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  • Richard Crum


Updated: Jun 1, 2020

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An auxiliary is a post-modern term for the old-fashion phrase helping verb. Example: In the phrase were fighting the word fighting is an auxiliary.

Auxiliary verb phrases tend to be foggy. Clarity is the supreme goal of communication, written or verbal. Hence, verbs with auxiliaries are to be shunned (most of the time; remember, every English writing principle is finite. Never say never when stating an English writing principle.) But overall, verbs with auxiliaries are not the clearest way to state action.

For example: Two dogs were fighting. In this sentence an indefinite time period is implied. Were fighting when and for how long? A bit foggy. The clear way to write this is: Two dogs snarled and lunged, biting each other. The use of a strong single verb (snarled; lunged) paints a picture; whereas, two dogs were fighting is not specific and therefore paints a foggy picture.

The principle of clarity cannot be stated often enough. It is the ruling factor of effective communication. The Italian philosopher of the latter part of the 13th century, Thomas Aquinas was asked: What is the secret of effective communication? His answer: BE CLEAR. BE BRIEF. AND BE GONE. Notice he put be clear in the first position.

How do we spot an auxiliary verb? We look at the ending. An auxiliary verb usually ends with --ed (The man was tired) or ---ing (The man was eating). When we spot these telltale signs, we need to shift into rewrite mode. The tired man slumped to his knees. The man slurped up a strand of spaghetti.

The grammar tools that make auxiliaries tempting come from two verb forms. The --ed ending comes from the past verb form. The ---ing ending comes from the present participle verb form. Both form endings are useful when applied correctly, as in The tired man slept and Slurping up strands of spaghetti, the man annoyed his guests. In the first sentence, the past verb form tired is correctly used as an adjective. In the second sentence, the present participle verb form slurping is correctly used to introduce a participle phrase.

To sum up: A strong single verb does not need the help of an auxiliary. Using verbs with auxiliaries is a sign of a lazy writer.



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