Building Blocks

Basic Definitions

Before you can enter into a discussion with your professor about why there is so much red pen on your paper, or before any of the articles to appear on this blog can make any sense, you’ve got to know the jargon: it’s no use telling you that you should never end a sentence with a preposition if you don’t know what a preposition is.  And that’s okay: it’s to your credit that you, unlike me, didn’t sit in your Grammar classes, wide-eyed and grinning, furiously scribbling notes about gerunds and how they were society’s one last hope.

Look at the pages here as your own personal grammar dictionary — just one more thing to cross off your Christmas list this year.

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Noun: A part of speech that names a person (for example: John, waitress), place (California, garage), thing (baseball, Eiffel Tower) or idea (happiness, gravity).

Example: When Edward and Jacob met Harry in California, confusion arose.

In this sentence, Edward, Jacob, Harry, California, and confusion are all nouns.

Verb: The part of speech that expresses action or existence.

Example: Harry reached for his wand, but Jacob was too quick for him: he bore his teeth and attacked while Edward just looked like he was wearing a lot of makeup.

In this sentence, reached, was, bore, attacked, looked, and was wearing are the verbs.

Adjective: A part of speech that modifies or describes a noun.  Adjectives often (but not always) end with -able, -ous, -er, or -est.  They can also often be found right next to the nouns they are describing.

Example: Harry shouted, “Edward! I like you because you are pale like me! Jacob, your skin is much darker and it makes me feel bad. I will put on my favorite invisibility cloak and run away now.”

In this example, paledarkerfavorite, and invisibility are all adjectives.

Adjectives answer one of three questions:

1. What kind is it? (What kind of skin? Pale skin.)

2. How many are there? (How many questions? Three questions.)

3. Which one is it? (Which cloak?  The invisibility one.  Which invisibility cloak?  His favorite one.)

Adverb: While an adjective describes a noun, an adverb describes or modifies a verb, an adjective, or another adverb.  Many (though not all) adverbs end in -ly.

Example: Bella walked outside and looked slowly back and forth between the three oddly dressed men before her. “I’ve made a very big mistake,” she said.

In this example, outsideslowly, oddly, and very are the adverbs.

Adverbs answer questions like: How? When? Where? In what way? How much? How often?

Pronoun: A pronoun is a word that is a substitute for a noun.  Pronouns tend to be more general than specific nouns (“He” instead of “Aaron,” for example).

Some common pronouns include: hesheit, youthatitnobody, herhim,themanybodyI, and we.  You can find a more complete list of common pronouns here.

Most nouns can be replaced by pronouns.  If you wanted, you could change the sentence “Emeril obviously loves spice” to “He obviously loves it.”  However, the latter sentence could mean anything; that’s why we use more specific nouns.  They spice things up.  Bam!

Article: An article is a type of adjective, and there are only three of them: a, an, and the.  If that information isn’t enough to satiate you, I’ll elaborate: the is a definite article because it precedes or references a specific noun (“The Ghostly Hallows”); a and an are indefinite articles because they refer to less specific nouns (“A Quidditch match”).

If you wanted your grandmother to give you any glass of orange juice in the world, you might say, “Grandmother, I’d like a glass of orange juice.”  If, however, you wanted a specific cup of orange juice, you might say, “Grandmother, I’d like the glass of orange juice over there.”  In these examples, you are using articles to your advantage.  However, you are also being a little pushy with Grandma.  Watch it.

Conjunction: There are a few different types of conjunctions, but the most basic type is the coordinating conjunction.  The following words are coordinating conjunctions: and, but, or, yet, for, nor, and so.  A website I found suggests the acronym FANBOYS to remember these, but I suggest NOBFAYS.  It rolls off the tongue much more easily.

Preposition: A preposition is a word that usually comes before a noun, pronoun, or noun phrase and shows the relationship between that word and other words in the sentence.  Prepositions are words like on, above, behind, by, during, through, under, and without (and many, many more), and they answer the questions:

1. Where?

2. When?

3. Why?

4. How?


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