verbs.

I find "have" to be an even clearer example of different meanings, because "be" and "do" are more complicated. There's an auxiliary version of "have" that's used to put verbs into perfect tenses. This is pretty different from the other verb "have" which means to possess something. You can see this in sentences like "I have(AUX) had(MAIN) many enemies."

"Do" also has different meanings when it's an auxiliary or not. When it's an auxiliary, it either has essentially no meaning, and is just required for grammar reasons, or it adds emphasis to the statement. When it's the main verb, it has a long list of different meanings and uses. Think of "I did(AUX) do(MAIN) the homework", or "Did(AUX) you do(MAIN) something about it?"

  • It's a pity that you didn't mention NICE, because it's these properties that determine whether a verb is a lexical one or an auxiliary.
    – BillJ
    Commented Sep 13, 2020 at 7:19
  • @BillJ I see absolutely no need. You've covered it at length already and I don't see how to really fit it in with what I'm saying in this answer.
    – Dan Getz
    Commented Sep 13, 2020 at 17:31

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