Question pretty much says it all, I'm curious as to whether every language uses/requires auxiliary verbs to express tense/modality/aspect etc.? Thanks.

  • Actually, no, it doesn't. Some people use Aux as if it were defined by law, while others use it for any grammatical particle in an analytic language, like serial/small verbs, articles, or prepositions.
    – jlawler
    Commented Mar 17, 2014 at 3:07
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    I think what the question needs is "as opposed to what?". Adverbs/particles? Where do you draw the line between aux. verbs and conjugations/conjugational suffixes? By the way, I seem to remember having seen analyses that state that English modal verbs are more particles than verbs (based on some syntactic criteria).
    – dainichi
    Commented Mar 17, 2014 at 4:02
  • Unlikely any Indo-European because PIE had no future tense and modern IE languages thus need auxiliary verbs for the future (at least).
    – Anixx
    Commented Mar 17, 2014 at 6:35
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    @Anixx By morphological merger, an auxiliary in the past can become an inflected form. This is what happened with French futur simple (and hence French normally does not require an auxiliary for the future tense, though one is common for proximate future constructions).
    – Olivier
    Commented Mar 17, 2014 at 9:19
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    Anixx, there are lots of IE languages, ancient and modern, that do not use "auxiliary verbs for the future". For example Greek, Latin....
    – fdb
    Commented Mar 17, 2014 at 10:15

1 Answer 1


The precise answer to that question will depend highly on what is the precise meaning intended for auxiliary verb. If you insist that an auxiliary verb is a separate word which expresses a precise grammatical property, then Japanese is a likely candidate. In this language, tense, mood and modality are expressed by a specific ending attached to the stem-verb. None of these endings may live a separate existence (see here for a reference), so it would seem very strange to call them auxiliary verbs.

On the other hand, as the same reference indicates, there are verbs in Japanese which have an independent meaning but can also attach to a stem-verb to convey a nuance, as in

食べきる (eat it all) vs 食べる (eat)

where the verb きる which ordinarily means to cut has been appended to the verb to convey the idea that the action was brought to full completion. Just as one would normally not consider finish in

I finished reading.

as an auxiliary in English, I would not consider these Japanese constructions to be real examples of auxiliaries (in the traditional sense of English grammar).

I'm guessing that using a restrictive definition of auxiliary, there are many more examples, for instance in synthetic languages.

  • What about する used to form so many verbs from nouns, such as 勉強します, to study? I've always found the term "auxiliary verb" to be pretty fuzzy though. Commented Mar 18, 2014 at 6:23
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    @hippietrail Like you, I think it all depends on what you call an auxiliary, and in fact giving a precise cross-linguistically robust definition might be quite hard.
    – Olivier
    Commented Mar 18, 2014 at 9:48

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