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English Verbs: Copular, Auxiliary, Modal, and Main Verbs

As defined by traditional grammars, verbs are “action or state of being words.” Within verb phrases in English, there are four types of verbs:

  1. Copular verbs
  2. Auxiliary verbs
  3. Modal verbs
  4. Main Verbs

English Copular Verbs

The first type of verb in the English language is the copular verb. Copular verbs are verbs that link the grammatical subject with the grammatical subject complement. The most common copular verbs in English include:

  • appear
  • be
  • become
  • feel
  • get
  • grow
  • look
  • prove
  • remain
  • resemble
  • seem
  • smell
  • sound
  • stay
  • taste
  • turn

For example:

  • That sculpture is ugly.
  • I felt happy.
  • Your brother proved stupid again.
  • The soup tastes delicious.

Copular verbs are also referred to as linking verbs and copula.

English Auxiliary Verbs

The second type of verb in the English language is the auxiliary verb. Auxiliary verbs are verbs that provide additional semantic or syntactic information about the main verb in the verb phrase. The three most common auxiliary verbs in English are:

  • be
  • do
  • have

For example:

  • Do you eat meat?
  • He is feeling ill.
  • The child has finished her vegetables.
  • A painting was stolen from the museum.

Auxiliary verbs are also referred to as helping verbs.

English Modal Verbs

The third type of verb in the English language is the modal verb. Modal verbs are verbs that express modality, that are neutral and defective, and that occupy only the initial position in a verb phrase. Quasi-modal verbs, which share some but not all properties of full modal verbs, are a subset of the English modal verb. The nine modal verbs and five quasi-modal verbs in English are:

For example:

  • can
  • could
  • dare
  • had better (had best)
  • may
  • might
  • must
  • need
  • ought to
  • shall
  • should
  • used to
  • will
  • would

For example:

  • Could you close the window?
  • You might be a little sick.
  • She used to walk to school every day.
  • I would wash my hands if I were you.

Modal verbs including quasi-modal verbs are also auxiliary verbs.

English Main Verbs

The fourth type of verb in the English language is the main verb. Main verbs are dynamic or stative verbs that function as the head of the verb phrase. All other verbs that are not auxiliary or modal verbs are main verbs in English. For example:

  • My cat stole my yarn.
  • The dog has eaten his dinner.
  • Our shopping list includes turkey, cranberries, and peas.
  • A great author wrote that terrible poem.

Copular verbs are also main verbs. For example:

  • He became a teacher last year.
  • The pleasure has been all yours.
  • This pumpkin smells funny.
  • Your son has been turning green.

The four types of verbs that appear in verb phrases in the English language are copular verbs, auxiliary verbs, modal verbs, and main verbs.

References

Hopper, Paul J. 1999. A short course in grammar. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
Huddleston, Rodney. 1984. Introduction to the grammar of English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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