Basics of Parts of Speech

Parts of Speech

Nouns

Nouns are great. You, dear reader, are a noun. I am a noun. Grizzly bears are nouns. The moon is a noun. The Pentagon is a noun. 

To keep my list of nouns short, let's cut to the actual definition of a noun:

A noun is a person, place, thing, or idea.

In a sentence, a noun generally is the doer of verbs, but other nouns may be present as well. In the examples below, the nouns are bolded.

Suzelle sleeps quite soundly on the sofa.

M.J. listens to the best music and bobs her head.

Although love big dogsI have a fear of Chihuahuas.

Being a writing coach is awesome.

Girls go to college to get more knowledge.

As you might have guessed, nouns can be a vast variety of words. In academic writing, using the appropriate nouns is crucial in properly conveying your message.

Pronouns

In contrast to an amateur noun, a pro noun gets paid for what it does. Just kidding. By reading this page, you've obligated yourself to laugh at my jokes. Do so now.

Actually, a pronoun is a word that replaces a noun. These words include: I, she, he, herself, you, it, that, they, and each! There are others, but we're trying to save on space here.

Consider the following:

The sheriff had a serious face. The sheriff's eyes were the color of almonds, and the sheriff's nose was bent a bit in the middle, as if the sheriff's nose had been broken several times in the past. Despite being nearly fifty-two, the sheriff kept the sheriff in excellent physical condition, a fact of which the sheriff was very proud.

That's a lot of sheriff. Some may say too much sheriff. To make things more concise and clear, a writer can substitute a pronoun in place of a noun.

The sheriff had a serious face. Her eyes were the color of almonds, and her nose was bent a bit in the middle, as if her nose had been broken several times in the past. Despite being nearly fifty-two, she kept herself in excellent physical condition, a fact of which she was very proud.

Be wary! Pronouns can be ambiguous. If there is any question as to what a pronoun refers, a writer is best using the specific noun rather than a pronoun replacement.

AMBIGOUS: Bucky and Steve enjoyed spending time together, especially when Steve brushed his hair.

CLEAR: Bucky and Steve enjoyed spending time together, especially when Steve brushed Bucky's hair.

In these examples, there are two men. When "his hair" is mentioned, there is no clear indication of to which man "his" refers. There is no shortage in clarity in the clear example, where "Bucky's hair" is used.

We recommend using the pronoun "it" as little as possible. It is a magical word and can mean literally anything in the entire world forever. There are times when it is the only way to avoid repeating some noun too often; however, whenever possible, remove it and put in the specific noun you mean.

Articles

An article is the little word that comes before a noun, like a, an, or the.

The dog

stick

An owl

The is a definite article and indicates that a specific noun is to follow. The audience knows exactly which noun is referred to.

I adopted the dog.

This means that we all know exactly to which dog I am referring. Perhaps we've had conversations before about a specific puppy at the shelter who captured my heart.

and An are indefinite articles. They indicate that the noun is not specific. The audience does not know exactly which noun is referred to.

I adopted a dog.

This means that I adopted some random dog that you didn't know about; you know I have a dog, but you didn't previously know of this dog.

Adjectives

Sometimes, nouns aren't as cool as you want them to be. Sometimes, they're just not descriptive enough on their own.

The woman wore a dress.

What a totally boring sentence, am I right? I want my reader to understand exactly what I mean, so I want to use words that describe nouns to give a better picture. Those descriptor words are adjectives. Adjectives modify nouns.

The tall woman wore a lobster-print dress.

The morose woman wore a black dress.

The frightened woman wore a crisp dress.

The blonde woman wore a green dress, which really brought out the color of her eyes.

See how these sentences tell you more than that boring first one? Each sentence means something different, and that's all because of the adjectives used.

Be wary! Adjectives are great to better express your meaning, but there is such a thing as too many adjectives.

The tall, morose, crisp, blonde woman wore a black, sparkly, crisp, lobster-print dress.

This sentence is a little too descriptive and is the literary version of sensory overload. Be selective with your adjectives, or woe be unto your reader.

Verbs

A thought without a sentence is so sedentary--nothing happens! Verbs are action words that let your reader know what's happening. Verbs can also express a state of being. All the verbs in the following examples have been bolded.

The hummingbird beat its wings.

The hummingbird threw down a sick beat.

The hummingbird won the rap contest.

There are also helping verbs, which help regular verbs do their thing. The helping verb is italicized.

Hummingbirds can rap well with enough practice.

The 'can' indicates potential action; the hummingbird could rap well if it so chose. The 'can' modifies the 'fly' and gives the audience a clearer understanding of the meaning of the sentence.

The other form of additional verbs is linking verbs, which give the verb a place in time. The linking verb is underlined.

The hummingbird had won the rap contest last year, but this year, competition was fierce.

This sentence indicates when something happened (last year) and puts the verb into context.

The hummingbird is working on its lyrics.

This sentence indicates when the hummingbird worked on its lyrics--right now, so watch out! The hummingbird will drop an album next fall. Top of the charts, here Rappingbird comes.

A sentence may contain many verbs, all working together in happy harmony. Just be careful that your sentence doesn't get too long or bogged down with actions.

I tried to beat Rappingbird in a freestyle battle, but Rappingbird was just too on beat, thus beating me in front of all of my friends, who laughed and jeered at me.

Adverbs

Like an adjective, an adverb modifies. That is an adverb's sole purpose in life. Unlike an adjective, however, an adverb doesn't care about nouns. You might have guessed from its name, but an adverb modifies verbs. Adverbs also modify adjectives and other adverbs. They commonly are identifiable due to the 'ly' found on the end, but not all adverbs end in that fashion. Very, for example, is an adverb that breaks the rule. It does so very well.

An adverb tells when, where, how, or to what extent.

Anne will back back tomorrow.

Anne left her keys here in the Writing Center.  

Anne walked quickly.

Adverbs are great for providing additional information to your reader, but like all things in life, they are great in moderation. Some adverbs should almost always be omitted. Very, for example, doesn't give your audience much information. Very is a boring placeholder and is considered expendable fluff. Really is another word that just doesn't need to be there. Ask yourself if you're providing more information or just trying to hit a word count, and proceed accordingly.

For more information and a lovely song, see Lolly, Lolly, Lolly.

Conjunctions

Conjunctions connect clauses and phrases. For more information, see here.

Prepositions

All things happen in a time and a place. Prepositions let your reader know when and where.

Pretend there is a box sitting in the middle of the room and a fly buzzing about. Describe the fly in relation to the box, and you've got prepositions.

The fly is behind the box.

The fly is beside the box.

The fly is in the box.

The fly is over the box.

The fly is near the box.

The fly is under the box.

The fly is on the box.

Interjections

JINKIES! You startled me. Wow, I didn't expect to see you there. You startled the interjections right out of me. An interjection is a word that just pops in for a moment to express something like emotion or a reaction. They are often off-set by an exclamation mark or a comma.

Well, I think dogs are not particularly good bowlers.

Ouch! That really hurt, Charlie.