Each word in a sentence performs a function or job; these jobs are called the parts of speech.
When trying to build sentences that are clear, well-organized, and grammatically correct, it's really helpful to know how to recognize those parts of speech. In fact, the parts of speech are essential to grammar, which is the set of rules that govern a language.
There are many different parts of speech in English, but in order to prepare to write really effective sentences, your primary focus for now should be on the four most important and basic parts of speech:
Verbs are words that define actions or indicate a state of being. Some common verbs are “climb,” “talk,” and “sing.”
Verbs are great clues to tell you what’s going on in a sentence, so when you’re identifying the parts of speech, always start by finding the verb in that sentence.
In order to find the verb, look for the action.
A noun is a word that names a person, place, thing, or idea. Some common nouns are “president,” “California,” and “happiness.”
You can easily find a noun by asking who or what in a sentence is doing the action described in the verb:
Teachers talk frequently.
In the above sentence, the action is “talking.” Who is doing the talking in this sentence? Teachers.
When you’re identifying nouns and verbs, start by finding the action. You’ll then be able to match it with the noun that’s doing that action. You’ll even notice that verbs often come right after nouns in a sentence.
However, not all sentences have only one noun. More complex sentences may have multiple nouns:
Teachers talk about grammar in the classroom at lunch.
In the above sentence, there are four nouns. The teachers are one, the classroom is another, grammar is a third, and lunch is the fourth. However, “teachers” is still the noun that’s matched with the verb because it’s the only one of those nouns that can talk.
Pronouns are words that take the place of a noun in a sentence.
To see how these work in action, take that same sentence from earlier and make it a little more complex:
Teachers always talk about grammar because they think grammar is fun.
In the first half of the sentence, the noun is “teachers.” In the second half, we could say “because teachers think grammar is fun,” but we can also replace “teachers” with “they,” which is a pronoun.
There are two kinds of pronouns:
Personal pronouns include “he,” “she,” “it,” “they,” and “we.” Indefinite pronouns refer more broadly, and can include “everyone,” “someone,” “nobody,” and “everything.”
You use a pronoun to replace a specific noun within that sentence. That noun is called the antecedent.
Pronouns therefore work just like nouns, and you can find them in the same way. They even tend to come before a verb, just like a noun does.
Adjectives are words that modify nouns. This means that adjectives add more detail about a specific noun.
What if the previous sentence gave you more information about the situation?
My brown dog barks when she wants something.
Now you know that the dog is brown, giving you a more detailed picture of her. Brown is an adjective modifying the noun.
Adjectives are easy to find because all you have to do is look for the noun and point out words that offer extra information about that noun.
Usually, adjectives come right before nouns. Some common adjectives are “small,” “round,” and “difficult.”
Now that you know about the four essential parts of speech, you can practice breaking down a sentence and finding each part of speech inside of it.
Pause and take a moment to find the verb, the noun, the pronoun, and the adjective in the following sentence:
The dogs played with the big rope as they ran.
Consider the steps you might have taken to identify those parts of speech.
As you can see, there will probably be more than one noun in many sentences. You might end up finding sentences with more than one verb or more than one adjective as well. But now that you know how to break a sentence down, finding the parts of speech should be a breeze.
Source: This work is adapted from Sophia author Martina Shabram.