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an example of parallel structure

College Prep Writing

Parts of Speech

When the Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-322 BC) began thinking about language more than two thousand years ago, he talked about four parts of speech: nouns, verbs, articles, and conjunctions.

Dionysus Thrax, the Greek grammarian (170-90 BC), expanded Aristotle's idea. Dionysus named eight parts of speech: nouns, verbs, pronouns, articles, conjunctions, participles, prepositions, and adverbs. Dionysus did not have a category for adjectives; he included them with nouns. Much later, Latin grammarians dropped articles from the list and added interjections. Still, the parts of speech have hardly changed over the two thousand years since Dionysus.

The eight parts of speech along with their dictionary abbreviations are noun (n), pronoun (pron), verb (v), adjective (adj), adverb (adv), preposition (prep), conjunction (conj), and interjection (interj).

Why Learn the Parts of Speech?

Think of looking into a toolbox and not knowing the names of the tools you need for your work. Of course, you could make a repair without the names of the tools, but you might be embarrassed if you wanted to explain a repair to a friend and you could not say what tools to use.

The parts of speech are the names of the tools you need to work on sentences. You cannot talk about sentences without these grammar tools. The parts of speech also help you understand how language works. If you are learning a foreign language, you need the parts of speech to talk about the new language.

The parts of speech can also help you learn new words. When you get good at identifying parts of speech, you will be able to label the part of speech of words that are new to you. That will help you guess the meaning of an unfamiliar word.

Parts of speech identify the ways that words are used in written English and provide important terms for discussing and understanding sentences and grammar.

All alone, a word usually has no part of speech. The role of a word in a sentence determines its part of speech. For example, the word but may be a conjunction or a preposition, and only its use in a context will reveal the word's part of speech.

but as a conjunction: The students were there, but the teacher was not.

but as a preposition: Everyone was there but the teacher.


It is not easy to say what a noun is. That's why grammar books turn to familiar clichés: “a person, place, thing, or idea” or “the names of things.” The short comings of these definitions are quite obvious.

To really know what word is a noun, it is necessary to be able to identify the subject, the object (direct and indirect), and any complements in a sentence or clause. Nouns and pronouns are subjects of sentences or objects of verbs or prepositions. If a word in those positions is not a pronoun, it is a noun. A word doesn't have to look like a noun to be a noun. In the sentence below, a form of be is a noun because it is the subject of a sentence.

Is does not look like a noun.

In the following sentence, thes is an object of the verb have.

You have too many thes in this sentence.

Nouns include proper nouns (names we give to persons and things), compound nouns (a noun with more than one word), abstract nouns, verbal nouns, count nouns, noncount nouns, and others.


Pronouns refer to nouns, called antecedents. Brother is the antecedent of he in the second sentence below.

Sarah's brother graduated last year. Now he works for city hall.

pronoun forms and functions

Pronouns are often referred to by “person”—

Singular: first person—I; second—you; third—he, she, it

Plural: first person—we; second—you; third— they

Eight Classes of Pronouns

The eight classes of pronouns are personal pronouns, possessive pronouns, demonstrative pronouns, reflexive-intensive pronouns, reciprocal pronouns, relative pronouns, indefinite pronouns, and interrogative pronouns.

personal pronouns

  Personal pronouns are subjects, complements (objects, appositives), and possessives.

subject pronouns

  singular: I, you, he, she, it; plural: we, you, they

object pronouns

  singular: me, you, him, her, it; plural: us, you, them

possessive pronouns

  singular: my/mine, your/yours, his/his, her/hers, its/its; plural: our/ours, your/yours, their/theirs

demonstrative pronouns

  Demonstrative pronouns are this, that (singular); these, those (plural).

reflexive-intensive pronouns

  First person myself (singular), ourselves (plural); second person yourself (singular), yourselves (plural); third person himself, herself, itself (singular), themselves (plural)

  A reflexive pronoun is an object of a verb or a preposition that reflects back to a subject. A reflexive pronoun never replaces a subject.

    He gave himself a haircut.

  An intensive pronoun merely emphasizes a noun or a pronoun and may be deleted without changing the meaning of a sentence.

    I myself have a different opinion.

reciprocal pronouns

  The two reciprocal pronouns are one another and each other.

    They have been writing to each other for years.

relative pronouns

  A relative pronoun introduces a dependent clause. Relative pronouns may be a subject (who, which, that), an object (whom), or a possessive (whose).

    Isn't that the skateboard that you gave to Martin?

indefinite pronouns

  The specific antecedent of an indefinite pronoun may not be obvious. Indefinite pronouns include all, anything, both, few, nothing, somebody, and something.

interrogative pronouns

  Interrogative pronouns introduce questions and include who, what, which, whose, and whom.

    Who was on the phone for so long?


Verbs describe an action, a state, or a condition. Verbs are main verbs or auxiliary verbs (helping verbs).

Auxiliary Verbs

An auxiliary verb is used with a main verb. Auxiliary verbs include be, do, have, and modal verbs. Modals are can, could, may, must, might, will, would, shall, should, ought. Be able to and have to are also used as modals.

auxiliaries be, have, and do

  Be: This is getting easier and easier.

  Do: I don't have any more patience for it.

  Have: He hasn't driven for years.

  Unlike modal auxiliaries, the verbs be, do, and have can also be main verbs.

Main Verbs

A wide range of verb forms apply to main verbs. (See "Verbs" and " Verb Tenses" in College Prep Writing.


Adjectives provide additional information about nouns, or they define them in some way.

Descriptive Adjectives

Descriptive adjectives provide additional details about a noun, such as what kind or which.

a red convertible; an excellent idea; the French flag

The adjective complement is used with forms of be or other linking verbs.

My new teacher is strict. I feel good.

Defining Adjectives

Defining adjectives, or determiners, include articles, demonstrative adjectives, indefinite adjectives, interrogative adjectives, and numerical adjectives.


  Articles are a, an, the. The rule for the use of indefinite articles is a before a consonant sound and an before a vowel sound.

  a “u” ; an “m” that you gave to Martin?

demonstrative adjectives

  Demonstrative adjectives are this, that, these, those.

  These things are yours and those things are mine.

indefinite adjectives

  Indefinite adjectives are any, each, few, both, either, neither, other, some, and others.

  Both books are about Japan.

interrogative adjectives

  Interrogative adjectives are what, which, whose.

  What part of Japan are you going to visit?

numerical adjectives

  Numerical adjectives are cardinal and ordinal numbers: one, two, first, second.

  One year of a foreign language is not enough.

possessive adjectives

  Although my, your, his, her, its, our and their are sometimes referred to as possessive adjectives, they are more correctly labeled possessive pronouns.

relative adjectives

  Relative adjectives are what, which, that, whose.

  The classroom that we were in was cold.

Comparatives and Superlatives

Add -er to a one-syllable adjective to form the comparative, and -est to form the superlative of a one-syllable adjective. Many two-syllable adjectives ending in -y also follow this pattern with a change in spelling—the final -y becomes -ie: happy—happier.

Adjectives of more than one syllable form the comparative with more + adjective and the superlative with most + adjective: beautiful—most beautiful.

Exceptions: the comparative and superlative forms of good are better and best. The comparative and superlative forms of bad are worse and worst.

Adjectives as Nouns

Adjectives may be used as nouns.

The persistent usually go very far. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

Nouns as Adjectives

Nouns can modify nouns. These combinations are compound nouns.

the school library; the bookstore.


Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs. Adverbs often tell how, when, where, how much, how many, how often, and why.

Adverbs tell where, when, and how about the verbs they modify.

They'll prepare everything quickly. (how)

They'll prepare everything here. (where)

They'll prepare everything tonight. (when)

Adverbs often tell how, or to what extent. Adverbs that modify adjectives are called adverbs of degree or intensity. Intensifiers include very, too, and somewhat.

Everything they prepared was very good.

Adverbs that modify adjectives may also modify adverbs.

They were very interested.

They learned very quickly.

Conjunctive Adverbs

These adverbs are transition expressions that are used to bridge two independent clauses. Examples include however, therefore, and first of all.

Our teacher may be gentle; however, he gives difficult tests.

Categories of Adverbs

Time: tomorrow, now, after, before, soon.

  The weather is supposed to clear up tomorrow.

Place: here, over there, inside, somewhere.

  It's hot outside, but it is not bad indoors.

Manner: quickly, well, slowly, terribly.

  The clouds disappeared quickly, after the rain.

  Degree: amazingly, fairly, not, quite, rather, really, somewhat, surprisingly, terribly,
  too, very

  The weather has been quite uncomfortable for the last few days.

Frequency: rarely, occasionally, sometimes, often, usually, always.

  It rarely rains here in September.

Comparative and Superlative

Add -er to one-syllable adverbs to form the comparative, and add -est to form the superlative. Adverbs of more than one syllable form the comparative with more + adverb and the superlative with most + adverb. Irregular forms are badly: worse, worst; far: farther (further), farthest (furthest); well: better, best.


Prepositions are single words (in, during), compounds (within, inside), and phrases (on top of, in addition to) that often link two parts of speech. Prepositions may be classified into four categories.

Place: The storm developed in the Pacific Ocean.

Direction: We made it to the shopping mall from home in ten minutes.

Time:The rain began to fall before noon.

Clarification: Everyone got there on time except the driver.


Conjunctions connect words, phrases, clauses, and sentences. Four kinds of conjunctions are coordinating conjunctions, subordinating conjunctions, correlative conjunctions, and adverbial conjunctions.

Coordinating Conjunctions

Coordinating conjunctions may connect words or independent clauses. Coordinating conjunctions are and, but, or, nor, for, so, and yet.

  Roger has a new car and a new house, but that doesn't make him happy.

Subordinating Conjunctions

Subordinating conjunctions, including after, although, as, as long as, as though, as soon as, because, due to the fact that, even if, if, provided that, since, so that, when, whenever, while, and others, introduce subordinate clauses.

  If you work hard, you will do well.

Correlative Conjunctions

These conjunctions comprise two or more words that are separated by a word or words: both—and; neither—nor; either—or; not only—but also; just as—so; whether—or

  Either we spend this evening studying or we fail the test.

Adverbial Conjunctions

Adverbial conjunctions (conjunctive adverbs) provide a transition between sentences and are often called linking words or transition words. They include accordingly, hence, however, moreover, nevertheless, therefore.

  We enjoyed the movie. However, we both thought it was too long.


Interjections are words or phrases that express an emotion, or signal the start of an utterance, and occur most frequently in dialogue. Examples are now, wow, hey, cool.

  Now, where did I leave my car keys?.

  Wow!Look at that thing! Hey! How are you?

  Way cool!

  Other interjections include Great!, Awesome!, What!