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In the English language, there are two kinds of verbs -lexical and auxiliary. Distinguishing between the two is simple if you follow this guide.

Lexical Verbs

Lexical verbs are the main actions in a sentence, and you can call them main verbs. They can stand by themselves to represent an action and are in past or present tense. Most verbs are lexical. Some examples are "run," "see," and "make".

Auxiliary Verbs

Auxiliary means to help or support something, and auxiliary verbs are also called helping verbs. They help the lexical verb by describing its state or action. Examples of auxiliary verbs are "be," "may," "will," and "had".


In the sentence, "I may leave soon," we have "leave," which is the main action, and so is lexical. "May" describes how I leave, and so is the auxiliary. "I am thinking about how hard grammar can be." Here we have two lexical verbs- "thinking" and "be". The auxiliaries are "am," describing "thinking," and "can" describing "be".

Helpful Tips

Auxiliary verbs usually precede a lexical verb, so they are easy to identify. They can also be used to end a sentence, useful for giving short answers to questions where the lexical verb is implied. For example, "Q: Do you like studying grammar? A: Yes, I do (like studying grammar)." For more help with grammar, contact The Tutoring Center in Salem, OR. We have one-to-one tutoring programs to help in reading, writing, math, and test preparation. Visit us online to find out more about our academic programs and call 971-600-3288 to schedule a free diagnostic assessment.


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