Parts of Speech

Parts of Speech: Part I

Writing a paper requires a good command of English. Learn the differences in parts of speech and practice use them based on the rules covered in "Parts of Speech: Part II"
We all know that a lot of work goes into writing a paper. You need to pick a topic, do research, and organize your ideas, and that's before you even start writing. But all that work won't matter if you can't write in a way that presents your ideas clearly: even the best thesis will fall apart if you can't write well. That's why, even though it might not seem that important, knowing the rules of grammar is one of the keys to good writing, and grammar starts with the parts of speech. If writing a paper is like building a house, then the parts of speech are the bricks, boards, and tiles: you can't build a paper without them.


A noun, at is simplest, is just a thing. Think of something you can touch or see - it can be a person, place, or an object. For example, in the sentence:
The boy ate a cookie in his kitchen.
boy (person), kitchen (place), and cookie (object) are all nouns. These types of words are known as concrete nouns because they refer to concrete objects. All nouns don't have to be concrete, though. Nouns that describe concepts, ideas, or feelings are called abstract nouns. In the sentence:
Her excitement was obvious.
excitement is an abstract noun. Other abstract nouns are words like love, hope, anger, and honesty.
All the above examples are common nouns - nouns that don't refer to a specific person, place, or thing. The boy could be anybody; the cookie could be any kind of cookie. Nouns that refer to a particular object or person are known as proper nouns, and they are always capitalized. For example,
The girl rang the bell, and Sarah opened the door.
Girl is not capitalized because it's a noun that does not refer to any specific person, but Sarah is capitalized because she is a singular person. Other examples of proper nouns include countries (America, India), companies (Microsoft, Toyota), and published texts (The Great Gatsby, the Bill of Rights). Some nouns can be proper or common, depending on how you use them. For example, in the sentence
She lives on the main street in town.
main street is a common noun because it doesn't refer to the name of a particular street. But if you write
She lives in town on Main Street./div>
then you're specifying the name of the particular street (Main Street) that she lives on.


When you have more than one of something, then it's plural. Most nouns are made plural by adding the letter s to the end of the word, for example tables, trees, and computers. If the word ends with an s, then it is made plural by adding es to the end, for example lasses and Joneses. English, though, has lots of exceptions to the plural rule. Nouns like child (children), mouse (mice), and leaf (leaves) are irregular, meaning they're made plural by a change in spelling and not by adding an s.
Words that can be made plural by adding s are called countable nouns. Some nouns, however, can't be made plural. For example, you can't have musics, happinesses, or furnitures. These types of words are known as uncountable nouns. Basically, if it's something you can't count or have more than one of, then its uncountable.


Pronouns are words that take the place of nouns in a sentence. They're an easy shortcut that allows you to avoid repeating the same word over and over when writing. Pronouns can be either the subject or object in a sentence.
Subject pronouns: I, we, you, he, she, they, it
Object pronouns: me, us, you her, him, them, it
Sarah didn't want the apple, but she took it anyway.
(she takes the place of Sarah; it takes the place of apple)
It wasn't Leah's birthday, but Alan got a present for her anyway.
(it takes the place of today; her takes the place of Leah)

Pronoun agreement

Pronouns need to agree in number and person with the word they replace (the antecedent). For example, if the antecedent is plural, then a plural pronoun (we, us, they, them) needs to be used, and if it's singular, then a singular pronoun should be used (I, me, he, she, her, him, and it). Also match the pronoun to the person: 1st (I, me, we, us), 2nd (you), or 3rd (he, she, her, him, they, them, it).
If one of the kids wants to play, they need to sign up in the office.
If one of the kids wants to play, he or she needs to sign up in the office.

Pronoun clarity

Because pronouns can replace any noun, using can them sometimes lead to confusion. If it's unclear what the antecedent for a pronoun is, then the meaning of the sentence can change. For example, in the following passage, it's unclear what the pronouns he and him refer to.
Mike, Aaron, and I went to the game together, but he had to leave early because of his curfew.
It can be rewritten to make it clear by using the antecedent instead of a pronoun:
Mike, Aaron, and I went to the game together, but Mike had to leave early because of his curfew.


A, an, and the are articles that precede nouns or noun phrases. A and an are what's known as indefinite articles, that is, they are used to refer to non-specific nouns. Both refer to a singular object.
  • A is used before nouns that start with a consonant or a consonant sound (a chair, a book, a university).
  • An is used before nouns that start with a vowel sound (an apple, an ear).
  • Words that start with a silent h take an (an hour).
  • Words starting with a hard h sound take an a (a house).
  • If there's an adjective before the noun, the indefinite article should match the adjective and not the noun (a tall order, an elegant party).
When used in the sentence:
I want to wear a dress to the party on Saturday.
the use of a means that the speaker isn't referring to a particular dress. Instead, she's saying that any dress will do. But in the sentence:
I want to wear the dress to the party on Saturday.
the use of the word the indicates that she is talking about a specific dress, which is why the is called a definite article. The can refer to a singular or plural noun.
Not all nouns in English require articles. Below are the rules for when to use them:
  • Singular countable nouns need an article (I need a drink.)
  • Plural countable nouns can take an article, but they don't have to have one. (She's going to bring cookies to the party. Or: She's going to bring the cookies to the party.)
  • Proper nouns do not need an article. (He gave the cake to Alice.)
  • Uncountable nouns don't need an article. (Do we have enough money to pay for the show? Note: while you can have a certain amount of money, by itself the word money is considered an uncountable noun.)
  • Don't use articles before countries, cities, states, streets, lakes, or continents. (For example: We are moving to Nevada because we bought a house on Lake Mead.)
  • Use articles before oceans, deserts, gulfs, and general geographic areas. (For example: We are going to travel across the Atlantic to visit the Middle East.)
  • Don't use articles before the names of classes, sports, or languages. (I am going to learn Japanese and how to play tennis.)


Adjectives are words that modify or describe nouns or pronouns. In general, adjectives answer the questions which (our apartment), what kind (friendly dog), or how many (six cats) and are placed before the noun they modify. In the sentence,
The red car is parked outside the big house.
red and big are adjectives describing car and house, respectively. Both tell the reader which or what kind. Adjectives can also follow to be verbs or linking verbs like feel and seem:
The girl is happy, and her friend feels jealous.

Coordinate adjectives

When two or more adjectives are used in a row to describe the same noun, they're called coordinate adjectives, and they should be separated by a comma. For example:
The old, rusty car still runs, but it needs a lot of work.
If you're not sure whether two adjectives are coordinate adjectives, rewrite the sentence with an and between the adjectives, and also try reversing their order. If the sentence still makes sense with both those changes, then you have coordinate adjectives.
The red brick house is right down the road from a new bigger park.
If doesn't make sense to say "the brick red house" or "the red and brick house," so no comma is needed. However, the sentence would make sense if you wrote "a bigger new park" or "a new and bigger park," so here a comma is needed:
The red brick house is right down the road from a new, bigger park.

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