Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Are Helping Verbs Really Helpful?

by Linda Gilden @LindaGilden

In school we learn about helping verbs, also called auxiliary verbs, and the support they are to other verbs. That is a good thing. Everyone needs a helper occasionally.

Maybe you have forgotten what those helping verbs are. Is, am, are, was, were, been, being, are the most common. Helping is not the only use of the helping verbs. Other times they are used as a complete predicate. Think of the way you function—sometimes you are a parent, other times you are a friend, sometimes in the spotlight and other times not. The function of the verb makes it a helper or not. Many times these verbs are functional and needed.

But there are also times the helping verbs are overused. If we use them too much, several things happen.

When We Rely too Heavily on Help
1. Our writing becomes weaker and watered down. For example, which of these is stronger?
  • Roger was running to the neighbor’s house for help when his mother fell down the steps.
  • Roger ran to the neighbor’s house for help when his mother fell down the steps.
Don’t you feel the urgency in the second one?

2. Helping verbs are often non-specific. Eliminate them to bring more action to your writing. If you are telling a story, use strong, active verbs that don’t need a helper.
  • Marcy’s mom said to her as she got out of the car, “Be good at the party!”
  •  “Enjoy your friends and play nicely at the party!” Now we have a little better idea of what Marcy’s mom expects.

3. Helping verbs keep the reader in passive voice when he or she is much more engaged when using the active voice. For example,
  • Sara is baking cookies for her dad’s birthday—Is not as strong as—Sara baked cookies for her dad’s birthday.
  • Likewise, John was spraying the garden to kill the weeds—is not as strong as—John killed the weeds in the garden.

4. Writers sometime get lazy and begin a sentence with a helping verb such as “It was” or “There are.” Usually this is not a good idea. Who is “It?” We often don’t know. Then it is followed by “is” and we ask “Is what?” Most times when you begin a sentence one of these ways, you can turn the sentence around, bring the noun to the beginning, use a stronger action verb, and create a much more compelling sentence.

Being aware of how often we use helping verbs and how to use them correctly will make our writing more exciting and keep our readers moving along in our stories. If we use strong, actions verbs that stand on their own, they won’t need any help!


Linda Gilden is a wife, mother, and grandmother. She loves to take one subject and create multiple articles from that information. Linda finds great joy (and lots of writing material) in time spend with her family. Her favorite activity is floating in a pool with a good book surrounded by splashing children.

To find out more about Linda, her writing, and her ministry, visit You can also connect with her on Twitter and Facebook.


  1. Thank you, Linda. This clarifies a lot. It will be extremely helpful when teaching classes and working with mentees.

  2. Thank you Linda for the helpful lesson. This is something I struggle with.

  3. Thanks for these examples Linda. They show the impact strong verbs have.

  4. So glad this was helpful. These verbs and their proper use can certainly be confusing at times!