Wir Ain Leed — Auxiliary and Modal Verbs

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Wir Ain Leed — 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 a shelter.

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 [hɛ] in southern Scots, also hiv [hɪv, hʌv] and [hɛv] in north east central and west central Scots. Contracted to 'v.

being in progress rather than as complete - been.

Auxiliary verbs have two important properties:

they can be negated by adding na.

they 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:

no in ending.

no s ending.

the 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).

active infinitive
passive infinitive
He's no tae lippen til.
He's not to be trusted.
Is this hoose tae lat?
Is this house to be let?

The present participle (in or of the present tense) with the verb tae be (to be) is frequently used.

A'm thinkin.
I imagine.
A'm no sayin that.
I won't say that.
A'm no carin.
I don't care.

Auxiliary verbs

wis, war
was, were
hae, hiv
had to
(ought to)

*Sall is now probably obsolete having been replaced by will and sud by shoud.

The Selkirk GraceScots inscribed bowl

Daes also has the more frequent spelling dis.

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 for need.

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 'm)
3rd person singular: is (contracted 's see above)
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 lamms is oot in the pairk.
The lambs are out in the field.
The swallaes is come.
The swallows have come.
Thir's bonnie flouers.
These are pretty flowers.
Thaim that comes first's first serred.
Those who come first are served first.
Me and him's no chief.
Him and I are not on friendly terms.
He's gane hame.
He's gone off home.
That's fine nowt.
Those are fine cattle.
The windaes wis aw steekit.
The windows were all closed.
We wis aw asleep.
We were all asleep.
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.

Present and past tense

Be for indicates the sense of 'want'.

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 [biː, beː, bɪ] and bes [biːs, beːs, bɪs], used for repeated habitual actions, is highly recessive but still occurs in Ulster Scots.

Thay be playin fitbaw on Seturday.
They play football on Saturday.
It bes rainin here aft.
It often rains here.
Burns Nicht bes celebrate in Ulster.
Burns Night is celebrated in Ulster.
Fish bes selt at the mercat ilka Friday.
Fish are sold at the market every friday.
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 and wad.

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.

Ye can hae the day aff the morn.
You may have the day off tomorrow.
A'll no can gang the morn.
I won't be able to go tomorrow.
Thay get daffin ootby till echt 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.
Thay gat gaun til the gemm.
They were allowed to go to the match.

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 need tae caw ma grannie.
I must call my grandmother.
A hae tae dae't nou.
I must to do it now.
She'll hae tae can lauch.
She must be able to laugh.
A hiv tae gang tae ma wark.
I must go to work.
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.
And tae the sodgerin A buid tae gang.
And a-soldiering I had to go.
Haud Yer Horses, FalkirkThe Helix, Falkirk

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 you leap.

In the first person will indicates simple future.

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 supposition.

A see a body will hae been speakin wi ye.
I see someone has been speaking to you.
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 wager.
A s' gie ye ma warrandice.
I'll give you my guarantee.
A s' uphaud.
I will uphold.
Ye s' no be here - A s' aye be thare.
You will not be here - I shall still be there.

Double Modals

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.
He shoud coud tak it wi him.
He ought to be able to take it with him. (in the future)
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)
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 cart.
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

Help Yersel An' Dinna Be BlateScots 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 noun.

Where the plural pronoun is separated from the verb by some other word or words.

See the verb ending s.

Binna feart.
Don't be scared.
A haena ony ingans.
I haven't any onions.
A dinna ken yer brither.
I don't know your brother.
He winna skelp the wean.
He won't slap the child.
He maunna tak mair aiples.
He mustn't take more apples.
Ye maunna gang.
You mustn't go.
He canna heeze thon muckle stane.
He can't lift that large stone (over there).
She sanna wash the fluir.
She has no intention to wash the floor.
A daurna tell.
I daren't tell.
He daurna tell her he wis on the bash.
He daren't tell her he was on a drinking bout.

In colloquial speech daena is often shortened to dae' [de] and canna to ca' [ka].

Dae' dae that.
Don't do that.
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.

Negative present

am not

Note daesna may also take the more frequent alternative spelling disna.

A amna gaun hame acause she isna comin and aw.
I am not going home because she isn't coming too.
She haesna seen him and he disna ken whaur he's at.
She hasn't seen himm and he doesn't know where he is.

Am and are are now usually negated using the adverb no.

A'm no weel.
I'm not well.
Ye're no blate.
You're not shy.

Negative past


** Sud, sudna and the form sanna, are probably obsolete, having been replaced by shoud and shoudna.

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.

His new sark didna ser.
His new shirt didn't fit.
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.
He wadna come.
He wouldn't come.
"A wadna eat it gin ye peyed me.
I wouldn't eat it if you payed me.
He shoudna fash hissel.
He shouldn't bother his head.
A michtna hae tae.
I mightn't have to.
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.
A coudna dae't.
I couldn't do it.
A coudna say a hot aboot it.
I couldn't say much about it.
A coudna beir tae think on it.
I couldn't bear to think of it.


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 you sure?
Wha did ye see?
Who did you see?
Dinna ye ken?
Don't you know?
Div ye no ken?
Don't you know?
Canna ye come?
Can't you come?
Can ye no come?
Can't you come?
Wad ye like a bittock?
Would you like a bit?
Is thae yours?
Are those yours?
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 simple future.

Will ye 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 and 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?