Monday, June 25, 2007

Teaching Helping Verbs to ESL Students

Teaching Simple, Progressive and Perfect tenses involves teaching “helping” or “auxiliary” verbs (what they are called depends on the grammar book or the teacher). Conjugation of the helping verbs needs to be taught before the more complex Progressive or Perfect tenses; and certainly before the Perfect Progressive tenses!

The helping verb for Simple tenses is “to do.” Here are some examples.

I do not want to work so hard.
Do you want something to eat?
He didn’t like the dessert.

The helping verb for Progressive tenses is “to be.” We use “am,” “is” or “are,” and “was” or “were.” Here are some examples.

I am eating dinner. I was eating dinner.
She is eating dinner. She was eating dinner.
They are eating dinner. They were eating dinner.

The helping verb for the Perfect tenses is “to have.” Here are some examples.

I have traveled to France.
We will have traveled to 20 countries by the time we return.

These are only a few examples using helping verbs. The main point here is the importance of “to do,” “to be,” and “to have” and how ESL students must know how to conjugate these verbs before they can thoroughly learn each of the English verb tenses.

ESL and EFL students will often have trouble when one of these helping verbs is used in a sentence as a helping verb AND the main verb. For example, “I did not do my homework last night,” or “He has had six wives.”

One other note. Some authors will refer to modals (e.g., should, might, may, etc.) as helping verbs. I’m using the term here to refer to those verbs that are needed in order to form all the English tenses (namely, “to be,” “to have,” and “to do”).


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