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Constructing Sentences: Parts of Speech

Words are traditionally classified into eight types, called parts of speech.


Common nouns name people, places, things, and concepts: teacher, valley, candle, success. Proper nouns have capital letters and give the names of specific people, places, things, and concepts: Sarah, Texas, Golden Gate Bridge, Hinduism. Common nouns can be classified as countable, with a plural form (pencil/pencils), uncountable (furniture, information), collective (society, family), and compound (merry-go-round).


A pronoun represents a noun phrase. In writing, a pronoun usually refers to a noun phraseappearing just before it in the text (its antecedent): Joe's sister loves her new car, but she dented it last week. Pronouns fall into seven types:
Personal    Subject: I, you, he, she, it, we, you, they
Object: me, you, him, her, it, us, you, them
Possessive    Before a noun: my, your, his, her, its, our, their
Standing alone: mine, yours, his, hers, ours, theirs
Demonstrative    this, that, these, those
Intensive or reflexive    myself, yourself, himself, herself, itself, ourselves, yourselves, themselves
Relative    who, whose, whom, which, that
Interrogative    who, whose, whom, which, what, whoever, whomever
Indefinite    anyone, something, each


Verbs tell what a person, place, thing, or concept does or is, or what people, places, things, or concepts do or are: smile, throw, think; seem, become, be. They change form to show:

Time and tense    walk, walked: sing, sang
Number and person    they walk, he walks; I am, you are
Voice    he loves (active), he is loved (passive)
Mood    They go (indicative). Go away (imperative). If they went away . . . (subjunctive).

Main verbs often need auxiliary verbs (do, does, did, have, has, had, be, am, is, are, was, were, being, been) or modal verbs (can, could, may, might, shall, should, will, would, must) to complete their meanings.

A verb has five forms: a base form (sing), an -s form (sings), an -ing form (singing), a past tense form (sang), and a past participle form (sung).

Verbs are regular when the past tense and past participle are formed with -ed and irregular when internal changes occur: think, thought, thought.


Adjectives describe (purple boots), point to (those boots), or tell the quantity of (some boots) nouns or pronouns. They precede nouns or follow linking verbs: purple boots. Her boots are purple. Some quantity adjectives also function as pronouns:

  Example Many cars have been sold. Several were sold last week.

Descriptive adjectives have comparative and superlative forms: big, bigger, biggest. The articles a, an, and the, like the demonstrative adjectives this, that, these, and those, function as adjectives: a scarred old elm tree; this tickly red feather boa.


Adverbs often end in -ly, but some common adverbs do not: not, very, well, always, often, sometimes, first, and never. Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, adverbs, or clauses

  Examples He dunked brilliantly.
He played spectacularly well.
He is a very energetic player.
Undoubtedly, he is a genius.

More and most are used with other adverbs to form comparisons: more efficiently, most efficiently. Adverbs that modify a whole clause and signify its relationship to the preceding clause are know as conjunctive adverbs (for example, however, therefore, and furthermore). They are used as transitional expressions to connect ideas, and they function somewhat like conjunctions.


Conjunctions are connected words. They join words, phrases, or clauses. Coordinating conjunctions connect two sentence elements of the same type: two words (ham and eggs), two phrases (very tired but totally content), or two clauses (He tore a ligament, so he dropped out of the race). The coordinating conjunctions are and, but, or, nor, so, for, and yet. Subordinating conjunctions connect a dependent (or subordinate) clause to an independent clause and indicate a specific relationship between the two clauses: The crowd cheered when Hingis ripped the ball down the line.

Subordinating conjunctions are words like when, if, and because. Correlative conjunctions work in pairs to connect equivalent grammatical elements: either/or, neither/nor, both/and, not only/but also.


A preposition is a word used before a noun or pronoun to make a phrase that usually does the work of an adjective or adverb:

  Example A bird with a red crest flew onto the feeder.

Some common prepositions are against, around, at, behind, between, except, for, from, in, into, like, on, over, regarding, and to.


An interjection is a word standing alone or inserted in a sentence to express emotion (Ha! Say! Wow!). Interjections are not used frequently in academic writing.

See also
Parts of Speech
Basic Sentence Patterns
Effective Sentence Construction
Connections with Transitions
Sentence Variety