Creating a Time Frame with Helping Verbs

By Geraldine Woods

You’ve probably noticed that some verbs are single words and others are made up of several words. The extra words are called helping verbs. They don’t carry out the trash or dust the living room, but they do help the main verb express meaning, usually changing the time, or tense, of the action.

Helping verbs often signal when the action or state of being is occurring. Here are some sentences with helping verbs that create a time line:

Alice will sing five arias from that opera tomorrow evening.

Sing is the main verb, and will is a helping verb. Will places the action at some point in the future.

Gwen had moved the vase, but the baseball hit it anyway.

Moved is the main verb, and had is a helping verb. Hit is a main verb without any helping verbs. Had places the action of moving sometime in the past.

Bob and Ellen are admiring Lola’s new tattoo.

Admiring is the main verb, and are is a helping verb. Are places the action in the present.