Basic Grammar Skills: Mastering The Eight Parts of Speech

Phil Abraham

Basic Grammar Skills:  Mastering The Eight Parts of Speech

O ne of the best ways to give a good impression and put forth an intelligent and capable persona is to have a solid grasp of the English language and its proper usage.  This skill is essential for good communication.  As many have noted, it is true that the English language can often be complicated.  Although at times it seems a little daunting to try to master the rules of proper grammar and word usage, one of the best ways to achieve this is to understand how sentences are built.  Having a good handle on these basic concepts helps one to build a proper foundation upon which better writing and speaking skills can easily be added and improved.

In order to construct a good sentence, it is first important to understand the types of words that make up sentences, and where those words belong.  There are eight general parts of speech, which make up a sentence.  The first and most common is the noun.  Noun is the term for a word that describes a person, place, thing or idea.  The word Jane would be considered a noun because it is a person, Florida, because it is a place, couch, because it is a thing, and love, because it is an idea.  Nouns are often preceded by the words a, an, or the. 

Proper nouns are nouns that describe something specific.  They are always capitalized.  Examples of proper nouns would include words like Miami, or Mr. Anderson.  Almost all nouns come in either singular (describing one) or plural (describing many) form, such as the word farm and farms.  Most plural words end with the letter “s”, but some do not.  (The word woman, for example, becomes women when it is referring to more than one.) 

If a noun is possessive, meaning that it shows ownership, an apostrophe must be added.  In the sentence, “The girl’s father was tall,” the word girl’s shows ownership and therefore contains an “s” with an apostrophe.  (In contrast, a sentence such as, “The girls ate lunch” has an “s” because it is a plural word, speaking of more than one girl.  It does not show ownership and therefore needs no apostrophe before the “s.”)  If a word already ends with “s” before it is made possessive, an apostrophe is simply added to the end of the word.  For example, in the phrase, “The girls’ party”, the word girls is plural and already contains an “s”.  In order to keep the word plural, (rather than singular, such as girl’s), an apostrophe is simply added to the end of the word, after the “s.”

There are some exceptions to the rule about adding apostrophes for possessive nouns.  One of these happens with the contraction “its,” and is commonly miswritten.  A contraction is two words, (in this case it and is). shortened and combined, with an apostrophe in the place of any missing letters.  The contraction it’s means it is.  The word its is actually the correct possessive form of the word it, without an apostrophe.

A pronoun is a word that is used to replace a noun.  Common pronouns include words such as I, me, you, she, her, her, him, it, we, you, us, they, or them.  For example, instead of saying “The girl went to the store,” one could replace the noun girl with the pronoun she.

A verb usually describes an action, (such as skip or scream) or a state of being (such as is, or become.)  Forms of the words have, do and be are called helping verbs, and are often paired with an action or state of being verb (such as has been or did see.)  In the sentence, “Mark jumped over it,” the verb is the word jumped, and it is an action verb.  In the sentence “She did see the play,” the words did and see are considered a verb phrase.  Did is a helping verb, and see is an action verb.

Adjectives are words that are used to modify, or describe, a noun or pronoun.  It is easy to identify an adjective because it will almost always answer one of the following questions:  Which one?  What kind?  How many?  How much?  Whose?  The words a, an and the, which are classified as articles, are also usually counted as adjectives.  In the sentence, “I ate a fluffy pancake,” the word fluffy is an adjective that answers the question “what kind,” and modifies (describes) the noun pancake.  Adjectives can also tend to group together, as in the following sentence: “Joe wanted a big, fat, orange cat.”  The words big, fat, and orange are all adjectives describing the noun cat, and the word a, which is an article, also counts as an adjective.

An adverb is a word, which modifies, or describes, a verb, an adjective, or another adverb.  One can spot an adverb by asking the questions, When?  Where?  How?  How often?  To what extent?  (In the sentence, “Speak quietly while you wait,” the word quietly is an adverb, modifying the verb, speak, and answering the question “how”.)

A preposition is a word that is placed before a noun or pronoun and forms a phrase modifying another word in the sentence.  Usually, this prepositional phrase that has formed will work as an adverb or adjective in the sentence.  In the sentence, “I went over the bridge,” the words “over the bridge” are the prepositional phrase, and the word over is the actual preposition.  There are not a lot of prepositions in the English language, and one could easily memorize a list of them.  Some of the most common are: about, above, beneath, between, during, except, near, past, throughout, etc.

A conjunction works to join words and phrases, or clauses.  This list includes words such as: and, but, or, nor, for, so, yet, either, neither, etc.  In the sentence, “I went to the store, but I did not buy anything,” the word but serves as a conjunction and connects the phrases, “I went to the store” and “I did not buy anything.”

An interjection is used to show surprise or great emotion.  Some common examples of interjections include, Yeah!  Oh!  Wow!  Hey!  Etc.

It is important to have a good understanding of each of these eight parts of speech that make up sentences.  One excellent way to study the parts of speech is to take apart sentences and diagram or label each word according to its category.  If you continue to study, you may find yourself recognizing words as nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc. without trying very hard!  Once these concepts are understood, many other rules of grammar will be more easily learned and applied.



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