ENGLISCH/787: Questions to Mrs Gobbledygook (136) The emphatic DO (SB)


136. Why do we use 'do' with verbs?

Dear Mrs Gobbledygook

I have a question about using the auxiliary "do" with to "believe", as for example in "I do believe there has been a kind of note on the board..."

It really surprised me when I came upon the expression "Do read the following instruction carefully ..." Why do speakers of English use 'do' in this contexts and when do you use 'do' with verbs? Is it mandatory?


Czwslaw Zubrowska (Szcecin, Poland)


Dear Mr Zubrowska

Thank you for your questions. I can understand why this usage of 'do' is surprising for you. It seems to be a mystery to lots of students. How to use 'do' comes out being a frequently asked question. In fact, I found some explanations on the BBC Learning English website. There Samantha Hague, who has been a teacher of English language and communication skills for the past sixteen years, recommends strongly to think about the positive meaning of 'do' instead of wondering about grammatical structures and word orders. If you read Samantha's examples you may see for yourself:

I DO try to make my son do his homework, but he refuses to cooperate.

I DID think you were going to speak to him about it.

I DO hope he'll try harder this year.

I' d like to add some more:

DO come to our party. It will be much more fun if you come as well.

Boy, DID he yell. I was afraid the police would turn up.

So you DO like beer after all. And I thought you didn't.

You DO look tired. You ought to go to bed now.

As you might see, in each example, 'do' is used to stress the main verb or to add some emphasis to it, that is, to make the expression or feeling stronger. In some cases you could replace 'do' with an adverb e.g. 'really', 'truly', 'honestly', 'certainly', 'undeniably' or just 'very' or 'very much'.

'Do' functions as an emphatic auxiliary with one exception: 'do' cannot be combined with any other auxiliary, such as 'must', 'might', 'can' etc. So we can't say:

You must do try really hard to pass your exam.

Although one could say:

You must try really hard to pass your exam.

Now, if we take the verb "to believe" which you mentioned in your letter, it is quite clear how the auxiliary 'do' adds emphasis to its meaning:

I DO believe I've seen you before.

I DO think Japanese is a difficult language to learn.

I DO feel that the Red Monkey is one of the best pubs in town.

I DO hope he'll be happier with his new job.

As Samantha Hague puts it, in all of these examples, 'do' is used to reinforce the strength of claim and show certainty.

But there's another usage of 'do' as an emphatic auxiliary. Sometimes we can use it to contradict or show contrast. See the following examples:

She says she loves cheese - DOES she now/indeed?

I DID ring him this morning, although he claims he didn't hear the ringtone.

The office staff said my fax was late, but I DID send it on time.

My son is so restless at home, but his teacher says he DOES works hard at school.

In each of these examples, 'do' shows the contrast between the expected and real outcome in each situation, and if you read them aloud, the emphatic 'do' would usually be stressed.

Now, I DO hope that this has been useful to you


Mrs Gobbledygook

12 June 2008