Five O'Clock Somewhere

Welcome to Five O'Clock Somewhere, where it doesn't matter what time zone you're in; it's five o'clock somewhere. We'll look at rural life, especially as it happens in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, cats, sailing (particularly Etchells racing yachts), and bits of grammar and Victorian poetry.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Grammar Moment: parts of speech

Getting a good grasp of the building blocks will help you to put them together well.

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 – 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, St. Louis, sailboat, peace.
  • 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.



Blogger Tillerman said...

Hmmm. "ought to". Now is "to" a preposition there or part of the verb? Must be the latter I guess because Carol Anne knows that a preposition is not a thing to end a sentence with.

Thu Aug 30, 06:17:00 AM MDT  
Blogger Carol Anne said...

Actually, "to" is a part of a verb, in this case, the infinitive "to behave"; the final word is implied.

Thu Aug 30, 04:58:00 PM MDT  
Blogger Carol Anne said...

Another thought ... In much of the British usage that I have observed, the verb isn't implied. The final phrase of the sentence would be ought to do, rather than just ought to.

In British usage, do is often used as a substitute for another verb, much as pronouns fill in for nouns. In American usage, the reader or listener is expected to fill in the missing verb without being given a placeholder to show that a verb is there.

The British way is a bit classier; the American way is a bit more efficient.

Fri Aug 31, 02:59:00 AM MDT  
Blogger Carol Anne said...

FWIW, visitor #23K was someone at an undisclosed location in North America, in the Eastern time zone, running a computer using US English, on the usual search.

Mon Sep 03, 06:57:00 PM MDT  
Blogger Lydia Manx said...

I enjoy your English lessons.

And bell pepper is for accent btw NOT the primary peppers in my chili puter doesn't always like blogger so I get behind on my comments :-)

Wed Sep 05, 10:36:00 PM MDT  
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