Auxiliary and Modal Verbs
Auxiliary verbs may best be explained by using the following sentence as an example:
Andra micht hae been biggin a bield.
Andrew might have been building
biggin is the main verb conveying
the major elements of meaning in the sentence. Auxiliary
verbs add elements of meaning to the main verb biggin.
The action may then be presented as:
possible - micht.
having been in the past - hae.
hae [he] and
southern Scots, also hiv [hɪv,
hʌv] and [hɛv]
in north east central and west central Scots. Contracted
being in progress rather than as complete
verbs have two important properties:
can be negated by adding na.
can occur at the beginning of a question.
All auxiliary verbs are modal verbs except be, dae
and hae. Modal verbs cannot act alone as the main
verb in a sentence. Modal verbs indicate whether an event
or state is possible or necessary or whether a desire
to do something is being expressed. These verbs have:
general properties of auxiliary verbs.
In Scots the auxiliary verbs, and their
moods and tenses, are much the same as they are in Standard
English except that:
They are rarely used in the subjunctive
mood (the mood expresses the mode or manner of an
action or of a state of being), the indicative (the
mood of the verb that expresses fact) is preferred
in its place.
A wiss (that) his threap war soonder.
I wiss (that) his threap wis soonder.
The active infinitive (the subject
of the verb is the doer of the action, the verbal
idea being expressed without reference to person,
number or time) is used in preference to the passive
infinitive (the subject is the person or thing that
sustains, rather than performs the action of the verb,
the verbal idea once again being expressed without
reference to person, number or time).
tae lippen til.
He's not to
hoose tae lat?
Is this house
to be let?
present participle (in or of the present tense) with the verb tae
be (to be) is frequently used.
A'm no sayin
I won't say that.
A'm no carin.
I don't care.
The auxiliary verbs are:
*Sall is now probably obsolete
having been replaced by will and sud
Scots inscribed bowl
Daes also has the more frequent
Some other verbs such as bide
(await, stay), come, care, dow
(to be able), gang (go), gaed (went),
lat (let), need , ocht (ought),
uise (use), want (lacking, desiring)
and wit or wat (to know) may also function
as auxiliaries, but that is now mostly obsolete except
Much as in Standard English, particularly
after pronouns, is may be contracted to 's
(after a sibilant consonant the full form is is used).
Similarly, haed, hiv, will and
wad may be contracted to 'd, 'v,
'll and 'd. Haes may also be
contracted to 's, except after a singular pronoun,
where it is usually haes or the contracted
form of hiv, 'v.
The present and past tense of the auxiliary verb be.
After a single pronoun:
1st person singular: am (contracted
3rd person singular: is (contracted 's
Plural in all persons: are (contracted 're)
The plural present of be is
the same as for the third person singular, is
or 's, after any subject except after the pronouns
we, ye/you, thay
where it is usually we are or we're.
Similarly, the plural present of hae
is haes, except after the first person
pronoun we, where it is usually we
hae, we hiv or we'v.
The past tense of the auxiliary verb be
is generally wis in the singular
and plural, except after the pronoun thay,
where it is usually thay war, occasionally
thay wis in more colloquial styles.
The windaes wis aw steekit.
The windows were all closed.
We wis aw asleep.We
were all asleep.
He's gane hame.He's
gone off home.
Me an him's no chief.Him
and I are not on friendly terms.
Thir's bonnie flouers.These
are pretty flowers.
That's fine nowt.Those
are fine cattle.
The swallaes is come.The
swallows have come.
Thaim that comes first's
first serred.Those who
come first are served first.
The lamms is oot in the
pairk.The lambs are out
in the field.
We wis gaun hame.We
were going home.
Beasts wis cheaper than.Cattle
were cheaper then.
Thay war baith ben the hoose.
Both of them were in the house.
Usage of the present and past tense.
Be for indicates the sense of
A'll no be for that the nou.I
don't want that at the moment.
A'm no for nae mair.I
don't want any more.
The present habitual be [bi:,
and bes [bi:s,
used for repeated habitual actions, is highly recessive
but still occurs in Ulster Scots.
It bes rainin here aft.It
often rains here.
Burns Nicht bes celebrate in Ulster.
Burns Night is celebrated in
Thay be playin fitbaw on Seturday.
They play football on Saturday.
Fish bes selt at the mercat ilka Friday.
Fish are sold at the market every
We bes at the dancin ilka Seturday.
We go dancing every Saturday.
In colloquial speech hae is often
omitted after wad and shortened to 'a'
after coud, haed, micht, shoud
Ye wad (hae) thocht it he haed duin
it. You would have thought
that he had done it.
I kent the days whan less wad (hae)
serred him.I knew the days
when he would have been satisfied with less.
He coud 'a' duin it.He
could have done it.
A wad 'a' haed tae dae't.I
would have had to do it.
A wad 'a' coud 'a' duin
it.I would have been able
to have done it.
As well as ability, permission is expressed
by infinitive use of can rather than the old-fashioned
mey, and by get tae and get
plus the gerund.
A'll no can gang the morn.I
won't be able to go tomorrow.
Ye can hae the day aff the morn.You
may have the day off tomorrow.
Thay gat gaun til the gemm.They
were allowed to go to the match.
Thay get daffin ootby till aicht in the
e'en.They are allowed to
play outside until eight in the evening.
The schuil-bairns gets tae come ben whan
it teems.The school children
are allowed to come in when it rains heavily.
Maun only expresses the conclusive
meaning. Obligation is expressed by hae tae,
hiv tae and need tae.
Ye maun gang hame.You
must go home.
(It is time to ...)
Ye maun be forfochten.You
must be exhausted.
(judging by your appearance)
Ye maun speir anent the job
by nine.You must inquire
about the job by nine.
(Otherwise someone else will get it.)
A hae tae tak the kye oot.
I must take the cows out(side).
Ye need tae pent the hoose.You
must paint the house.
A hiv tae gang tae ma wark.I
must go to work.
A need tae caw ma grannie.I
must call my grandmother.
She'll hae tae can lauch.She
must be able to laugh.
A hae tae dae't nou.I
must to do it now.
We'v tae be thare at sax.We
must be there at six.
The past tense of maun
is buid, denoting a logical, moral
or physical necessity. It is generally used with a personal
subject and is usually followed by the preposition tae.
It buid tae be.It
had to be.
An tae the sodgerin A buid tae gang.
And a-soldiering I had to go.
Will and wad
are generally used where Standard English has 'shall'
or 'should', except where shoud is used in the
sense of 'aught to'.
Bairns shoud haud thair tongues.Children
ought to keep quiet.
Ye shoud learn tae leuk afore ye lowp.
You should to learn to look before
In the first person will indicates
Thay Will dae it the morn.They
will do it tomorrow.
She will dae that efter.She
will do that later.
A'll daur him dae't gin A
come ower him in the toun.I'll
dare him to do it if I meet him in town.
Will is also used to indicate
A see a body will hae been speakin wi ye.
I see someone has been speaking
Ye will be the same lad that wis here yestreen.
You are likely to be the same
boy who was here yesterday evening.
Sall, now generally replaced
by will, indicates an intention. Sall
is often shortened to s'
[z] (often illogically written 'se).
A s' wad.I will
A s' gie ye ma warrandice.I'll
give you my guarantee.
A s' uphaud.I will
Ye s' no be here - A s'
aye be thare.You will not
be here - I shall still be there.
South of the Forth, Scots uses many
double modal constructions.
He micht can come the morn.He
may be able to come tomorrow.
He micht coud dae't.He
may be able to do it. (in the future)
A shoud can mend the skathie.I
ought to be able to repair the fence.
She'll can tent the bairn.She'll
be able to look after the child.
He'll hae tae coud dae't.He'll
have to be able to do it. (in the future)
He shoud coud tak it wi him.He
ought to be able to take it with him. (in the
The lad maun coud muck the
byre.The lad should be
able to clean the cow shed. (condition)
The horse maun can hurl the cairt.
The horse can surely pull the
Ilka bairn in the toun will can say that.
Every child in town ought to
be able to say that.
She wad coud milk the kye gin she ettelt.
She would be be able to milk
the cows, if she tried.
Thay uised tae coud soum faur, but no
the nou.They used to be
able to swim far, but not now.
Negating the infinitive.
Scots inscribed teapot
The auxiliary verbs are usually negated
by affixing na. Some change their spelling
and/or pronunciation in the process.
be not, don't be
*Daena and haena may
also take the more frequent alternative spellings
dinna and hinna. Divna (do
not) is an emphatic form.
** Sall and sanna
are probably obsolete, having been replaced by will
and winna, although will and
the contracted form 'll may be negated
using the adverb no.
***The negation of daur is daurna
or durstna, the former usually in the sense
of a 'dare' and the latter usually in the sense of
a 'challenge' or 'venture'.
Those usually occur:
In all persons of the plural except
immediately following a personal pronoun.
Where the subject is a plural
Where the plural pronoun is separated
from the verb by some other word or words.
See The verb
A haena ony ingans.I
haven't any onions.
A dinna ken yer brither.I
don't know your brother.
Ye maunna gang.You
He winna skelp the wean.He
won't slap the child.
A daurna tell.I
He maunna tak mair aiples.
He mustn't take more apples.
She sanna wash the fluir.
She has no intention to wash
He daurna tell her he wis
on the bash.He daren't
tell her he was on a drinking bout.
He canna heeze thon muckle
stane.He can't lift that
large stone (over there).
In colloquial speech daena
is often shortened to dae'
[de] and canna to ca'
Dae' dae that.Don't
A dae' ken wha it wis.I
don't know who it was.
He ca' tell ye whaur it is.He
can't tell you where it is.
A ca' dae that.I
can't do that.
Note daesna may also take the
more frequent alternative spelling disna.
A amna gaun hame acause she isna comin
an aw. I am not going
home because she isn't coming too.
She haesna seen himm an he disna
ken whaur he's at. She
hasn't seen himm and he doesn't know where he
Am and are are now
usually negated using the adverb no.
A'm no weel.I'm
Ye're no blate.You're
** Sud, sudna
and the form sanna, are probably
obsolete, having been replaced by shoud and
The past tense wisna is generally
used in the singular and plural except before or after
the pronoun thay where it is usually thay
warna, although thay wisna may also occur.
A wisna gaun tae big a hoose
in the winter.I wasn't
going to build a house in winter.
Thay warna gaun tae gie's a haund aither.
They weren't going to help me either.
Dinna speir at him. He michtna
ken whaur't is.Don't ask
him. He may not know where it is.
A haedna gien the seetiation
muckle thocht.I hadn't given
the situation much thought.
His new sark didna ser.His
new shirt didn't fit.
He shoudna fash hissel.
He shouldn't bother his head.
He wadna come.He
A wadna eat it gin ye peyed me.I
wouldn't eat it if you payed me.
A coudna say a hott aboot it.
I couldn't say much about it.
A coudna beir tae think on it.I
couldn't bear to think of it.
A coudna dae't.I
couldn't do it.
A michtna hae tae.I
mightn't have to.
Interrogative sentences (questions) usually begin
with one of the auxiliary verbs followed by the subject
unless they begin with an interrogative pronoun or adverb.
Div is an interrogative form of dae.
Am A no richt?Am
I not right?
Are ye siccar?Are
Wha did ye see?Who
did you see?
Dinna ye ken?Don't
Div ye no ken?Don't
Canna ye come?Can't
Can ye no come?Can't
Wad ye like a bittock?Would
you like a bit?
Is thae yours?Are
Ye wis thare, wis ye no?You
were there, were you not?
Whaur wis ye gaun?Where
were you going?
War thay baith thare?Were
both of them there?
Wis the baith o them thare?Were
both of them there?
In the first person will indicates
Will help him caw the sheep tae the bucht?
Will you help him drive the
sheep to the pen?
In questions will is used to
express 'do you wish me to?'
Will A gang an get ane?Shall
I go and get one?
Will A come roond the morn?Shall
I come around tomorrow?
The affirmative answer is ay
and the negative answer is na or nae,
or colloquial naw.
D'ye want an ice? Ay thanks!Would
you like an ice cream? Yes please!
D'ye want yer heid duntit? Nae!Would
you like your head bashed? No!
D'ye ken whaur Rab is? Na.Do
you know where Robert is? No.
If no auxiliary verb is used, the
sentence may begin with a verb.
Think ye sae?Do
you think so?
Cam ye by Fawkirk?Did
you come past Falkirk?
Whaur haurd ye that?Where
did you hear that?
Whaur gat ye yer schuilin?Where
did you go to school?