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Helping Verbs
April 11, 2017

April 11, 2017

English Grammar Revolution My family and I went to a Raffi concert on Saturday. Do you know Raffi? He's been making children's music for over 40 years. My husband grew up listening to him, and now we've been listening to his music with our children. Seeing him in concert was a special experience for all of us.

In the Grammar Time section, you'll learn about helping verbs and verb phrases.

Happy Learning,

Elizabeth O'Brien

This book has been like a miracle for us. My grandson is 17 and we just began homeschooling him halfway through his junior year; he hasn't touched diagramming for a few years and was drowning - as was I. I found your website and downloaded this book. And as I said, it has been a miracle. Thank you!

- Cynthia, Grandparent

Helping Verbs & Verb Phrases

A verb phrase is a GROUP of words that acts as a SINGLE verb.

Verb phrases are made of one or more helping verbs and one main verb.

The main verb tells us the main meaning of the verb phrase. The helping verb(s) tell us about the tense of the verb phrase and other subtle aspects of meaning like expectation, permission, and obligation.

Verb Phrase Helping Verb(s) Main Verb
have been walking have been walking
will have walked will have walked
was walking was walking

Verb Phrases Act As Verbs

All of the words in a verb phrase act as one single part of speech: a verb.

Here is a very basic sentence diagram of a subject and a verb.

sentence diagram

Flowers grow.

sentence diagram

When we diagram verb phrases, all of the words in the verb phrase go in the verb space in the sentence diagram.

sentence diagram

List of Helping Verbs

There are many, many words that can act as main verbs (run, hop, think, feel, smile . . .).

But only a handful of words act as helping verbs. Here are the most common ones:

be, am, is, are, was,

were, been, being, have, has, had,

could, should, would, may, might,

must, shall, can, will, do, did,

does, having

It's a good idea to memorize these helping verbs. That way, it will be much easier for you to spot them in sentences. If you need a little help, listen to the helping verbs song!

Helping Verb or Main Verb?

This might sound a little confusing, but some verbs on the helping verb list can act as helping verbs OR main verbs. Tricky, huh?

Can you see that had is acting as a main verb in one sentence and a helping verb in the other?

I had fish for dinner. (had = main verb)

sentence diagram

The fish had been cooked in coconut milk. (had = helping verb)

sentence diagram

Now you know about verb phrases and helping verbs.

If you'd like more information, check out these pages:

I'll sing you two helping verbs songs.

What is a verb?

Have a great week!

Are you a teacher? Feel free to use this as a lesson plan in your classroom!

About Elizabeth

English Grammar Revolution

Elizabeth O'Brien is founder of, a company devoted to helping people learn and love grammar.

Through her website, books, and programs, Elizabeth shows people how to teach and learn grammar the easy way. She's on a mission to inspire and motivate people by making grammar fun and friendly.

If you liked today's issue, you'll love Elizabeth's grammar and sentence diagramming programs, which will help you learn or teach grammar through simple, step-by-step instructions and sentence diagrams.

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