One of my favorite lessons in my public speaking classes is the one about the First Amendment. To begin the lesson, I write the text on the board:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances
(and, yes; I know it by heart. I’m dorky that way).
I ask them what it is that I’ve just written on the board. Most of them struggle with this, asking hesitantly if it’s from the Declaration of Independence, until someone stumbles on the First Amendment or, on rare occasions, someone knows what it is right off and we move on to step two, where I ask them what the First Amendment actually does. Most of them are quick with an answer somewhere along the lines of “it guarantees freedom of religion and the press.”
“Ummmm, not quite,” I say.
It’s at this point that the English teacher in me comes out, and she asks them to dissect the sentence. “What’s the subject of this sentence,” I ask, and most of them are able to produce “Congress,” for which they are duly praised.
“Ok,” I say, “what’s the verb?”
Never yet has a class been able to come up with the complete verb of shall make.
Helping verbs are verbs that are used in a verb phrase to show tense or emphasis, or form a question or a negative. Helping verbs are used to show the perfect verb tenses, continuous/progressive verb tenses, and passive voice. With only a few exceptions that I can think of (“I do” in wedding vows and such), these words never stand alone; they are always used with other verbs.
There are 23 helping verbs, and I learned them by rote in somewhat alphabetical order:
be, being, been
do, does, did
can, will, shall
could, would, should
has, have, had
may, might, must
am, is, are, was, were
I am planning to go the dance, but only if I have the right dress.
She is happy to see you, but she’d prefer you didn’t stare at her quite so intensely.
He has been to the show and found it to be somewhat disappointing.
Several of these helping verbs (can, will, shall; may, might, must; and would, could, should), are called modals. These are used to show possibility, necessity, or probability.
Jessica might take the job offer; she has not decided yet.
I can cook fantastic cakes, but my custards are less of a sure thing.
You should be careful around Dennis; he may turn on you when you least expect it.
Please notice in the first sentence immediately above and the second sentence in the first set of examples that “not” in “she has not decided yet” and “she’d prefer you didn’t stare” is not part of the verb phrases has decided and did stare. Not is an adverb used to express negation and is never part of a verb phrase.
Also notice, in the second sentence in the first set, that “she’d” is a contraction for “she would.” If you were to parse out all the verbs in that sentence, you’d (you would) need to include the modal would prefer along with did stare in order to get full credit.
Happy Wednesday, Everyone!
*edited to include; am I the only one to notice that I posted this on TUESDAY?! Don’t *I* feel like a moron for not knowing what frickin’ day it is! You’ll get a double-shot of grammar this week; I’ll post the answer to a Kizz question tomorrow.*