Grammar Moment: parts of speech
Sometimes it’s a good idea to go back to the basics, especially for students who haven’t really studied grammar before, or for whom a lot of the rules seem mysterious. If you can gain an understanding of what each type of word does, you will be better able to figure out how they ought to behave in a sentence, and the rules will seem at least a little less mysterious. In addition, if you know exactly what everything is called, you will have words to use when you discuss grammar with your teachers and classmates.
The descriptions I give here will be somewhat sketchy, but if you want to read loads of fantastic explanations and details about each of the parts of speech, look up the Parts of Speech article at FactMonster.com – in addition to excellent descriptions, the sections on each of the major parts of speech contain exercises that allow you to practice what you have learned. (There is a small mistake in one of the Adverbs exercises, but it’s only a minor problem in what is otherwise a great site.)
Because grammar is not a precise science, different grammarians will divide the parts of speech differently; I define eight major parts of speech.
- Noun: names a person, place, thing, or idea. Examples: clockmaker,
, sailboat, peace. St. Louis
- Verb: shows an action or a state of being. Examples: run, throw, seem, be.
- Conjunction: makes a connection between words, phrases, or sentences. Examples: and, but, while, because, which.
- Preposition: shows a relationship, usually of space or time. Examples: for, under, to, during, without.
- Adjective: modifies (describes) a noun; answers the question what kind, how much, which one, or how many. Examples: blue, some, these, a, my, seven.
- Adverb: modifies a verb, an adjective, or another adverb; answers the question when, where, how, or to what extent. Examples: yesterday, there, quickly, thoroughly.
- Pronoun: takes the place of a noun. Examples: you, he, them, somebody, who.
- Interjection: shows emotions. Examples: oops, wow, ouch.
Now, to make matters more confusing, some words can be used as different parts of speech. For example, look can be either a noun or a verb. In order to tell what you have, watch how it behaves in these sentences:
The new fall fashions feature a tailored look.
Those skirts look classy and refined.
In the first sentence, look names an idea and is therefore a noun; in the second, look shows a state of being and is therefore a verb.
Get practice observing the behavior of words, and you will soon be able to figure out what a particular word is, based on what it does. Once you figure out what part of speech a word is, you will be able to make it behave the way it ought to.