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Grammar: Main Parts of Speech

Overview

This page contains definitions and examples of the main parts of speech, common endings of nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs, and information on the placement and position of adjectives and adverbs.


Definitions and Examples

Noun

The name of something, like a person, animal, place, thing, or concept. Nouns are typically used as subjects, objects, objects of prepositions, and modifiers of other nouns.

  • I finished the study.
    • I = subject
  • Maggie wrote the dissertation.
    • the dissertation = object
  • The author presented the results in Chapter 4.
    • in Chapter 4 = object of a preposition
  • His research findings can contribute to social change.
    • research = modifier

Verb

This expresses what the person, animal, place, thing, or concept does. In English, verbs follow the noun.

  • It takes a good deal of dedication to complete a doctoral degree.
  • She studied hard for the test.
  • Writing a dissertation is difficult. (The be verb is also sometimes referred to as a copula or a linking verb. It links the subject, in this case writing a dissertation, to the complement or the predicate of the sentence, in this case, hard.)

Adjective

This describes a noun or pronoun. Adjectives typically come before a noun or after a stative verb, like the verb to be.

  • The diligent student completed her assignment early.
    • Diligent describes the student and appears before the noun student.
  • It can be difficult to balance time to study and work responsibilities.
    • Difficult is placed after the to be verb and describes what it is like to balance time.

Remember that adjectives in English have no plural form. The same form of the adjective is used for both singular and plural nouns.

  • A different idea
  • Some different ideas
  • INCORRECT: some differents ideas

Adverb

This gives more information about the verb and about how the action was done. Adverbs tells how, where, when, why, etc. Depending on the context, the adverb can come before or after the verb or at the beginning or end of a sentence.

  • He completed the course enthusiastically.
    • Enthusiastically describes how he completed the course and answers the how question.
  • Steven recently enrolled in the Graduate Certificate in Communication program at Walden.
    • Recently modifies the verb enroll and answers the when question.
  • Then, I verified that most of my sources were peer-reviewed.
    • Then describes and modifies the entire sentence. See this link on transitions for more examples of conjunctive adverbs (adverbs that join one idea to another to improve the cohesion of the writing).

Pronoun

This word substitutes for a noun or a noun phrase (such as it, she, he, they, that, those,…).

  • Smith (2014) interviewed the applicants as they arrived.
    • they = applicants
  • He was interested in ideas that were never previously recorded, not those that have already been published.
    • He = Smith; that = ideas; those = those ideas

Determiner

This word makes the reference of the noun more specific (such as his, her, my, their, the, a, an, this, these,…).

  • Jones published her book in 2015.
  • The book was very popular.

Preposition

This comes before a noun or a noun phrase and links it to other parts of the sentence. These are usually single words (on, at, by,…) but can be up to four words (as far as, in addition to, as a result of, …).

  • I chose to interview teachers in the district closest to me.
  • The recorder was placed next to the interviewee.
  • I stopped the recording in the middle of the interview due to a low battery.

Conjunction

A word that joins two clauses. These can be coordinating (an easy way to remember this is memorizing FANBOYS = for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so) or subordinating (such as because, although, when, …).

  • The results were not significant, so the alternative hypothesis was accepted.
  • Although the results seem promising, more research must be conducted in this area.

Auxiliary Verbs

Helping verbs. They are used to build up complete verbs.

  • Primary auxiliary verbs (be, have, do) show the progressive, passive, perfect, and negative verb tenses.
  • Modal auxiliary verbs (can, could, may, might, must, shall, should, will, would) show a variety of meanings. They represent ability, permission, necessity, and degree of certainty. These are always followed by the simple form of the verb.
  • Semimodal auxiliary verbs (be going to, ought to, have to, had better, used to, be able to,…). These are always followed by the simple form of the verb.

 

  • Researchers have investigated this issue for some time. However, the cause of the problem has not been determined.
    • primary: have investigated = present perfect tense; has not been determined = passive, perfect, negative form
  • He could conduct more research, which may lead to the answer.
    • The modal could shows ability, and the verb conduct stays in its simple form; the modal may shows degree of certainty, and the verb lead stays in its simple form.
  • Future researchers are going to delve more into this topic. They are about to make a breakthrough discovery.
    • These semimodals are followed by the simple form of the verb.

 

Common Endings

Nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs often have unique word endings, called suffixes. Looking at the suffix can help to distinguish the word from other parts of speech and help identify the function of the word in the sentence. It is important to use the correct word form in written sentences so that readers can clearly follow the intended meaning.

Here are some common endings for the basic parts of speech. If ever in doubt, consult the dictionary for the correct word form.


Common Noun Endings

-age: suffrage, image, postage

-al: arrival, survival, deferral

-dom: kingdom, freedom, boredom

-ee: interviewee, employee, trainee

-ence/ance: experience, convenience, finance

-er/or: teacher, singer, director

-ery: archery, cutlery, mystery

-hood: neighborhood, childhood, brotherhood

-ics: economics, gymnastics, aquatics

-ing: reading, succeeding, believing

-ism: racism, constructivism, capitalism

-ity/ty: community, probability, equality

-ment: accomplishment, acknowledgement, environment

-ness: happiness, directness, business

-ry: ministry, entry, robbery

-ship: scholarship, companionship, leadership

-tion/sion/xion : information, expression, complexion

-ure: structure, pressure, treasure


 

Common Verb Endings

-ate: congregate, agitate, eliminate

-en: straighten, enlighten, shorten

-(i)fy: satisfy, identify, specify

-ize: categorize, materialize, energize


Common Adjective Endings

-able/ible: workable, believable, flexible

-al: educational, institutional, exceptional

-ed: confused, increased, disappointed

-en: wooden, golden, broken

-ese: Chinese, Portuguese, Japanese

-ful: wonderful, successful, resourceful

-ic: poetic, classic, Islamic

-ing: exciting, failing, comforting

-ish: childish, foolish, selfish

-ive: evaluative, collective, abrasive

-ian: Canadian, Russian, Malaysian

-less: priceless, useless, hopeless

-ly: friendly, daily, yearly

-ous: gorgeous, famous, courageous

-y: funny, windy, happy


Common Adverb Endings

-ly: quickly, easily, successfully

-ward(s): backward(s), upwards, downwards

-wise: clockwise, edgewise, price-wise

Placement and Position of Adjectives and Adverbs

Order of Adjectives

If more than one adjective is used in a sentence, they tend to occur in a certain order. In English, two or three adjectives modifying a noun tend to be the limit. However, when writing in APA, not many adjectives should be used (since APA is objective, scientific writing). If adjectives are used, the framework below can be used as guidance in adjective placement.

  1. Determiner (i.e., this, that, these, those, my, mine, your, yours, him, his, hers they, their, some, our, several,…) or article (a, an, the)
  2. Opinion, quality, or observation adjective (i.e., lovely, useful, cute, difficult, comfortable)
  3. Physical description
  • (a) size (big, little, tall, short)
  • (b) shape (circular,  irregular, triangular)
  • (c) age (old, new, young, adolescent)
  • (d) color (red, green, yellow)
  1. Origin (i.e., English, Mexican, Japanese)
  2. Material (i.e., cotton, metal, plastic)
  3. Qualifier (noun used as an adjective to modify the noun that follows; i.e., campus activities, rocking chair, business suit)
  4. Head noun that the adjectives are describing (i.e., activities, chair, suit)

For example:

  • This (1) lovely (2) new (3) wooden (4) Italian (5) rocking (6) chair (7) is in my office.
  • Your (1) beautiful (2) green (3) French (4) silk (5) business (6) suit (7) has a hole in it.

Commas With Multiple Adjectives

A comma is used between two adjectives only if the adjectives belong to the same category (for example, if there are two adjectives describing color or two adjectives describing material). To test this, ask these two questions:

  1. Does the sentence make sense if the adjectives are written in reverse order?
  2. Does the sentence make sense if the word “and” is written between them?

If the answer is yes to the above questions, the adjectives are separated with a comma. Also keep in mind a comma is never used before the noun that it modifies.

  • This useful big round old green English leather rocking chair is comfortable. (Note that there are no commas here because there is only one adjective from each category.)
  • A lovely large yellow, red, and green oil painting was hung on the wall. (Note the commas between yellow, red, and green since these are all in the same category of color.)

Position of Adverbs

Adverbs can appear in different positions in a sentence.

  • At the beginning of a sentence: Generally, teachers work more than 40 hours a week.
  • After the subject, before the verb: Teachers generally work more than 40 hours a week.
  • At the end of a sentence: Teachers work more than 40 hours a week, generally.
  • However, an adverb is not placed between a verb and a direct object. INCORRECT: Teachers work generally more than 40 hours a week.

More Detailed Rules for the Position of Adverbs

  1. Adverbs that modify the whole sentence can move to different positions, such as certainly, recently, fortunately, actually, and obviously.
  • Recently, I started a new job.
  • I recently started a new job.
  • I started a new job recently.
  1. Many adverbs of frequency modify the entire sentence and not just the verb, such as frequently, usually, always, sometimes, often, and seldom. These adverbs appear in the middle of the sentence, after the subject.
  • She frequently gets time to herself. (The adverb appears before the main verb.)
    • INCORRECT: Frequently she gets time to herself.
    • INCORRECT: She gets time to herself frequently.
  • She has frequently exercised during her lunch hour. (The adverb appears after the first auxiliary verb.)
  • She is frequently hanging out with old friends. (The adverb appears after the to be verb.)
  1. Adverbial phrases work best at the end of a sentence.
  • He greeted us in a very friendly way.
  • I collected data for 2 months.