In search of the humble ‘are’

On the final day of a lovely beach vacation, I spotted the notice above at George Airport, on SA’s Garden Route.

Despite my state of relaxation, I was thrown into a rage, culminating in this tweet (which received record shares).


The furore got me thinking about the origin of the prevailing trend for native English speakers to leave out, willy-nilly, the helping verb “to be” – as in,

* “We launching … “,
* “They funny.”
* “You invited to … ”
* “What they doing?”

Is it laziness or ignorance?

I scoured the web, and can’t find a decisive answer. (Do you have one?) So, just in case, here’s a quick explanation of what a helping verb actually does …

An auxiliary verb is generally understood as a verb that helps another verb by adding grammatical information to it. (The Oxford English Dictionary, 1989, defines an auxiliary verb as “a verb used to form the tenses, moods, voices, etc of other verbs”.)

Like so:

* Forms of the verb be — We are singing. Are is an auxiliary accompanying the present participle singing, expressing continuous or on-going action.

* Forms of the verb do (do, does, did) — Do you want tea? Do is an auxiliary accompanying the verb want, used here to form a question.

* Forms of the verb have — He had given his all. Had is an auxiliary accompanying the past participle given, describing an event occurring in the past but linked to a later time.

* Modal verbs — He can do it now. Can is a modal auxiliary (expressing likelihood, ability, permission and obligation) accompanying the verb do.

The first example is the one that we see most often in English. And this post, my first for M&G Women for 2014, is simply about asking you not to do this.


Don’t leave out the all-important are. Please. It looks and sounds sloppy. (Even in text messages. Bad habits breed bad grammar.) Thank you.