Improve writing by knowing parts of speech

When revising your writing, you likely will run across grammar issues: should you use who’s or whose; is it wrack my brain or rack my brain; does a word pair in which the first one ends in ly require a hyphen?

The answers to many of these questions are fairly easy to find on the Internet and this blog (Each Wednesday, the entry is a grammar tip.). Those answers, however, almost always contain references to the words’ parts of speech, that is their syntactic function in a sentence. Knowing what those parts of speech are can help you better understand, utilize and remember the advice found in your research.

There generally are nine parts of speech in English.

This is a person, place or thing, as in John, Los Angeles, chair. There are a lot of different types of nouns and ways to classify them; perhaps the most important to know is proper vs. common nouns. Proper nouns are names of specific people and places and are always capitalized, as in the Empire State Building, while common nouns are a general class of items, as in furniture.

These words are used in place of a noun, such as I, me, he, she, her, him, they, them. Generally, the noun the pronoun replaces must be used previously in the text.

This class of words describe either a noun or a pronoun by telling which one (that chair), what kind (rich people), or how many (two drinks).

There are but three articles, which most grammarians consider a special class of adjectives, and they always appear before nouns – the, a, an.

This word combines with either a noun or a pronoun to form a phrase that tells something more about the noun or pronoun. Common prepositions are from, over, under to, with.

A verb either shows something in action – run, jump, skip – or that it exists – is, am, are, was, be. The former are active voice verbs while the latter are passive voice or being verbs.

These words can describe either a verb, an adjective or another adverb. They general tell when (it starts now), how (run quickly), where (looked around) and to what degree (barely audible).

There are very few conjunctions – and, but, or, nor. They link groups of words together to help us better understand their relationship.

Usually a single or a short phrase, an interjection expresses strong feelings or emotions and typically is followed by an exclamation point – Hey! Look out! Ouch!