Helping verbs, also known as auxiliary verbs, do not have meaning on their own. They are needed in order for a sentence to be grammatically correct. They do not tell us very much on their own and they are used with main verbs to make the sentence meaningful. Helping verbs determine the tense of verb forms and how the verb, as a whole, reveals the time or relative time of the action.
There are a total of 27 helping verbs in the English Language and we can further break them down into 3 categories ie Primary, Modal and Semi-Modal:-

Primary Helping Verbs (14 verbs)
  • be, being, been, am, are, is, was, were (main)
  • have, had, has (main)
  • do, does, did (main)
Notice that verbs in the above three families may also stand alone and be the main verb of a sentence. e.g. She is in the shop (there is no other verbs in this sentence except “is” so it can act as main verb as well).
Modal Helping Verbs (10 verb)
  • should, could, would
  • may, might, must
  • will, can, shall
  • ought to
We use modal helping verbs to “modify” the meaning of the main verb in some way. A modal helping verb expresses necessity or possibility, and changes the main verb in that sense e.g. I may eat later, You should get it repaired, They might not come. (notice that “may, should, might” in these sentence have altered the meaning of the main verbs “eat, repaired, come”.
Semi-modal Helping Verbs (3 verbs)
  • need, dare, used to
These are often called “semi-modals” because they are partly like modal helping verbs and partly like main verbs:
Tips on Helping Verbs:
  • not every sentence will have a helping verb with the main verb
  • there will always be a helping verb when you see a verb with “ing”
  • sometimes a word will separate the helping verb from the main verb, like “not”
  • Some sentences have 3 helping verbs to the main verb