I am wanting to know if anyone knows where I get a list of the verbs that are Lexical and Auxiliary. Not what the differences are, but what the actual verbs are. And maybe which are which. I've tried to find a list of them, but I just get links for how to tell which is which, but the schoolwork I'm doing is already doing that, but they don't give me a list of them. Thanks in advance!

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    The thing is, there are thousands of lexical verbs in English. A list of all of them wouldn't be very useful.
    – Draconis
    May 9 at 18:33
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    And this appears to be about English, not linguistics or languages in general. Probly ELL.SE would be more appropriate.
    – jlawler
    May 9 at 20:23

2 Answers 2


Whether a verb is lexical or auxiliary depends on context. The verbs which I would call auxiliary in the strictest sense are be, do, and have, when used in "he is running", "she doesn't like that", and "they have arrived". But when used in "he is", "she does sports", and "they have a cat", they're lexical instead.

Some people also call can, could, will, would, shall, should, may, might, and must auxiliary verbs, but these all act in the same way on a syntactic level, while the three mentioned before don't. So I think it's useful to have a separate name for these; they're often called modal rather than auxiliary.

In some dialects, ought, need, and dare can also be used as modal verbs; for me they can't. There may be other dialectal differences as well that I'm not aware of.

All other verbs (thousands and thousands of them) are lexical. I'm not going to try to list them here because there are far too many.

  • You seem to equate 'auxiliary verb' with 'helper verb.' On a very basic level there's reasonably widespread agreement that English auxiliary verbs are ones that display NICE properties. This would mean that be is an auxiliary verb in he is. Many, if not most grammars regard your two dos as distinct homophonous verbs. May 9 at 22:55
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    @Araucaria-him It seems reasonable to me to treat the two "do"s, two "have"s, etc as homophonous, but given the way the question was phrased, I thought adding that would make the answer unnecessarily complicated. Re auxiliary verbs and helper verbs, I'm mostly taking after Adger's book on syntax, where the verbs I listed as auxiliaries have category Aux (or a more specific category like Pass) and the ones I listed as modal have category T. I believe both display the NICE properties, but Adger explains that with Aux-to-T movement.
    – Draconis
    May 9 at 23:04
  • @Araucaria-him I could see an argument for putting them all in the same category, but it seems to me that it makes more sense to consider them two separate related categories: the ones I call "modal" don't take verb-like morphology, for example, while the ones I call "auxiliary" do.
    – Draconis
    May 9 at 23:05
  • I'll have to revisit Adger. The morphology's the only thing that should make us want to split the auxiliaries into do, have, be on one side and the modals on the other. In every other respect (and there are many of them) do patterns like the modal verbs, not like be and have. For example, auxiliary do has no non-finite forms, must always be the first word in a VP, can't co-occur with other modals etc. I'm pretty sure Adger would view be as an auxiliary in He is! May 9 at 23:16
  • There is one analysis which does genuinely regard (most) auxiliaries (including the modals) as only being auxiliary in certain contexts, which is Sign Based Construction Grammar as developed by Ivan Sag and others. See: Lessons from the English auxiliary system by Sag et al. (If anyone's interested, that is!) May 9 at 23:30

This question might be a better fit on EL&U or ELL. However, I'd like to provide a different answer to the one already posted here.

The class of auxiliary verbs in English is a closed class of verbs with a dozen or so central members and a few marginal or defective ones. If you know what these verbs are, then you effectively know that every other English verb is a lexical verb.

It was once the case that 'auxiliary verbs' were seen to be verbs that always appeared before another verb, which would exclude the verb be for example in:

  • he's ill

but might include get in:

  • he got fired

However, most mainstream grammars, for example Oxford Modern English Grammar (Aarts 2011), now recognise auxiliary verbs to be those verbs that display NICE properties. These relate to data like the following, where an asterisk, *, indicates an ungrammatical example:

  • Negation: *They like not cheese. / They do not like cheese.
  • Inversion: *Like you some cheese? / Would you like some cheese?
  • Code: *Yes, I would like. some cheese / Yes, I would. like some cheese
  • Emphasis: A: You don't eat cheese! B: ?I eat cheese! / I do eat cheese!

The verbs that take part in such constructions in English are:

  • be, have
  • do
  • can/could, may/might, shall/should, will/would, must

There are also some marginal members that can only occur in some environments, or are only auxiliaries for some speakers:

  • need, dare, ought, used, better

Note that auxiliaries do not have to be followed by another verb in such analyses. So the verb be is always an auxiliary.

It's also useful to note that there are two different verbs do. The auxiliary that we find in Do you like cheese? and the lexical verb which we find in sentences like What have you done to my lasagne?. Likewise there is an auxiliary have, as in I have finished and a lexical verb have as in I had a party.

All the verbs not listed above are lexical verbs.

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    I would add get, come, and go to the marginal group. And there's lotsa novel combinations like wanna, useta, gotta, etc. that are gonna be Official auxiliaries some day.
    – jlawler
    May 10 at 13:19

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