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Grammar | Identifying Parts of Speech the Easy Way

In the English Department here at Southern, you will learn about English grammar at a much deeper level than you have so far in your education. This will increase your understanding of how language works and give you an additional tool in becoming an expert writer. There is a close connection between a deep knowledge of grammar and writing expertise.

One example is the difference between a grade school knowledge of the parts of speech, and more specific and helpful insights into this issue. In grade school you learned that a noun is the name of a person, place, or thing, and that a verb is an action word. What if there were better ways to help you identify the parts of speech?

There are! According to Martha Kolln and Robert Funk in Understanding English Grammar (7th edition), students can apply some fail-safe tests in a way that helps them see the true nature of what a part of speech actually is. Sometimes words not usually seen as a particular part of speech can actually become a different part of speech by how they are used. Parts of speech are more pliable than you might have expected.

For instance, a noun is a word that can be pluralized or show possession. Amazingly enough, with this insight, we can see that just about any word can become a noun, technically speaking. Let’s take an adjective such as jealous. I can make this word work for me as a noun by writing this: “His jealousies were infamous.”

Verbs are action words, but sometimes we can get a bit confused by that definition. Lots of words seem to express action. When in doubt, realize that verbs are the only words that can take the –s form and the –ing form. “He goes. He is going.” Again, this rule allows me to do some strange things in my writing. Let’s take a noun, cattle, and make it a verb just for fun. “Farmer Jane cattles the hills with her numerous herds.” This is an unusual verb, but it is not ungrammatical! Poets will experiment with just such expressions.

Adjectives and adverbs can sometimes be hard to distinguish, but how about these two rules? Only an adjective will fit into this test sentence: “The__________NOUN is very____________.” And adverbs? Adverbs modify adjectives and other words. This definition is a bit vague. But what about this little rule? Adverbs can often be moved about in a sentence without the meaning of the sentence being changed.

Try out some of the rules and see for yourself!