What are helping verbs & verb phrases?

Elizabeth O'Brien

Hello! I'm Elizabeth O'Brien, and my goal is to get you jazzed about grammar. 

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).

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.

How to diagram a verb phrase

I have been singing.

Verb Phrase Sentence Diagram

She must have jumped across the stream.

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

Would of, Could of, Should of

This is a common mistake. Would of, could of, and should of are incorrect. The correct version is would have, could have and should have or would've, could've, and should've.

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.

Phrasal verbs

If you want to teach or learn grammar the easy way, follow our step-by-step program that clearly lays everything out and allows you to move at your own pace. The Get Smart Grammar Program is presented in a logical sequence, so it's not an overwhelming mishmash of information. Just watch the videos and complete your assignments. Before you know it, you'll be a grammar and sentence diagramming pro!

The Get Smart Grammar Program
Elizabeth O'Brien from Grammar Revolution

If you don't want to teach or learn grammar by yourself, click here to see how I can help you.

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Elizabeth O'Brien

Elizabeth O'Brien is the creator of Grammar Revolution.

Her lessons are guaranteed to give you more confidence in your communication skills and make you smile. :)

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