auxiliary verb

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As auxiliary (also Auxiliarverb , auxiliaries , auxiliary , auxiliary verb , dummy word ) is referred to in linguistics a verb , the function of which is that in combination with a main verb grammatical features specific to express z. B. tense or modus , while the description of the situation starts from the main verb alone. In German, auxiliary and main verbs combine to form a multi-part predicate .

Grammatical terminologies differ in which verbs have the status of auxiliary verbs, e.g. B. whether modal verbs are counted among the auxiliary verbs or not. The auxiliary verbs in the broader sense are both the auxiliary verbs of tense (of time) or temporal auxiliary verbs (= auxiliary verbs in the narrower sense; in German: haben, sein, werden) and the auxiliary verbs of modality or modal auxiliary verbs (= modal verbs; in German : may, can, like, must, should, want and traditionally also leave) counted. The grammatical function expressed by auxiliary verbs can be the same as that used by inflected verb endings, such as marking the tense of the verb. In the case of inflection through endings one speaks of a synthetic structure , in the case of marking with auxiliary verbs of an analytical or periphrastic construction.

Auxiliary verbs in German

In German the verbs have , be and be the formation of the perfect - pluperfect - and future forms ( future tense ) and for the construction of the passive use. It is also possible to combine several auxiliary verbs.

Furthermore, the analytical unrealis - or subjunctive -II formation with would : "if it would come" instead of "if it would come" is widespread . Over time it has become the standard form for the subjunctive II of many verbs, the form he would wash is far more common today than he would wash . Since in many verbs the indicative past tense and the subjunctive II are identical for some people (they thought it was French) , the transcription with auxiliary verb (they would think it was French) is also used here to distinguish the subjunctive .

In the case of the perfect and passive formation, the auxiliary verb is combined with a participle form of the verb, in the future and subjunctive formation with the simple infinitive form (see in the article German grammar # order of verbs )

The present he enchants are formed the following forms:

  active Process passive State passive
Present   he is bewitched he is enchanted
Perfect He has enchanted He is enchanted been He is enchanted been
preterite   he was bewitched he was bewitched
past continuous he had bewitched He was enchanted been He was enchanted been
Future tense I. he will enchant He is enchanted be He is enchanted be
Future tense II He is enchanted have He is enchanted have been he will have been enchanted
Subjunctive I
  active Process passive State passive
Present   he will be enchanted he was bewitched
Perfect he was enchanted He was enchanted been He was enchanted been
Future tense I. he will enchant he will enchant are he will enchant his
Future tense II he will enchant have he will enchant have been he would have been bewitched
  active Process passive State passive
Present   he would be bewitched he would be enchanted
past continuous he would have enchanted he would be enchanted been he would be enchanted been
Future tense I. he would bewitch He would enchant be He would enchant his
Future tense II He would enchant have he would enchanted have been he would have been bewitched

Other words in auxiliary verb function

The verb “do” can also take on the role of an auxiliary verb in German - but only colloquially or in dialects, such as in Bavarian , for example in “Do you still smoke?” The semantic function in this use is usually to express the aspect of Constantly, which happens analytically in other, for example Slavic, languages ​​(by means of inflected connections, stem inflection or prefixation; see also Aorist ). In southern Germany , the verb “do” also fulfills the function of the auxiliary verb “werden” for the subjunctive II: I would like to quit, but I just like to smoke.

The verb belonging is colloquially used like an auxiliary verb with the passive participle to express the necessity of a passive action: One thing belongs: SWR1 (advertising slogan of the radio station SWR1 ).

Use of auxiliary verbs as full verbs

The verbs “haben”, “werden” or “sein” are not used in every use as auxiliary verbs. They can also appear as independent verbs.

“To be” is most often used as a copula ; The subject of the sentence is assigned a property with the help of the verb “sein” (“The book is blue”. “I 'm tired”). “To have” is mostly used to indicate possession or to assign a situation to the subject (“Otto has a car”. “I have a stomachache”). “Becoming” can indicate a development or a state transition (“I'm about to get pretty angry”. “He's slowly getting through his work”). The passive participle of “werden” is here regularly “became”, in contrast to the form “became”, which is used in the auxiliary verb “werden”.

Use of “to be”, “have” and “will” as modal verbs

In the infinitive construction “we have to defend our allies”, “have” is used as a modal verb in the sense of “must” (in the negation also “may”). The same applies to the use of “to be” in expressions such as “This application must be approved” (“This application must be approved”). In constructions like “The girl will be 20 years old” (“The girl is probably 20 years old.”) “Will” has a modal meaning because it does not express a future action, but rather modifies the statement. Often the modal “will” is also combined with the modal particle “well” to express one possibility : “The boss has not come yet. He will probably be sick. "

On the morphological change of the auxiliary verbs "sein" and "werden"

In the past tense of the auxiliary verbs “sein” and “werden”, two different changes in the inflection system can be observed from the first half of the 15th century:

  • 1. the so-called e- epithesis , which occurs simultaneously with the strong verbs, and
  • 2. The transformation of the singular stem form based on the example of the plural.

Both processes have been systematically surveyed; they are organized according to the Piotrowski law .

The transformation of the singular based on the example of the plural for "to be" and "to be"

In the case of the auxiliary verb “sein” it was observed that the form of the singular in the simple past, which was originally what was, was replaced by the form was over time; the final -s was replaced by -r , with the plural form of the verb were obviously serving as a model , which had the stem-final on -r before . This process lasted from the phase 1430–39 (first observation of was ) to the period 1680–89 (last observation of what ).

An analogous process took place for the auxiliary verb werden : The stem vowel in the singular -a- ( ward ) was gradually replaced by the stem vowel -u- ( was ). This process began in the period 1430–59 (first observations of the new form) and continues to the present day. Was is still used occasionally today, but with little frequency and for special stylistic purposes, for example to suggest irony. This change in language does not end there.

This process of reshaping the singular based on the model of the plural deserves special attention, since the more frequent singular is based on the rarer plural; It is generally expected that in such processes the rarer form is based on the more common and not the other way around.

The e-epithesis in the past tense of the auxiliary verbs "sein" and "werden"

According to the observations of Ulrike Imsiepen (1983), the e- epithesis of strong verbs lasted from about the middle of the 15th century to about the end of the 18th century ; it reached its peak in the 1680s with around 50% of all occurrences of the singular and then disappeared again. Only strong verbs with a stem ending in -h showed the epithetical -e a little longer (examples: fled , saw instead of fled and saw ). The auxiliary verb “to become” makes an exception here: It started at about the same time. In contrast to the strong verbs, however, the e epithesis did not disappear. It prevailed and is used today in addition to the relatively rare uses of ward in all occurrences of the verb with a transformed singular ( was ).

The auxiliary verb sein behaved like the strong verbs: the first forms with an e-epithesis ( wase , ware ) were observed around the middle of the 15th century; they reached a peak around 1700 with a share of almost 15% of all occurrences of the singular forms and disappeared again by the end of the 18th century.

The e-epithesis is very informative, as it clearly documents that one and the same language change process prevails in different words of the same class, in this case the verbs, in very different ways and to different degrees.

Auxiliary verbs in other languages

The equivalents of to have and to be used in many other Indo-European languages , for example in French ( avoir “have”, être “to be”). Sometimes only one of the verbs is used; in Bulgarian, for example, only съм "sein" is used to form the perfect and past perfect, while имам "haben" is not used as an auxiliary verb. Conversely, some languages ​​also use other verbs as auxiliary verbs, for example in Bulgarian щe / щях (actually “to want”) to form the future tense.

In Italian , the verbs andare (to go) and venire (to come) can be used instead of the otherwise used essere (to be) in passive formation , with andare expressing a necessity: Questo libro va letto (for example: this book should be read).

In English , auxiliary and modal verbs are grouped under the term auxiliary verbs , although the “modals” form a special group with special syntactic properties. Examples are besides be (sein) and have (have) also will (for the formation of the future tense) and get (actually get, for the formation of the passive).


  • Annette Fischer, Werner Abraham: The grammatical optimization scenario of doing as an auxiliary verb. In: Karin Donhauser, Ludwig M. Eichinger (ed.): German grammar - theme in variations. Festschrift for Hans-Werner Eroms for his 60th birthday. Heidelberg 1998.

Web links

Wiktionary: auxiliary verb  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Karl-Heinz Best : Language acquisition, language change and vocabulary growth in texts. On the scope of the Piotrowski law. In: Glottometrics 6, 2003, pp. 9-34; to whatwas p. 14f.
  2. Karl-Heinz Best, Jörg Kohlhase: The change from ward to became . In: Karl-Heinz Best, Jörg Kohlhase (Ed.): Exact language change research. Theoretical contributions, statistical analysis and work areas . edition herodot, Göttingen 1983, ISBN 3-88694-024-1 , pp. 91-102.
  3. Gertraud Fenk-Oczlon: Frequency and Cognition - Frequency and Markedness. In: Folia Linguistica XXV, 1991, pp. 361-394.
  4. Ulrike Imsiepen: The e-epithesis for strong verbs in German. In: Karl-Heinz Best, Jörg Kohlhase (Ed.): Exact language change research. Edition herodot, Göttingen 1983, ISBN 3-88694-024-1 , pp. 119-141.
  5. Karl-Heinz Best, Jörg Kohlhase: The change from ward to became . In: Karl-Heinz Best, Jörg Kohlhase (Ed.): Exact language change research. Theoretical contributions, statistical analysis and work areas. Edition herodot, Göttingen 1983, ISBN 3-88694-024-1 , pp. 91-102.
  6. ^ Karl-Heinz Best: Quantitative Linguistics. An approximation. 3rd, heavily revised and expanded edition. Peust & Gutschmidt, Göttingen 2006, ISBN 3-933043-17-4 , pp. 119–122.