16 Spanish Auxiliary Verbs You’ve Been Missing
Have you heard of Spanish auxiliary verbs? In Spanish grammar, verbs are an extensive topics. Today, we’ll focus on a specific group: auxiliary verbs.
You may know what auxiliary verbs are in English but be unsure if there are auxiliary verbs in Spanish and if so, how they function. You might have googled “hacer auxiliary verb” to find a Spanish equivalent to the most popular English auxiliary verb “do.” (Spoiler alert: hacer is not an auxiliary verb in Spanish).
Read this blog post to answer all your questions about Spanish auxiliary verbs. You’ll learn about auxiliary verb use in Spanish, including what grammar constructions they form, and how to use them in a sentence.
Does Spanish have Auxiliary Verbs?
Yes, it does, but be sure to approach the topic with an open mind. You’ll find that many things you already know about auxiliary verbs in English are totally different in Spanish. Not all the English auxiliary verbs are auxiliary verbs in Spanish. (Check our post on “might and may,” for example.)
Spanish auxiliary verbs haven’t been studied or defined as clearly as in English. There is no definite analysis of this grammatical phenomena. Both on the Internet and in the literature, different criteria and classifications exist that are not always consistent.
What are they?
According to a deep analysis of the Spanish auxiliary verb system presented at UNAM in Mexico, an auxiliary verb is “a verb that has lost its original meaning and has acquired a grammatical function or meaning in specific context.”
(If you love linguistics, read a PDF on this topic here.)
Tener que leer – Have to read
The verb tener in the context of tener que changes in meaning from possession to obligation. This phenomenon is called “grammaticalization.”
Auxiliary verbs in English are fully grammaticalized, meaning they’re almost always auxiliary verbs. This is not the case in Spanish. If we take the verb deber, it can be an auxiliary verb meaning “must,” but it also keeps its original meaning related to owing money.
Debo ir a casa.
I must go home.
Debo cien dólares.
I owe a hundred dollars.
Another thing you need to know before I show you Spanish auxiliary verbs is that in Spanish all auxiliary verbs appear in periphrastic construction.
Periphrastic construction is a complex verbal construction in which the first verb is conjugated, and the other is not. The second verb can appear in one of the three possible non-finite forms:
Iba a correr.
I was going to run.
I was reading.
I have finished.
Not all periphrastic constructions are necessarily auxiliary, but this is another topic.
Spanish Auxiliary Verbs in Sample Sentences
Let’s have a look now at all 16 Spanish auxiliary verbs. I’ve divided them into three groups according to the non-finite form they admit.
Spanish Auxiliary Verbs with Infinitives
This is the biggest group. Here you will find modal auxiliary verbs in Spanish such as poder (can). However, keep in mind that not all Spanish modal verbs, even though they appear in periphrastic constructions, are auxiliary. Only the ones that were grammaticalized and lost their original meaning, can be classified as such. Querer, for example, always means “to want to” and is not an auxiliary verb.
To learn more about modal verbs, read The Key to Using Modal Verbs in Spanish Grammar.
Let’s see them in the infinitive form and how they’re translated into English. Remember, they don’t always translate into English auxiliary verbs.
|Going to (do something)
|Have to happen
|To do something again
|To have to do
|To have to do
|To have to do / should do
|To manage to do something
|Just have done something
|To manage to do something
¿Puedes terminar este trabajo por mi, por favor?
Can you finish this job for me, please?
Voy a cocinar algo Mexicano para la cena de hoy.
I’m going to cook something Mexican for dinner tonight.
El carro se nos vino a romper en el peor momento.
Our car had to break down precisely at the worst moment
Y otra vez volvemos a empezar.
And we start again.
He de salir temprano.
I have to leave early.
Tengo que comprarme un teléfono nuevo.
I have to buy a new phone.
Debes de seguir las reglas del juego.
You must follow the rules of the game.
Llegó a reunir una impresionante colección de libros.
He managed to assemble an impressive collection of books.
Acabo de limpiar y otra vez está sucio.
I just cleaned and it’s dirty again.
No alcanzo a llegar a tiempo, lo siento.
I can’t make it on time, I’m sorry.
Spanish Auxiliary Verbs with Gerunds
There are a couple of Spanish auxiliary verbs that use gerunds as their non-finite form.
|To be doing something
|To be doing something
|To repeat doing something
|To keep doing something
|To go about sth
No me interrumpas, estoy trabajando.
Don’t interrupt me, I’m working.
Ya voy terminando pero dame unos minutos más.
I’m finishing but give me a few more minutes.
Te lo vengo diciendo desde el año pasado y apenas te estás enterando.
I’ve been telling you this since last year and you’re just beginning to understand.
Sigue caminando y llegarás a la cima.
Keep walking and you will reach the top.
¿Qué andas tramando?
What are you up to?
Spanish Auxiliary Verb with Past Participle
The only verb that can appear with past participle and is considered auxiliary in Spanish is the verb haber, which is used to form the Spanish perfect tenses.
Nunca he visto algo así.
I have never seen anything like this.
Dudo que lo hayas hecho tú solo.
I doubt you did it yourself.
Well done! You’ve learned three sets of auxiliary verbs and are able to use them in Spanish. Now, you can add 16 auxiliary verbs to your grammar portfolio. If you want to take your auxiliary verbs to the next level and master your newly acquired skills, sign up for a free class at Homeschool Spanish Academy with one of our friendly, native Spanish-speaking teachers from Guatemala.
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