3. Verbs

3.2 Auxiliaries

3.2.1 Auxiliaries of the present perfect

The auxiliaries of the present perfect are have and be. Have usually occurs in its contracted form ’ve with persons other than the third-person singular, as in:

3.41     We’ve had all them sort of thing. (Fulbourn CM)

In the cases where have occurs in its full form, this full form is used across person and number. [14]The use in the third-person singular is illustrated by the example:

3.42    He’s been dead and gone = have been = six year …That’s (i.e. the Green King’s) been there since I was born = so however long have been there fore then = I don’t know (West Wickham CC)

The auxiliary be is used with verbs indicating motion or change. A similar observation is made by Shorrocks (1980: 579) in his discussion of the dialect of Farnworth and district: “the formation of the perfect aspect and its domain of use are generally as in S.E. However, there are still traces of be as a perfect auxiliary …the general principle involved would appear to be, that be may function as the perfect auxiliary with intransitive verbs of motion or change of state”. [15] However, in the material for the present study the use of the auxiliary be is not limited to verbs of motion or change, [16] as is illustrated by examples 3.43 (a-b).

3.43 (a) Many a hot day I’m- I’m been to my father’s bottle when I’m drunk my drink when I’m picked that up I’m shuttered it, you know, I couldn’t stick it but I had to drink it. (Willingham AA)
  (b) and I’m carried a coomb of = clover that gets you a tidy overdo (Willingham SS)

The full form am also occurs, as in:

3.44 (a) I’m had three horses on a cart. ... Oh! I am [æm]. (Over EF)
  (b) ’cause I am heard him talk about grandmother *. (Willingham SS)
  (c) I am done a little bit but ... . (Rampton TR)
AA: Yes, that's bloody hard work, een’t it? (The speaker refers to eel gleaving)
MH: I’ve never been.
AA: I am [æm]. I went once. I don’t want to go no more (Willingham)

Be done (as a variant for have done) is discussed in the OED (do 8b; quotations 1766-1833). The auxiliary be is also used with the main verb be, as in examples 3.43 (a) and 3.44 (d) (I am been). This usage, which is frequent in the material collected for the present study, contradicts Mustanoja (1960: 501), who claims that the verb be has always (in OE, ME and ModE) formed its present and past perfect with the auxiliary have.

The contracted form ’s is problematic, since the form represents the third-person singular of both the verb have and the verb be. The ’s may represent the contracted form of is in the speech of those informants who use the verb be in persons other than the third singular. This view is supported by the use of the full form is in the same context as ’s, as shown by instances such as 3.45 (a). Additional evidence comes from instances such as 3.45 (b), in which the local person (MH) participating in conversation also interprets the form as is.

3.45 (a) MH:

but um High Street’s changed somewhat since you were a lad.

    AA: I think it is, ain’t it? (Willingham)
  (b) MH: How about Rampton feast?
    TR: That’s been this week.
    MH: Is it? (Rampton)

The full form of the auxiliary in the persons other than the first and third singular is also attested, as in:

3.46 (a)
MH: They’ve spoilt Lordship Terrace.
ET: Yes, they are [ɑ:] (Willingham)
TR: Are [ɑ:] you ever used a barley chopper?
EF: No.
TR: I am [æm]. (Two informants, TR from Rampton and EF from Over)
  (c) I said, “I’m been a Council tenant ever since nineteen twenty-one.” He said, “Are [ɑ:r] you?” (Willingham ES)
  (d) You’re [jər] brought the wrong sort. (Willingham ES)

Instances such as 3.46 (a-d) are interpreted as cases of the perfect with the auxiliary be. This interpretation is supported by the frequent use of the forms am and is, as shown by examples 3.44 (a-d) and 3.45 (a-b).

Overall, most informants use both be and have, as illustrated by examples 3.47 (a-b).

3.47 (a)

I’m been what you call a gardener ever since I was a boy. ... Well, I used to do the garden, and that’s how I’ve carried on ever since. (Swaffham Prior EW)


I’m ploughed acres with- with a double-thurrow [plough]…. I’ve seen cottages afire (Waterbeach BB)

In Cambridgeshire in the 1970s (when the interviews for the present study were conducted), the speakers still used the same system of auxiliaries as was evidenced by the SED material collected in the 1950s. The evidence (SED IX.6.1) comes from the present perfect form of the verb get in the first- and third-person singular: [hav], [a:] with the note “older form” (from Elsworth, Cambridgeshire proper) and [am], [ɩz] (from Lt. Downham, Isle of Ely). Further evidence of the use of the auxiliary be with the verb get comes from Beauchamp's study on the Chatteris (a small town 25 miles north of Cambridge) dialect. Beauchamp observes that “switching the finite verb in tags from to have to to be” is also a feature of Chatteris dialect. The usage is illustrated by the example They ain't (StE haven't) got it in them, are they? Beauchamp further observes that “the verb to be sometimes replaces to have as the auxiliary verb”. This 'replacement' is illustrated by the examples The Internation Store is took over (StE has been taken over) and They are gone now (StE have gone) and further explained as follows: “took and gone are adjectival”. (Explanations in the brackets by Beauchamp). In the material for the present study, the auxiliary be is most frequent in the north-west Cambridgeshire proper (Willingham, Rampton, and Over).

Wright (1905), who reports traditional dialect forms at the end of the 19th century, specifies the areas in which the auxiliary be occurs as follows: Rutland, Northamptonshire, Warwickshire, Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire, and south Norfolk (Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Norfolk are counties bordering Cambridgeshire). Wright further notes that in Rutland be is in frequent use, and illustrates the usage with the example I am been wonderful bad. From Northamptonshire, Wright gives the example I am read, with the comment ‘usual’. From Hertfordshire, Norfolk and Huntingdonshire, Wright cites the examples from Ellis: I are done (1889: 198, 280) and I am bought it (1889: 212).

The occurrence of the auxiliary be in Cambridgeshire reflects the traditional use of this verb as the auxiliary of the present perfect. In OE and ME, both be and have were used as the auxiliaries of the present and past perfect. In early ME, be was the regular perfect marker with ‘mutative’ verbs, largely irrespectively of resultative or perfective aspect (Zimmermann 1968: 202). However, throughout the ME and ModE periods there has been a steady increase in the use of have, so that by late ME and early ModE be was used mainly with ‘mutative’ verbs, i.e., with verbs indicating transition from one place or condition to another (come, go, become, grow, etc.) (Mustanoja 1960: 500-501). Strang (1970: 100) claims that the only verb commonly using be until the early 19th century was become, and “even this has since generalised have” [17]

Thus, have is the regular auxiliary in StE nowadays, although with a few verbs both have and be are still available, [18] e.g. he has/is gone (see, e.g., Visser 1973: 2061) and he has/is come. In instances such as He’s dead and gone now (Lt. Eversden SC) [19] the past participle is categorically fuzzy. It has features of both verbs and adjectives (see e.g. Shorrocks 1980: 579).

3.2.2 Auxiliaries of the past perfect

In the few instances in which the past perfect is attested in the material for the present study, the auxiliary is generally had (the initial h is frequently not pronounced), usually in its contracted form ’d. Illustrations of the usage include:

3.48 (a)

That’d- that’d blowed a hill up = like that. That never opened the crater like that (Waterbeach BB)


When we went in there = in that cottage, there’d been a old chap. (Swaffham Prior EW)

For a more detailed discussion of the past perfect, see For the forms used as past participles, see 3.3.2.

The auxiliary be is infrequent with the past perfect. However, it is attested in instances such as 3.49 (a-c).

3.49 (a) And he’d always give them two pound when they were finished …Well, we was finished our harvest = got all our corn cut (Burwell GW)

and then they = took me away to = work on the farm like = during the war, ’cause they was so shorthanded with the = people, you see, ’cause they was gone in the army. (Swaffham Prior EW)


If the- any master want a lad when he’d come back if that were me or he or anybody else, [he said,] “I want you work for me = tomorrow morning.” We were left school. (Castle Camps JH)

The construction be + finished goes back to at least the 17th century (Visser 1963-1973: 2081). For was gone in example 3.49 (b), cf. is gone (Visser 1963-1973: 2061).

3.2.3 Do

The auxiliary do is used: (1) in clauses negated by not when the verb construction is in the simple present, the simple past, or the imperative; (2) in affirmative and negative questions involving inversion when the verb construction is in the simple present or simple past; and (3) in tag questions. In addition to these usages, which also occur in StE, the auxiliary do is commonly used (4) in clauses containing one or more negative words (e.g. no, nobody, none, nowhere) in addition to the negative not. The negative form of the auxiliary do also precedes the constructions (5) used to + infinitive and (6) ought to + infinitive.

The use of do with the simple present, the simple past and the imperative are illustrated by examples 3.50 (a-d).

3.50 (a) Them Welshmen sing beautiful, but he don’t like that (Willingham ET)
MH: That had a name, didn’t it?
AA: Don’ know. (Willingham)
  (c) I didn’t retire from that. I retired from the farms. (Swaffham Prior EW)
  (d) He’s (representing StE he says), “All right, yes, well, don’t you come to school no more till I send for ee!” (Willingham ES)

As can be seen from example 3.50 (a), the third-person singular form is don’t, not the StE doesn’t. For the discussion of this usage, see 5.3. In most cases, clauses negated by not include more than one negative word in addition to the negative particle not. For a discussion of multiple negation, see 5.4. In example 3.50 (d), the negative imperative is accompanied by the pronoun you. [20]

In questions involving inversion, the full forms do and did occur only in questions requiring a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer, whereas the contracted forms ’s and ’d are commonly used in questions beginning with a question word, as illustrated by examples 3.51 (a-b).

3.51 (a) Wha’s he want to save that for? (Rampton TR)
  (b) Where’d you go yesterday? (Willingham ES)

The full form does is not attested in questions involving inversion. Generally speaking, questions of this type are infrequent compared to tag questions. Affirmative and negative tag questions are illustrated by examples 3.52 (a-c).

3.52 (a) That don’t look really fair, you know, does it? (Waterbeach BB)
  (b) Well, you know what caper they caught- they caught there, don’t you? (Willingham SS)
  (c) You come last Saturday night, didn’t you? (Rampton TR)

The construction didn’t used to occurs in instances such as They didn’t used to last so long. (Harlton MP). For a discussion of used to, see

Ought to is preceded by didn’t in instances such as: You didn’t ou- ought to let him [have] (ha)d it (Willingham ES). For a discussion of ought to, see 3.2.9.

3.2.4 Can, could

Can/could is commonly used to indicate (1) ability (‘be able to’, ‘know how to’), as in example 3.53 (a), (2) permission (‘be allowed to’), as in example 3.53 (b), and (3) possibility (‘it is possible to/that’), as in example 3.53 (c).

3.53 (a) I can tell you about the water pumps (Waterbeach BB)
  (b) You can have a look in the shop. (Rampton HP)

He said, “Could you = went (for StE have gone) today?” I said, “Yes, if I hadn’t got to come to school.” (Willingham ES)

Thus, the uses of can and could are the same as those in StE. Differences are to be found in the forms of the infinitives following can/could. In example 3.53 (c), the form went, corresponding to StE gone, is preceded by the non-expression of the auxiliary. For forms used as past participles, see 3.3.2.

Can indicates present time, and in vivid narratives also past time. Could, followed by a present or a perfect infinitive, indicates past time, as in the example My old bro could milk, brother what died (Newton JF). However, there are also instances in which could does not express past time, but rather a greater degree of politeness, probability, or doubt, as in the examples I couldn’t tell you now exactly what year that was but = when I went up the co-op first = I never went on coal straight away and You can go up there any time. Could you? (Fulbourn CM)

3.2.5 May, might

In StE, may is used to indicate permission, e.g. You may borrow my bike, if you want to, and possibility, e.g. He may never come (i.e., ‘it is possible that he will never come’). In the interviews for the present study, permission and possibility are usually expressed by can/could, as discussed in 3.2.4. Possibility involving greater doubt or uncertainty is indicated by might, as in examples 3.54 (a-b).

3.54 (a) You perhaps might get a dozen = you might perhaps get more than a dozen a nights (Waterbeach BB)

It might-a-been (for StE might have been) a Wednesday, it might-a-been a Thursday (Rampton HP).

Might followed by a perfect infinitive is also employed to express a complaint that some action was neglected, as in the example had to lead me bike there and lead it back and walk. Might just as well left it at home (Rampton TR).

3.2.6 Must, have to and the type HAVE GOT TO and variants

Must is rare in the interviews for the present study. However, it is used in a few cases to express the inferred or presumed certainty of a fact. In this function, must is usually followed by the perfect infinitive, as in example 3.55 (b), although the present infinitive also occurs, as in example 3.55 (a).

3.55 (a) Well, you git a certain amount of that in your grain. Must come in your grain. (West Wickham CC)
  (b) They used to have bicycles then. Now they got motors. So they must-a-done well. (Newton JF)

In Standard English, must is commonly used in the present tense and in reported speech in the past tense to denote obligation or compulsion, e.g. You must come home by 7 o’clock and Yesterday you said you must come home by 7 o’clock. In the material for the present study, must is extremely rare in this function (although there are instances such as Just feed the horses, milk the cows and them things what must be done on a Sunday (Waterbeach BB)). Instead, when referring to present time, speakers use got to, and more rarely have to, and when referring to past time, they usually use had to. Since the auxiliary preceding got to is not usually expressed, except in the negative and in tag questions, only the context indicates whether the reference is to present or past time. Examples 3.56 (a-b) show the usage with present time reference, and example 3.56 (c) with past time reference.

3.56 (a) We don't grow enough in this country to keep going. We got to trade ’long (i.e., with) other countries to keep us a-going. (West Wickham CC)
  (b) Now they have to dry it straight away from the combine. (West Wickham CC)
  (c) When they finished at four, he still had to milk his cows. (Willingham SS)

3.2.7 Shall, will

Shall and will have the double function of future auxiliaries and modal auxiliaries. The two functions are closely associated. Their uses as future auxiliaries are discussed in This section focuses on the uses of shall and will as modal auxiliaries.

In the first person, shall expresses intention on the part of the speaker (‘intermediate volition’), as in He said, “I shall go and fetch my horsewhip,” he said, “and I shall give– I shall tie you to that fence,” he said, “and I shall whip you like a dog” (Rampton HP). In questions in the first person, shall inquires after the desire of the person addressed (or indicates the speaker’s offer to the hearer), as in Th’old chap said, “Shall we go and have a drink?” (Rampton TR).

The full form of will denotes insistence (‘strong volition’), as in [I said,] “I shan’t come no more.” He said, “You will.” (‘I insist on your coming’; Willingham AA) and prediction, as in What’s going to happen to you, will do, you can’t stop it (Newton JF).

3.2.8 Should, would

Should is attested most frequently in the construction I should think (‘I’m inclined to think’), in cases such as: and he’d be up about eight, I should think (Burwell GW).

In StE, should followed by a present infinitive is commonly used in statements of obligation, necessity, or duty, e.g. You should work harder and They should be here by now. In the material for the present study, cases comparable to these are usually expressed by ought to. Similarly, statements with should followed by a perfect infinitive are infrequent, although there are cases such as the ones illustrated in examples 3.57 (a-b).

3.57 (a) Well, there were times = it should been = five o’clock- five till five (Willingham ES)
  (b) We went thrannelling on a man’s land where we shouldn’t-a-done (Waterbeach BB)

In example 3.57 (a), the auxiliary of the perfect infinitive is not expressed; cf. note [5]. In example 3.57 (b), the auxiliary of the perfect infinitive is expressed with the reduced form a, which is typical of fast dialectal speech.

In the first person, should is used in a main clause followed or preceded by a conditional clause (expressed or implied) to indicate that the supposition, and therefore its consequence, is unreal. In this usage, should is usually followed by a perfect infinitive, as in example 3.57 (a), and occasionally by a present infinitive, as in example 3.57 (b).

3.58 (a) God, if I got- if I’d got = forty and fifty pound a week when hired at work I should been a millionaire now (Fulbourn CM)
HP: Well, you’re the very image of her.
MH: Mm
HP: I said, “I should put you- put you down as her brother [if I didn’t know you are not her brother]”. (Rampton HP)

Like should in the first person, would/’d is used in the second and third persons in main clauses followed or preceded by a conditional clause. In this usage (i.e. in the usage where the verb construction refers to a hypothetical state of affairs, or to an uncertain event that is contingent on another set of circumstances), would is followed either by a present infinitive, as in example 3.59 (a), or by a perfect infinitive, as in example 3.59 (b).

3.59 (a) [If she] had a new pair of legs, she’d be as good as ever, yeah, would (Rampton TR)
  (b) [He said,] “If he’d a been = three parts drunk like he wa sometimes, he would a shot you.” (Willingham ES)

Would is also used in interrogative expressions, such as those in examples 3.60 (a-b).

3.60 (a)

What would I be then? I’d be somewhere in my twenties ’cause = somewhere in my twenties. Yes. (Waterbeach BB)

  (b) That’d be the Parish Council with him, wouldn’t it? (Willingham AA)

In examples 3.60 (a-b), the meaning is ‘I assume that, my prediction is’.

In negative statements, would is used to express refusal, determination not to do something, as in She said, “*, that boy wouldn’t peel the rods this morning.” (Willingham ET)

For would/’d in expressions of characteristic or habitual activity, see

3.2.9 Ought to

Like should, ought to followed by a present infinitive is used in statements of obligation, necessity, or duty, as illustrated by examples 3.61 (a-b).

3.61 (a) They ought to have one like him about here now (Willingham ET)
  (b) We got driers, dresses and driers, all down here. That’s- ought to be down to sixteen [gram] fore anybody buy it (West Wickham CC). (That’s is a false start.)

Ought to is also used to denote something that is expected (and is considered to be the proper state of affairs in the speaker’s view), as illustrated by the instance Yes the- there’s no end to names- nicknames. There ought to be no end on- in the village what een’t the proper name. (i.e., ‘there ought to be no end of persons with nicknames in the village’ (Waterbeach BB).

Ought to is negated with a contracted form of the auxiliary do and the negative particle not, as in:

3.62     You didn’t ou- ought to let him [have] had it. (Willingham ES)

According to Brook (1972 [1963]: 109), constructions like you didn’t ought to are common in dialects. There is evidence that the negative construction with do + not has occurred in other regions and at other times, such as Suffolk at the turn of the 19th century (Moor 1970 [1823]: 109). [21]

3.2.10 Dare and need

Dare and need are regarded as marginal modals, because whilst, on the one hand, they can behave as ordinary modal auxiliaries (e.g. can, may and must), on the other hand, they can take the infinitive marker to. In the interviews for the present study, dare and need are regarded as modal auxiliaries. The use of dare is illustrated by examples 3.63 (a-b).

3.63 (a)

And I dare say he don’t spend half a quarter on it. Not a pound I shouldn’t think (Rampton TR)

  (b) I daren’t do no other than go. I had to go (Willingham ES)

In negative statements, dare is attested with past time reference, as in example 3.63 (b).

Need is infrequent in the material for the present study. However, there are cases such as:

3.64     You needn’t a come this morning (Rampton TR).


[14] Cheshire (1982: 31-34) reports that, in Reading English, a distinction is made between the main verb have and the auxiliary have. The form has with other than third-person singular subjects (i.e. the non-standard form, e. g. they has) only occurs when have is used as a main verb in a sentence, or is followed by a to-infinitive; the auxiliary have, on the other hand, behaves exactly the way it does in StE. In the Cambridgeshire material, the form have occurs in the third-person singular irrespective of whether the verb is used as the main verb have or the auxiliary have, e.g. he have and he have been. However, the full form have is infrequent, speakers preferring the constructions he’s got/he got (instead of the construction with the main verb have) and he’s been (instead of the full form of the auxiliary have).

[15] The use of be as the auxiliary of the present perfect is also noted by Ihalainen (1987: 79-80) in his Somerset dialect data. Ihalainen illustrates the usage with the examples He was come out of the fowl run. (JM) and The band was stopped, wadn it? (LN) Like Shorrocks (1980: 579; 1999: 129), Ihalainen restricts the occurrence of perfective be to verbs of motion and change. However, Ihalainen further remarks that in the Somerset dialect, the use of be as a perfect auxiliary is more widespread than in Standard English. Comparing his own Somerset data with part of my own Cambridgeshire data, Ihalainen comes to the following conclusion concerning the use of be as an auxiliary in Somerset dialect: “However, it is definitely less widespread than in, say, the dialect of Cambridgeshire, where forms like I’m seen it ‘I have seen it’ frequently occur.”

[16] Edwards & Weltens (1985: 112) note the use of the verb to be as a perfective auxiliary with some verbs, e.g. we’re gotten no fish (Scotland, Leicestershire, Devon) and with verbs of motion (Irish). Thus, Edwards & Weltens do not limit the usage of be as an auxiliary to verbs of motion. However, the number of regions they mention is very limited.

Discussing the features of Shetland Dialect, Melchers (1999: 334) also claims that the use of be is not limited to verbs of motion: “be is used for ‘have’ as the perfective auxiliary throughout the verb system, i.e. not only with verbs of motion”.

Drawing evidence from Lowman’s material, collected in the 1930s, Viereck (1985a: 250-251, 271) presents a map (Map 36) of the areas where be is attested as a perfect auxiliary (in the context “I have heard it [lots of times]”). This map shows that “the contracted form of am was offered exclusively in the area comprising Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire, Huntingdonshire, Norfolk and southern Leicestershire” (1985: 251). For Guy S. Lowman, Jr. see e.g. McDavid (1977: 134).

[17] As late as the beginning of the 18th century, be was, in most contexts, the distinctly favoured perfect marker (Rydén & Brorström 1987: 18).

[18] See e.g. Quirk et al. (1985: 170 (note), 413).

[19] In the Ely sub-corpus of the Helsinki Corpus of British English Dialects, the verb be is used in cases such as people what was = that time o’ day they’re dead an’ gone (Elm GW). The audio recordings of the Ely sub-corpus were transcribed by Irmeli Tammivaara-Balaam and Kirsti Peitsara, University of Helsinki.

[20] According to Edwards & Weltens (1985: 111), “the most widespread non-standard imperative form is that of the positive imperative with a pronoun (N. Ireland, Scotland, N. Lincolnshire, E. Anglia, S. Cheshire, Wessex), e.g. Believe you me (cf. StE emphatic imperative You come here!).”

In the interviews for the present study, there are cases such as: Q: What’s his name? – GW: *. You go and see him (Burwell), where the pronoun precedes the verb. Instances where the pronoun follows the verb are not attested in the data of the present study.

However, the construction verb + pronoun is attested in the Ely sub-corpus data of the Helsinki Corpus of British English Dialects in instances such as I said, “Come you along an’ have a look” (Haddenham RH) and in the Suffolk sub-corpus data in instances such as: And he say to me, “Go you back to the farm and get old lofty horse, old bloody horse…and get it shoed.” (Saxmundham W). For the Helsinki Corpus of British English Dialects, see http://www.helsinki.fi/varieng/CoRD/corpora/Dialects/index.html.

[21] The construction didn’t ought to was still attested in Suffolk dialect speech in the 1970s, as evidenced in the instance I didn’t ought to have the children (Plaxhall PS) in the Suffolk sub-corpus data of the Helsinki Corpus of British English Dialects (HD). The construction is also attested in the Ely sub-corpus data of HD, as illustrated by the instance I didn’t ought to ’ave said his name (Witcham WT).