Traditional approaches to verbal periphrasis (compound tenses) treat auxiliary verbs as lexical items that enter syntactic derivation like any other lexical item, i.e. via Selection/Merge. An alternative view that has received much attention in recent years is that auxiliary verbs are not base-generated but rather inserted in a previously built structure (i.a. Bach 1967; Embick 2000; Arregi 2000; Cowper 2010; Bjorkman 2011; Arregi and Klecha 2015). Arguments for the insertion approach to auxiliaries include their last-resort distribution and the fact that, in many languages, auxiliaries are not systematically associated with a given inflectional category (the "overflow" distribution discussed in Bjorkman 2011). In this paper, I argue against the insertion approach. First, I demonstrate that the overflow pattern and last-resort distribution follow from Cyclic Selection (Pietraszko 2017)—a Merge-counterpart of Cyclic Agree (Béjar and Rezac 2009). And second, I show that the insertion approach makes wrong predictions about compound tenses in Swahili, a language with overflow periphrasis. Under the approach advocated here, an auxiliary verb is a verbal head externally merged as a specifier of a functional head, such as T. It then undergoes m-merger with that head, instantiating an external-merge version of Matushansky’s (2006) conception of head movement.

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