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Auxiliaries in English and Serbian

1. Introduction
An auxiliary verb is a verb used to add functional or grammatical meaning to the clause in
which it appears – for example, to express tense, aspect, modality, voice, emphasis, etc.
Auxiliary verbs usually accompany the main verb, as the main verb provides the main
semantic content of the clause in which it appears.

2. Auxiliaries in English

2.1. Classification
There are two types of auxiliaries in English: primary auxiliaries (be, have, do), which
can function both as main verbs and auxiliary verbs, and secondary auxiliaries (modal
verbs), which can function only as auxiliary verbs.
There are also subtypes of modal auxiliaries: a) marginal modals (need, dare), which are
only modals that can function as both lexical and auxiliary verbs; b) modal idioms (had
better, would rather, have to, be to, used to); c) semi-auxiliaries/verb idioms (be going to,
be about to, be able to, be supposed to).

2.2. Use of auxiliary verbs and their forms

Auxiliary verbs are used in simple verb structures (lexical verb in combination with
possible auxiliaries), in order to add functional or grammatical meaning to the clause, by
expressing tense, aspect, modality, voice, etc.

Primary auxiliaries
I. BE is added to other verbs to make progressive and passive forms (Is it raining? The
cake is being made.). As an auxiliary it takes following forms: a) TO + infinitive ( He
seems to be studying.); b) bare infinitive (This time next year we will be lying on the
beach.); c) present participle (Mary is being called to the office.); d) past participle
(Jim has been watching TV all morning.).

II. HAVE is used to make perfect forms (What have you done?). Auxiliary HAVE can be
found in following forms: a) TO + infinitive (Anna seems to have kissed Josh
yesterday.); b) present participle (Having done their homework, they handed it in.). In
other cases and forms it is a lexical verb, not an auxiliary.

III. DO is used to make questions, negatives and emphatic forms of non-auxiliary verbs
(Do you smoke? It doesn’t matter.). This auxiliary does not have previously
mentioned forms, as in those cases it is a lexical verb.

Modal auxiliaries
Modal auxiliaries are will, shall, would, should, can, could, may, might, must and
ought to. They are used with other verbs to add various meanings, mostly to do with
certainty or obligation.
There are some degrees of certainty, as modals can denote, e.g. that a situation is
certain, probable, possible or impossible. As far as the meaning of obligation is
concerned, they denote it if they are used to say that somebody is obliged to do
something, that he or she is able to do something, that something is permitted or
forbidden, etc. What is important is that modals do not have 3rd person inflection
forms, non-finite forms and tense distinctions. Some of them have past forms, but
they do not always denote past.

2.3. Meaning
When it comes to the meaning, it is important to say that auxiliaries have semantic and
syntactic meaning. Semantic meaning of auxiliaries is grammatical, whereas syntactic is
denoted by the NICE properties:
 Negation
When making negative sentences in English, the auxiliary is negated, not the
lexical verb (I don’t want to go to the party tonight.). It is impossible for the
lexical verb to be negated (*He eatn’t that sandwich.).
 Inversion
When the questions are formulated, there is an inversion of an auxiliary verb
and the subject (They are learning. Are they learning?). Of course, it is

impossible for the lexical verb to take initial position in the sentence
(*Learning they are?).
There is also a non-interrogative inversion, which is conditioned by semi-
negative adverbials, such as seldom, hardly, rarely, etc. (Never have I heard
such obvious lies in my life. Rarely does she visit her aunt.).
 Code
This property denotes that auxiliaries are used to avoid repetition of the entire
verb phrase in structures such as: a) short answers (Did you buy that thousers
you liked? Yes I did.); b) As-constructions (Johnny plays guitar as does
Mary.); c) So-constructions (She ate ice-cream and so did I.); d) BUT-
constructions (He loves football, but his brother doesn’t.).
 Emphatic affirmation
The emphasis is usually made with auxiliaries, however, this is not a
completely reliable property, as in some cases lexical verbs can also be
stressed (I ‘do want to go. I ‘want to go.).
 Question tags
In English, only auxiliaries can be found in question tags (You can do it, can’t
you? *He plays golf, playn’t he?).

3. Auxiliaries in Serbian
In Serbian, auxiliaries are jesam, hteti, biti and bivati. According to this, it is obvious that
these are not the same verbs as in English, with the exception of be with its equivalent in
Serbian – biti. We use them to form complex verb structures, such as perfekat,
pluskvamperfekat, futur I, futur II and potencijal.

3.1. Strong and weak forms

In both languages, auxiliaries can have weak forms that are found in unstressed positions.
In English, there are two types of weak forms: syllabic form, which contains a vowel, and
non-syllabic form, which contains only consonants.


Am /æm/ /m/
jesam sam, si, je smo, ste, su
Is /ɪz/ /s/ , /z/
Have /hæv/ /həv/ , /v/
hteti ću, ćeš, će ćemo, ćete, će
Shall /ʃæl/ /ʃl/
Table 1: Strong and weak forms of auxiliary verbs in English and Serbian

3.2. Classification
According to Pavica Mrazović, in Serbian, verbs that are not lexical are divided into two
groups: auxiliaries and modal verbs. In diference to English, Serbian modal verbs do not
belong to the category of auxiliary verbs, but represent the separate one.

In order to make complex verb forms in Serbian, we use auxiliaries jesam, hteti, biti and
bivati, which are known as pomoćni glagoli. Jesam and biti are used for perfekat (Ona je
pevala.), pluskvamperfekat (Ona je bila pevala.), and futur II (Kada bude pevala na
koncertu, imaće veliku tremu.). Furthermore, we use bivati for making passive
constructions (Bivati hvaljen je lepo. On često biva hvaljen.) and hteti for futur I forms
(Mi ćemo pevati.)

Modal verbs
In Serbian, modal verbs are morati, moći, trebati, hteti, smeti, umeti, etc. They stand next
to the lexical verbs and make them take either infinitive form (On mora doći.), or DA +
prezent construction (On mora da dođe.).

3.3. NICE properties:

When it comes to the properties of the auxiliaries in Serbian, they are quite different in
comparison to those in English. Serbian auxiliaries do not have all the English auxiliary
 Negation
In order to negate a sentence in Serbian, we need to add particle ne in front of
the verb. If it is a complex verb form, ne must be added to the auxiliary, since
the lexical verb cannot be negated in these structures (Išla sam u šetnju. –
Nisam išla u šetnju/ *Ne išla sam u šetnju.). On the other hand, if it is a simple
verb form, we do not need to introduce an auxiliary in order to form negative
sentence (Idem u šetnju. – Ne idem u šetnju.), which is not the case in English
(I do not go for a walk.).
 Inversion
In difference to English, it is not necessary to introduce an auxiliary in order to
form a question in Serbian. It is possible to make a question with lexical verb
only (Jesi li kupila hleb? – Kupila si hleb?).
 Code
In Serbian, just like in English, we use auxiliaries to avoid repetition, but only
their weak forms (Gledao sam sinoć utakmicu, a i on je.).
 Emphatic affirmation
When it comes to this property, there are no differences between these two
languages. Strong forms of auxiliaries are used for emphasizing in a sentence
(Ja ´jesam poslala pismo ministru prosvete.).

4. Conclusion
To sum up, an auxiliary verb is a verb used in order to add functional or grammatical
meaning to the clause, to express tense, aspect, modality, voice, emphasis, etc. They
usually accompany a main verb. As we can conclude, most of the primary auxiliaries are
different from those in Serbian, whereas when it comes to the modals, there are some
overlappings. Also, it is important to remember that they have different NICE properties,
since auxiliaries are not always obligatory in Serbian.

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Sremski Karlovci: Izdavačka knjižarnica Zorana Stojanovića
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