What are helping verbs
& verb phrases?

Helping verbs (auxiliary verbs) do just what their name implies. They help the main verb in the sentence by telling more about the verb's tense, mood, and voice. 

What is a verb phrase?

Verb phrases consist of one main verb and one or more helping/auxiliary verbs.

(Every sentence needs to have at least one main verb, but not every sentence needs a helping/auxiliary verb.)

Helping Verb, Main Verb, and Verb Phrase Chart
Sometimes, these verbs are separated by other words.
Verb phrases
  • When we ask questions, the auxiliary verb often comes at the beginning of the sentence and the main verb comes later.
  • Words like never, not, and the contraction n't are not part of the verb. They are adverbs.

Verb Phrases Act as Verbs

This seems obvious, right? They are made up of verbs, so what else would they be acting as?

The point here is that they are made up of multiple words and all of the words come together to act as one part of speech, a verb.

The cheesecake might be exploding.

Might be exploding is telling us what the cheesecake is doing (an action).

Did you call Owen?

Did call is asking what you did (an action).

Owen has become a great cook.

Has become is telling us Owen's state of being (a state of being verb).

Are These Phrasal Verbs?

No. These guys are different from phrasal verbs, so if you're looking for information on phrasal verbs, you're in the wrong spot! Click here to learn about phrasal verbs.

Sentence Diagramming & Helping Verbs

Sentence diagrams show us how parts of sentences are related. They make the relationships between words, phrases, and clauses visual. They are awesome. :)

Verb phrases are diagrammed on horizontal lines right after the subject.

I have been singing.

How to diagram a verb phrase

She must have jumped across the stream.

Verb Phrase Sentence Diagram

Do you want to learn more and test yourself? Check out this introductory lesson on diagramming

The Beginner's Guide to Grammar gives you a fun and visual way to get started with grammar and sentence diagramming. Yay!

For more help with helping verbs and verb phrases, see the verb page.

Other Helpful Resources

  • This worksheet gives you three pages of exercises. (It doesn't have the answers included, but you can still benefit from going through it!)