GMAT Sentence Corrections: Advanced Usage of Helping Verbs:

by on September 30th, 2011

The three main helping verbs are have, be, and do. They are called helping verbs because they often accompany the main verb in a clause in order to serve a particular function. We should be pretty familiar with the primary uses of these verbs. For example, we can use “have” to create perfect tenses. We can use “be” to create progressive tenses (I am going) and the passive voice (It was written). “Do” can be used to negate verbs (I do not eat asparagus) and to emphasize verbs in the affirmative (he does eat asparagus).

These uses should be familiar, but I will go over a few ways that constructions with helping verbs may be preferable (for the most part, because of their brevity) to other, relatively straightforward alternatives.

1. Helping verbs can take the place of verb phrases

Verbose: I have never tried asparagus, but my friend John has tried asparagus.

Better: I have never tried asparagus, but my friend John has.

2. Helping verbs can stand for the affirmative verb phrase in opposition to a negative one.

Example: My friend does not eat asparagus, but I do.

Example: My friend does not eat asparagus as I do.

3. Avoid the use of modal helping verbs (e.g. can, may, shall, and would) when they are unnecessary.

Incorrect: The new policy ensures that all citizens must have healthcare.

Correct: The new policy ensures that all citizens will have heatlhcare.

While the first sentence may not sound incorrect, its use of “must” constitutes a redundancy. The verb “ensures” already communicates the sense of obligation in the sentence, so “must” is redundant.

4. Avoid the “are to” construction as a means to communicate an obligation in the future.

The GMAT tends to avoid the “are to” or “is to” construction, as in the sentence “We are to complete the project before Wednesday.” Check out a few simpler alternatives that the GMAT prefers:

Wrong: We are to finish the project by Wednesday.

Better: We will finish the project by Wednesday

Also Better: We should finish the project by Wednesday.

5. Avoid expressing the conditional with the modal helping verb “should”

Though we sometimes use this construction in speech (e.g. ), the GMAT prefers the simpler “if…then” construction; remember, of course, that an “if…then” construction can elide the “then.”

Not preferable: Should he get good grades, he will go to college.

Preferable: If he gets good grades, he will go to college.

Ask a Question or Leave a Reply

The author Jordan Schonig gets email notifications for all questions or replies to this post.

Some HTML allowed. Keep your comments above the belt or risk having them deleted. Signup for a Gravatar to have your pictures show up by your comment.