Parts of Speech
Mastering the use of one’s own language, both
written and verbal, is probably the single most
effective thing one can do to ensure their
academic, professional, and personal success.
Traditional grammar identifies eight parts of
speech. These include:
• Adjectives / Articles
Before we continue, it is important to distinguish between the “parts of
speech” and the “parts of a sentence.”
In examining parts of speech we focus on words and phrases and their
relationships to each other.
In examining parts of a sentence we focus on words and phrases and
their relationships to the thought, or thoughts, being expressed in the
A noun is a word used to name a person, animal, place, thing, and abstract
idea. Nouns are usually the first words which small children learn. The
highlighted words in the following sentences are all nouns:
Late last year our neighbours bought a goat.
Portia White was an opera singer.
The bus inspector looked at all the passengers' passes.
According to Plutarch, the library at Alexandria was destroyed in 48
Philosophy is of little comfort to the starving.
Sidebar How many noun types are there? Lots!
Sidebar What is a noun phrase?
Concrete nouns: physical objects, including people and animals.
Abstract nouns: abstract concepts, such as time, justice,
Proper nouns: given names such as Pierre Trudeau, Swiss
Chalet, Bill 167
Pronouns: a word standing in place of a noun or a noun phrase,
such as “he, she, his, her, etc. There are many classifications of
pronouns, such as demonstrative (this, that), personal (I, you, he,
she), possessive (mine, yours), interrogative ( who, what, where),
but we won’t get into that here!
Relative nouns: words such as that, who, which, whose and
whom are used to introduce a relative clause within a sentence.
A noun phrase is either a single noun or pronoun or a group of
words containing a noun or a pronoun that function together as a
noun or pronoun, as the subject, or the object of a verb.
EXAMPLES OF NOUN PHRASES:
EG: John was late.
('John' is the noun phrase functioning as the subject of the verb.)
EG: The people that I saw coming in the building at nine o'clock
have just left.
The people that I saw coming in the building at nine o'clock is
a lengthy noun phrase, but it functions as the subject of the main
verb 'have just left'.
Sidebar What is a participial phrase?
Sidebar What is an adjectival noun?
A participial phrase is a group of words following a participle that
describe or modify the subject of the sentence. A participial phrase
can occur at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end of a
sentence. As participles act as adverbs or adjectives, a participial
phrase also acts as an adverb or adjective.
George snored all night, making it difficult for Hilda to sleep.
“making” is a present participle (the verb “make” converted into an
adverb by adding “ing.”), and it introduces the phrase, “making it
difficult for Hilda to sleep.” A participial phrase placed at the end of
the sentence must be separated from the main clause by a
An Adjective can sometimes function as a Noun. For example:
• the young,
• the rich,
• the famous, etc.
These are Adjectival Nouns, meaning the people who are young,
the people who are rich, etc.
Verb Tense and Form
Some believe the verb to be the most important part of the sentence. A verb
or compound verb asserts something about the subject of the sentence -
expressing actions, events, or states of being. The verb, or compound verb,
is the critical element of the predicate of a sentence.
The verb is highlighted in each of the following sentences:
The teachers mark their assignments quickly.
The students will write their exams next term.
Here the compound verb "will write" describes an action that will take place
in the future.
My first teacher was Miss Crawford, but I remember the janitor Mr.
Weatherbee more vividly.
In English, there are three basic tenses: present, past, and future.
However, there are also four “forms” which each tense can take. These are:
• simple form (indicating a general statement)
• progressive form (indicating ongoing action)
• perfect form (indicating action that preceded a point in time)
• perfect progressive form (indicating ongoing action that will be
completed at some definite time)
The chart below outlines a comparative analysis of these tenses and their
Present take/s am/is/are taking have/has taken have/has been taking
Past took was/were taking had taken had been taking
Future will/shall take will be taking will have taken will have been taking
In this sentence, the verb "was" (the simple past tense of "is") identifies a
particular person and the verb "remember" describes a mental action.
Verb Tense and Form
The chart below outlines a comparative analysis of these tenses and their
associated forms used within a particular example.
preceded a point
Perfect Progressive Forms
ongoing action that will be
completed at some definite
Present I teach. I am teaching. I have taught. I have been teaching.
Past I taught. I was teaching. I had taught. I had been teaching.
Future I will teach. I will be teaching. I will have taught. I will have been teaching.
Note: The greatest confusion regarding tenses and forms is invariably associated with
the perfect form. Many students of English wonder what the difference is between the
perfect form (action that preceded a point in time) and the past tense (action that
occurred in the past). The answer is a matter of what the writer wishes to stress.
Generally, we use the perfect form to stress three elements: experience, change, and
a continuing situation.
Verb Phrases Comprised of the Same Verbs!
To Have as an auxiliary: The verb “to have” is also used as an
auxiliary to help other verbs create the perfect tense, for example, “I
have studied English for five years;” or “I have visited Vietnam.”
This does not pose a problem except when the main verb is the verb
“to have” meaning to own or possess.
For example, “I have had my car for ten years.” Have here is the
auxiliary and had is the main verb.
Therefore, you ought to remember that the verb 'to have' functions
both as a main verb meaning to own and as an auxiliary verb to help
other verbs create the perfect tense.
Consider the difference between the following two sentences:
1. I taught English for 18 years. (This just indicates a fact.)
2. I have taught English for 18 years. (This emphasizes the experience gained by having taught for
such a long period of time. It could also stress the fact that this teaching is continuing presently, or it could
emphasize a contrast with a change. [ex. The teacher will no longer be teaching English.])
Verb Phrases Comprised of the Same Verbs!
At times we will follow an auxiliary verb with the main verb.
I have had
you have had
she has had
While two similar verbs placed beside each other may look confusing,
the confusion tends to be settled when one realizes that these words
are being used to accomplish two different tasks. In each of the
above examples, the verb “to have” is first used as an auxiliary verb,
and it is then used a second time as a main verb (meaning to own or
to experience). This combination of auxiliary and main verbs creates
the present perfect tense.
The present perfect tense appears in contracted form as “I’ve had,”
“you’ve had,” or “she’s had.” It is interesting to note that few people
even bat an eye when they see the present perfect tense expressed
in contracted form.
Indicative: Typically, verbs are written in the indicative mood. This mood Is
used is indicate a fact.
For example: He was here. I am hungry. She will bring her books.
Imperative: Verbs are written in the imperative mood when they express,
command or request. While not stated, the understood subject of imperative
sentences is “you.”
For example: Be here at seven o'clock. Bring your books with you.
Subjunctive: Verbs expressing hypothetical situations, or to show
something contrary to fact, are written in the subjunctive mood.
For example: If he were here then we would be done by now.
I wish I had something to eat.
It would be better if you had brought your books with you.
One of the most common errors in writing is associated with the failure to
maintain consistent verb tense, form, or mood throughout the entire
sentence. This particular error is referred to as a lack of parallel structure.
Auxiliary Verbs and Modal auxiliary Verbs
(AKA “helping” verbs)
In legal writing, the writer is often making assertions about actions that
should be taken, positions that should be accepted, or perspectives that
should be adopted. In other words, legal writing is often concerned with
convincing or persuading the reader.
Modal verbs are quite useful in helping the writer to make an assertion or a
recommendation. Such verbs include:
can, could, have to, must, might, should, ought to, need to, may,
shall, will, would, and must.
It is important to note that modal verbs have no meaning by themselves.
They need to be coupled with a main verb to make sense.
• The government must make the environment a higher priority.
• For such serious offences, judges need to provide sentences closer to the
maximum end of the prescribed range.
Together, the modal and the main verb form a verb phrase or a verb string.
The most common auxiliary verbs are "be," "do," and "have", and you may also use
these verbs on their own. You use “will" and "shall" to express future time.
In each of the following examples, a verb commonly used as an auxiliary verb
appears as a simple predicate:
She is the chief engineer. The tea cups are in the china cabinet. Garth does this kind
of thing frequently. My roommates and I do the laundry every second week. I can't
complete my assignment because he still has my notes. They have several kinds of
gelato in the display case. Other common auxiliaries are "can," "could," "may,"
"might," "must," "ought," "should," "will," and "would." A verb like these is called a
modal auxiliary and expresses necessity, obligation, or possibility.
The highlighted word in each of the following sentences is a modal auxiliary:
I was pleased to learn that we could take several days off. The small boy told his
parents that he would take their dog to the park. Henry told Eliza that she ought to
have the hole in the bucket fixed. According to the instructions, we must leave this
goo in our hair for twenty minutes.
Several words may intervene between the auxiliary and the verb which goes with it,
as in the following sentences:
They have not delivered the documents on time. The treasure chest was never
discovered. The health department has recently decided that all high school
students should be immunised against meningitis. The girl was quickly and gracefully
pirouetting about the room.
An adjective modifies a noun or a pronoun by describing, identifying, or
quantifying words. An adjective usually precedes the noun or the pronoun
which it modifies.
In the following examples, the highlighted words are adjectives:
The truck-shaped balloon floated over the treetops.
Mrs. Morrison papered her kitchen walls with hideous wall paper.
The small boat foundered on the wine dark sea.
The coal mines are dark and dank.
Many stores have already begun to play irritating Christmas music.
A battered music box sat on the mahogany sideboard.
The back room was filled with large, yellow rain boots.
An article is a type of adjective that makes a noun either specific or
indefinite. In English there are three articles:
the definite article the, and
the two indefinite articles a and an.
Articles actually belong to another group of words which are known as
determiners. Determiners identify a noun as either being specific or general.
(Example: “the car” as opposed to “a car.” Determiners always come right
before a noun.
the, this, that, these, those, my, your, his, her, its, our, their
a few, a little, all, another, any, both, each, either, enough, every, few, fewer,
less, little, many, more, most, much, neither, no, other, several, some
Sidebar What’s “the” all about?
The word “the” is actually classified as an article. An article is a type of
adjective that makes a noun either specific or indefinite. In English there are
the definite article the, and
the two indefinite articles a and an.
Some grammarians describe articles as belonging to another group of words
which are known as Determiners - they restrict or specify a noun in some
A or An ?
The indefinite article “a” is used before consonant sounds.
The indefinite article “an” is used before vowel sounds.
Some words, such as “society,” “justice,” etc. require no article at all.
Sidebar What are participles and gerunds?
A participle is an adjective formed from a verb. To make a present participle,
you add "-ing" to the verb. For example: "think" becomes "thinking"
"fall" becomes "falling"
"run" becomes "running"
The second type of participle, the past participle, is a little more complicated,
since not all verbs form the past tense regularly. The following are all past
participles: the sunken ship
a ruined city
a misspelled word
A gerund is a noun formed from a verb. To make a gerund, you add "-ing" to
the verb, just as with a present participle. The fundamental difference is that a
gerund is a noun, while a participle is an adjective:
gerund I enjoy running. ("Running" is a noun acting as the direct object of
the verb "enjoy.")
participle Stay away from running water. ("Running" is an adjective
modifying the noun "water".)
An adverb can modify a verb, an adjective, another adverb, a phrase, or a
clause. An adverb indicates manner, time, place, cause, or degree and
answers questions such as "how," "when," "where," "how much".
While some adverbs can be identified by their characteristic "ly" suffix, most
of them must be identified by untangling the grammatical relationships
within the sentence or clause as a whole. Unlike an adjective, an adverb
can be found in various places within the sentence.
The boldly-spoken words would return to haunt the rebel.
In this sentence the adverb "boldly" modifies the adjective "spoken.“
We urged him to dial the number more expeditiously.
Here the adverb "more" modifies the adverb "expeditiously.“
Unfortunately, the bank closed at three today.
In this example, the adverb "unfortunately" modifies the entire
Fortunately, most adverbs are formed by adding “ly” to an adjective. This
makes recognizing an adverb fairly easy. Sadly, there are a number of
adverbs that do not end in “ly.” Below you will find a list of some of the most
common non-ly adverbs:
(aka Transitional Expressions)
Conjunctive adverbs are words or phrases that are used to introduce a new
independent clause. As they are not conjunctions, they can never be used
to join two independent clauses without the use of a semi-colon.
To show time and sequence:
meanwhile, eventually, soon, later, first, second, then, finally, also, too,
besides, furthermore, moreover, in addition
A pronoun is used in place of a noun. We can use pronouns like
"he," "which," "none," and "you" to make sentences less
In English there are seven different kinds of pronouns, including
personal, reflexive, intensive, demonstrative, relative, interrogative,
However, we will focus on just two types: personal, and relative.
To compare and contrast:
likewise, similarly, in the same way, however, nevertheless, still, on the
other hand, on the contrary, even so
To show cause and effect:
therefore, as a result, accordingly, consequently, thus, hence, otherwise
To offer examples and conclusions:
for instance, for example, after all, in fact, of course
in conclusion, in other words, on the whole, in short
The personal pronoun takes the place of a specific or named person or thing.
Personal pronouns come in three different cases: subjective (aka
nominative), objective, and possessive.
Subjective / Nominative: A personal pronoun in the nominative case will
refer to the subject of the sentence. Pronouns in the nominative case include
I, you, he, she, it, we, and they. These are referred to as a “subject”
Example: He is a most capable student.
Objective: A personal pronoun in the objective case will refer to the object of
the sentence. Pronouns in the objective case include: me, you, him, her, it,
us, and them. These are referred to as “object” pronouns.
Example: He told them to get out of the store.
Possessive: The possessive case of a noun or pronoun shows ownership or
association. Some possessive pronouns like “my” and “your” modify nouns.
Others, like “mine” and “yours” stand alone and do not act as modifiers.
Example: I took my car to the car wash.
Subjective Personal Pronouns:
As indicated in the last slide, a subjective personal pronoun indicates that
the pronoun is acting as the subject of the sentence. The subjective
personal pronouns are "I," "you," "she," "he," "it," "we," "you," "they."
In the following sentences, each of the highlighted words is a subjective
personal pronoun and acts as the subject of the sentence:
• I was glad to find the bus pass in the bottom of the green knapsack.
• You are surely the strangest child I have ever met.
• He stole the selkie's skin and forced her to live with him.
• When she was a young woman, she earned her living as a coal miner.
• After many years, they returned to their homeland.
• We will meet at the library at 3:30 p.m.
• It is on the counter.
• Are you the delegates from Malagawatch?
Note: The antecedent of a
pronoun is the word for
which the pronoun stands.
The relative pronoun begins a specific type of subordinate clause (called a
relative clause) and relates the clause to a word in the main clause.
A relative pronoun is only found in sentences with more than one clause.
In modern English, there are five relative pronouns:
that, which, who, whom, and whose.
These pronouns may take the suffixes -ever and -soever.
Examples (relative pronouns italicized):
He who laughs last laughs loudest. (Adjective clause)
I cannot believe that he did such a thing. (Noun clause)
Note: Some authorities consider the second instance to be a conjunction.
A preposition links nouns, pronouns and phrases to other words in a
sentence. The word or phrase that the preposition introduces is called the
object of the preposition.
A preposition usually indicates the temporal, spatial or logical relationship of
its object to the rest of the sentence as in the following examples:
The book is on the table.
She read the book during class.
The book is required for the course.
The book is next to the lamp.
The book is from Spain.
Prepositions can have a variety of meanings:
•Direction- He's going TO the shops
•Location- It's IN the box
•Time- He left AFTER the lesson had finished
•Possession- The Government OF Italy
Rule: We should not generally end a sentence with a proposition.
Conjunctions are used to link words, phrases, and clauses.
I ate the pizza and the pasta.
Call the movers when you are ready.
There are three types of conjunctions:
Co-ordinating Conjunctions ("and," "but," "or," "nor," "for," "so," or "yet") are
used to join individual words, phrases, and independent clauses. Note:
These should not be used to begin a sentence.
Subordinating Conjunctions introduce a dependent clause and indicates
the nature of the relationship among the independent clause(s) and the
dependent clause(s). The most common subordinating conjunctions are
"after," "although," "as," "because," "before," "how," "if," "once," "since,"
"than," "that," "though," "till," "until," "when," "where," "whether," and "while.“
Note: These can be used to begin a sentence.
Correlative conjunctions always appear in pairs – they are used to link
equivalent sentence elements. The most common correlative conjunctions
are "both...and," "either...or," "neither...nor,", "not only...but also," "so...as,"
and "whether...or.“ Note: These can be used to begin a sentence.
Sidebar Beginning a Sentence with Because
The notion that one should not begin a sentence with because retains a
mysterious grip on people's sense of writing proprieties. This might come
about because a sentence that begins with because could well end up a
fragment if one is not careful to follow up the subordinate clause with an
Because is a subordinating conjunction - used to introduce a subordinating
clause. A subordinating conjunction can begin a sentence by introducing a
subordinate clause. As long as the thought is then completed by an
independent clause, the sentence will be grammatically correct.
Because the students studied grammar.
Because the students studied grammar, their writing improved.
Although it is true that beginning a sentence with because might produce a
dependent clause fragment, similar taboos have never been associated
with other subordinating conjunctions such as Although, If, When, While,
and Since. It is unclear why the word because has been singled out for this
An interjection is a word added to a sentence to convey emotion. It is not
grammatically related to any other part of the sentence.
One can often follow an interjection with an exclamation mark. Interjections
are uncommon in formal academic prose, except in direct quotations.
The underlined words in the following sentences are interjections:
Ouch, that hurt!
Oh no, I forgot that the exam was today.
Hey! Put that down!
I heard one guy say to another guy, "He has a new car, eh?"
I don't know about you but, good lord, I think taxes are too high!
There are, of course, many perspectives to consider.