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Prose Parade
Grammar and writing basics

The Parts of Speech

Okay, let’s start with the basics: the parts of speech. Every word in a sentence has a function, and every function has a name. These names are called the parts of speech. This phrase was made up a kazillion years ago by some very anal-retentive types (like me) to clarify, even though many (well, most) times they baffle and confuse. Be brave; they’re just names.


Drum roll, please…




The parts of speech are:

noun                                  pronoun

verb                                   preposition          

adjective                           conjunction

adverb                              interjection




1. Definition


A noun is any word used to name a pperson, place or 




Example:     man




2. Noun Usage


A noun has many jobs in a sentence, such as subject, direct object, indirect object and object of the preposition. (So, don’t object!)


Heads up! Sometimes nouns are called proper nouns. This doesn’t mean they have good manners. It means the noun refers to a specific person, place or thing.


Example:     Linnea


                     Eiffel Tower





1. Definition


A verb is a word that expresses action or otherwise helps to make a statement.


2. Function


A verb can do more than indicate action.


a. They can tell time. These time-telling qualities are called tenses (present, past, future).

b. Verbs speak in voices. They can be either full of pep (active) or withdrawn (passive)

c. Verbs can sometimes affect what appears after them and sometimes not. These are transitive and intransitive verbs.

d. Verbs can sometimes directly connect what comes before them and what comes after. These are linking verbs.

e. Verbs have moods. They are ordinary (indicative), bossy (imperative) and wishful (subjunctive).


3. Kinds of Verbs


There are three kinds of verbs: action, helping and linking.


Action Verbs

Physical: Play  Drive  Drop  Run    

Mental: Think  Ignore  Know  Believe


Example:     I ran around all day like a chicken with its head cut off. (Action and not a very pretty one.)


                     I think, therefore I am. (Mental [and a little Descartes thrown in, who was mental, as far as I’m concerned, or at least he needed a good, steady job that demanded a lot of his time, but don’t get me started] and a form of the verb be, see below, although in this sentence it means exist [English is treacherous; I will say this many times more.])


Helping Verbs

These verbs help the main verb to express an action or make a statement.


All forms of the verb be: Am, Is, Are, Was, Were, Be, Being, Been


Other helping verbs:

has                            can have                                       do

had                            could be                                       did

can                            could have                                    have

may                           will have been                              has been

will be                        might have                                   must have

will have                    might have been                          must have been


Example:     I am Sam. (makes a statement)


                     Sam can eat green eggs and ham. (Helps the verb eat)


Linking Verbs

These verbs connect or link the subject to some kind of noun on the far side of the verb.


All forms of be: Am, Is, Are, Was, Were, Be, Being, Been


Example: I am she. Or to those who prefer English as she is really spoken, I am her. (We grammar fiends know why there’s a difference between using she and her, but I’m not going to scare you with the explanation; probably, we’ll just fix it when we’re editing your writing. Treacherous, remember.)


Other linking verbs:

appear                  grow                seem           stay

become                look                 smell            taste

feel                        remain            sound


Example:     Beth appeared sickly. (That’s for the Little Women fans out there. Oh god, are there Little Women fans any more? Do little girls read Little Women any more? Oh please, say yes, even if you have to lie to me.) Back to the subject, or rather verb, at hand.


Caution: Some of these verbs can be action verbs. (You know, the ones above my Little Women lament.)


4. Usage


The verb and the subject (the main noun; usually the first one in the sentence) make up the body of the sentence. Without the main noun and the main verb it’s not a sentence; it’s some very ugly sounding things that we’ll get into later.


Caution: Sometimes the -ing form of the verb can be an adjective or a noun.


More about verbs in Syntax and Style and a bunch of other cool (well, for me anyway) stuff.





1. Definition

An adjective is any word used to modify, limit or describe a noun or pronoun.


Adjectives modify in three ways:


a. They tell what kind.


Example:     green stone

                     big mess

                     strong man


b. They point out which one.


Example:     this man

                     that room


c. They tell how many.


Example:     several layers

                     five fingers


2. Usage


The normal position for an adjective is directly in front of the word it modifies. However, sometimes for sentence variety and interest the adjective appears after the word it modifies.


Example:     The tree, tall and straight, bent and

                     broke in the high winds.


Sometimes the adjective appears after the verb, usually a linking verb.


Example:     The wine tasted bitter.

                     His nose felt cold.


Sometimes nouns are used as adjectives.


Example:     home wrecker




1. Definition


An adverb is a word that modifies, limits or describes a verb, an adjective or another adverb. Adverbs often but not always end in -ly.


They modify in four ways:


a. They tell how.


Example:     He drives carefully.


b. They tell when.


Example:     He recently drove to San Diego.


c. They tell where.


Example:     He drove here this morning.


d. They tell how often or how much (to what extent).


Example:     He drives daily.


All the above adverbs modify verbs.


Modifying an adjective

Example:     He is an unusually good driver.


Modifying another adverb

Example:     He drives very well.


Caution: Sometimes nouns are used as adverbs.


Example:     I called him yesterday.


Remember what I said about English. It’s very untrustworthy.


2. Usage

Adverbs are used to add interest and information to any sentence.


The adverb most often appears next to the word it modifies, but it can appear anywhere in the sentence as long as it’s clear which word it describes.




1. Definition


A pronoun is a word used in place of one or more nouns. Usually, it refers to a word that already appears in the sentence or paragraph.


Example:     He rode to school on the bus. (Some sentence before this one probably names the person.)


Some pronouns replace people. These pronouns are: I, me, you, he, him, she, her, we, us, they, them, who/whom and whose. (These words are left over from Old English and have declensions (sometimes called cases). The pronoun must agree with the noun in number, gender and case (We, they=more than one person; She, he, it=one person or thing; me, him, her, us, them, whom=objective case, singular and plural.  You is singular and plural.


Caution: The pronouns English speakers have the most trouble with when writing is when they use they to refer to a grammatical it (the company they; ugh, no; the company it and, by the way, I am she not her. (I mention this again because it’s like the sound of rubbing a balloon for me, i.e., it sends me up a wall.)


Personal Note: I’d love to see whom go away even though I have a hard time stopping myself from using it.


Back to some pronouns replace people.


Example:     I gave the book to Rita.

                     Robert and she went to the bank.


Some pronouns replace things. These pronouns are: it, which, that, this, they and what.


Example:     It came from outer space.

                     What did you do?


Some pronouns don’t refer to any specific person or thing, but they do refer to quantities. Some of these pronouns are: any, both, none, most, several, some and each.


Example:     Is there any left?


Caution: Sometimes pronouns are adjectives.


Example:     My book is on the table.


2. Usage


Pronouns help to smooth written communication and add to word variety. However, be careful that the reader knows what or who the pronoun refers to.


Pronouns have different forms depending on how they are used in a sentence.


When the pronoun is the subject (the person, place or thing that is acting) of the sentence, use: I, you, he, she, it, we, they


Example:     She and I went to the movies.


Not:              Her and me went to the movies or even me and her went to the movies. (You can toss those pronouns around any way you like, they’re still wrong in this sentence.)


When the pronoun is the object (the person, place or thing that is acted on), use

me, you, him, her, it, them.


Example:     Keep that information between you and me.


Not:              Keep that information between you and I.

 Never, ever, ever is it between you and I. Never!


Pronouns that point to something are called demonstrative pronouns. They are

this, that, these, those.


Example:     Those two movies are my favorites.


Not:              Them two movies are my favorites.





1. Definition


A preposition is a word used to show the relation of a noun or pronoun to some other word in a sentence.


Example:     Put the paper on my desk. (paper/desk)


Prepositions are usually small words, and they start a prepositional phrase, which always has at least one noun and sometimes adjectives.


Some common prepositions are:

above                      across                        at

behind                     between                     by

during                      except                         from

in                              into                              like

of                              on                                over

to                              under                          up

with                          without


2. Usage


Prepositional phrases act as modifiers (yes, adjectives) and so add information and interest to a sentence.




1. Definition


A conjunction is a word that joins words or groups of words.


Example:     Bring your lunch and your drink.


There are three kinds of conjunctions: coordinating, correlative, subordinating


Coordinating conjunctions balance ideas in a sentence. These conjunctions are: and, but, or and nor.


Example:     Tom and Jerry went to the movies.

                     We went to the movie, but we

                      didn’t like it.


Correlative conjunctions compare ideas in a sentence and always appear in pairs. The most common of these conjunctions are either…or, neither…nor, both…and, not only…but also, and whether…or. They are not mix and match, not either…nor. Not only…but also must have the also always. Most people forget it.


Example:     You can either stay here or come with me.


Subordinating conjunctions make one idea in a sentence less important than another idea. There are many of these conjunctions, but the most common are: since, if, when, where, while, although, after and because. Notice the conjunction does not necessarily come between the two ideas in the sentence.


Example:     Because the rain was pouring down, the picnic was canceled. (The picnic being cancelled is more important than the rain. I know it sounds weird.)


                     I panic when I take a test. (The test is more important than your pantywaist panic.)


2. Usage


Conjunctions contribute to sentence variety and smooth written communication. They help to make compound (more than one) subjects and verbs; they help to make compound sentences (two complete sentences joined together). They help to emphasize some ideas in a sentence more than other ideas.




1. Definition


An interjection is a word that expresses emotion and has no grammatical relation to other words in the sentence.


Example:                 Yo! What’s up? (or Waddup)

                                 Hey! You scared me.

                                 Ouch! That hurt.


2. Usage


Interjections are usually found in fiction and other creative writing or in quotations in essays and other nonfiction.