36 Grammar Basics: Understand the Vocabulary
Dr. Karen Palmer
The first step in understanding the rules of grammar is to understand the vocabulary of grammar. In this chapter, we will be discussing the eight Parts of Speech in the English language, as well as the main Parts of a Sentence.
Parts of Speech
In English, words are used in one of eight parts of speech: noun, pronoun, adjective, verb, adverb, conjunction, preposition, and interjection.
This table includes an explanation and examples of each of the eight parts of speech:
|Part of Speech||Description||Sample Sentence||Examples|
|Noun||Person, place, or thing||Wow! After the game, silly Mary ate her apples and carrots quickly.||game, Mary, apples, carrots|
|Pronoun||Takes the place of a noun||Wow! After the game, silly Mary ate her apples and carrots quickly.||her|
|Adjective||Describes a noun or pronoun||Wow! After the game, silly Mary ate her apples and carrots quickly.||the, silly|
|Verb||Shows action or state of being||Wow! After the game, silly Mary ate her apples and carrots quickly.||ate|
|Adverb||Describes a verb, another adverb, or an adjective and tells how, where, or when something is done||Wow! After the game, silly Mary ate her apples and carrots quickly.||quickly|
|Conjunction||Joins words, phrases, and clauses||Wow! After the game, silly Mary ate her apples and carrots quickly.||and|
|Preposition||First word in a phrase that indicates the relationship of the phrase to other words in the sentence||Wow! After the game, silly Mary ate her apples and carrots quickly.||after|
|Interjection||A word that shows emotion and is not related to the rest of the sentence||Wow! After the game, silly Mary ate her apples and carrots quickly.||Wow!|
Practice identifying the Parts of Speech:
Parts of a Sentence
Once you know the eight parts of speech, you can look at how those parts of speech work. In this section, we’ll discuss the jobs the different parts of speech do in a sentence. Understanding how the parts of speech work—what jobs they can do—will expand your grammar vocabulary and help you to better understand how to correct your own writing, whether you are using a service like Grammarly or Turnitin or whether you are editing on your own.
Subject & Predicate
Every sentence must have a subject and a predicate (AKA a verb). The simple subject of a sentence is the noun, pronoun, phrase, or clause the sentence is about, and the simple predicate is action being done by the simple subject. We can also divide a sentence into the complete subject and the complete predicate by drawing a straight vertical line in between the simple subject and the simple predicate. In the examples below, the simple subject is in bold and the predicate is in bold italics:
Einstein’s general theory of relativity | has been subjected to many tests of validity over the years.
In a secure landfill, the soil on top and the cover | block storm water intrusion into the landfill. (compound subject)
The pressure | is maintained at about 2250 pounds per square inch then lowered to form steam at about 600 pounds per square inch. (compound predicate)
A direct object—a noun, pronoun, phrase, or clause acting as a noun—takes the action of the main verb (e.g., the verb is happening to the object). A direct object can be identified by asking “what?” about the verb/predicate. In the example below, we would ask “The pencil contains what?” The answer, “workings,” is the direct object:
A subject complement functions a bit like a direct object. The difference is that a direct object follows an active verb–a verb that denotes action, like eat, read, or drive–and a subject complement follows a ‘be’ verb–am, is, are, was, were, etc. In this case, the be verb acts as an equal sign in math (=). It tells us something about the subject of the sentence. A subject complement can be a noun, a pronoun, or an adjective.
The dog is a male. (dog = male)
The dog is mine. (dog = mine)
The dog is hungry. (dog = hungry)
An indirect object—a noun, pronoun, phrase, or clause acting as a noun—receives the action expressed in the sentence. It can be identified by asking to or for whom of the direct object. In the example below, we would ask “For whom is the walkway being designed?” The answer, “citizens,” is our indirect object.
The company | is designing senior citizens a new walkway to the park area.
Phrases and Clauses
Phrases and clauses are groups of words that act as a unit and perform a single function within a sentence. A phrase may have a partial subject or verb but not both; a clause has both a subject and a verb. There are two types of clauses: independent and dependent. An independent clause is free to stand by itself–it functions as a complete sentence. A dependent clause, however, is dependent on something else: it cannot stand on its own. Any clause with a subordinating conjunction (like when or since) is a dependent clause. For example, “I was a little girl in 1995” is an independent clause, but “Because I was a little girl in 1995” is a dependent clause. Clauses that start with relative pronouns, like which, also become dependent clauses.
An adverbial clause functions like an adverb. It modifies a verb, an adjective, or another adverb. For example, in the sentence, “The dog eats when he is hungry,” the clause “when he is hungry” modifies the verb “eats.” It tells us when the dog eats. Because “when he is hungry” has both a subject and a verb, it is a clause, not a phrase. Since it can’t stand along (it starts with a subordinating conjunction), it is a dependent clause.
An absolute phrase is one of the more difficult parts of a sentence to identify. An absolute phrase modifies an entire sentence and typically has either a subject or a verb or a subject and a partial verb. The verb is often in gerund form, meaning it ends in “ing.”
In this example, the phrase “Having done his best” tells us about the subject, “the student,” and about the predicate, “submitted his test.” The phrase only has a predicate, so it is a phrase, not a clause. Since it modifies the entire sentence, it’s an absolute phrase.
Noun Clause AKA Nominative Clause
A noun clause is a dependent clause that functions like a noun in a sentence. It can take the place of a subject, an object of the preposition, or a direct object–anything a noun can do, a noun clause can do.
The complete subject is “The hungry teenager,” and the predicate is “will eat.” When we ask “Will eat what?” the answer is “whatever he finds.” That means that “whatever he finds” is the direct object. Since “whatever he finds” has a subject and a verb itself, we know it is a clause. So, since we have a clause doing a noun job, we know we have a noun clause.
A prepositional phrase is a group of words that behaves as an adjective or an adverb, modifying a noun or a verb. Prepositional phrases contain a preposition (a word that specifies place, direction, or time) and an object of the preposition (a noun phrase or pronoun that follows the preposition). In general, a prepositional phrase follows this format: Preposition + article/adjective + noun/pronoun. For example, “on the box” is a prepositional phrase. In fact, if you think of all the things you can do in relation to a box, you’ll gain a better understanding of how prepositional phrases function in a sentence.
“3D Box” by kunal licensed under CC SA.
The following table lists some of the most common prepositions:
An appositive is a word or group of words that describes or renames a noun or pronoun. Incorporating appositives into your writing is a useful way of combining sentences that are too short and choppy. An appositive may be placed anywhere in a sentence, but it must come directly before or after the noun to which it refers:
Appositive after noun: Scott, a poorly trained athlete, was not expected to win the race.
Appositive before noun: A poorly trained athlete, Scott was not expected to win the race.
Unlike relative clauses, appositives are always punctuated by a comma or a set commas.
Complete this quiz for practice identifying parts of a sentence.
You might also want to take a look at this video explaining the parts of a sentence:
- “Mini-Grammar Review: Parts of a Sentence” from The Worry Free Writer licensed under CC BY NC SA
- Text: Parts of a Sentence. Provided by: Lumen Learning. License: CC BY: Attribution
- Basic Patterns and Elements of the Sentence. Authored by: David McMurrey. Located at: https://www.prismnet.com/~hcexres/textbook/twsent.html. License: CC BY: Attribution
- The Passive versus Active Voice Dilemma. Authored by: Joe Schall. Provided by: The Pennsylvania State University. Located at: https://www.e-education.psu.edu/styleforstudents/c1_p11.html. License: CC BY-NC-SA: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike
- “Starting a sentence with a Prepositional Phrase” License: CC NC SA.
- “Joining Ideas using an Appositive” License CC NC SA.
- “Parts of Speech”, section 1.1 (from appendix 1) from the book Writers’ Handbook (v. 1.0). For details on it (including licensing), click here.