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Chapter 20: Reviewing the parts of speech.

After reading this chapter, you should begin to ...

* identify the nouns in a sentence;

* identify the pronouns in a sentence;

* identify the verb (or verb phrase) in a sentence; and

* identify prepositional phrases.

In the earlier sections of this book, we worked on developing our ideas and on organizing them so that readers can move through them smoothly. In these next chapters, we will focus on editing, a process that requires some understanding of the ingredients and structure of a sentence.

If we didn't have onions, celery, and carrots, it would be difficult to make mirepoix. Without meat, lettuce, and bread, we couldn't build the cheeseburger in Figure 20.1. Similarly, sentences are constructed from certain ingredients, the parts of speech. Each of these eight parts of speech correlates to a role or job to be performed in the sentence.

Two of the most important roles in a sentence are those of the subject and verb. The role of subject is often played by a noun or pronoun, while the verb's role is always played by a verb.


As children, we begin to speak by learning the names of people and things that are important in our lives: mama, kitty, juice. A noun is the word that names those important things, that names a person, place, thing, or idea. Some nouns refer to categories of persons, places, or things. They are called common nouns, and they are not capitalized unless they are used at the beginning of a sentence. Chef, toque, tomato, and preparation are examples of common nouns. Proper nouns, on the other hand, refer to specific persons, places, or things, and they are always capitalized. Julia Child, New York, and Cheerios are examples of proper nouns.

In writing class, we are interested in nouns because very often one of them will be the subject of a sentence; that is, it will identify or name who or what is doing something in the sentence, or who or what is being described by the rest of the sentence. Identifying the subject is important because it can help us find and fix any sentence fragments (Chapter 22), run-on sentences, or comma splices (Chapter 23). It is also important to be able to identify the subject of the sentence in order to make sure that the verb agrees with it (Chapter 24).

A noun can also be used as an object of a verb or preposition. It is especially useful to recognize prepositional phrases because neither the subject nor the verb of the sentence can be found inside them. We will look more closely at prepositional phrases later in the chapter.

Exercise 20.1 | Identifying Nouns

Identify the nouns in each of the following sentences. Which noun, if any, is the subject?

1. In The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien creates a world inhabited by such creatures as hobbits, elves, wizards, trolls, and orcs, as well as by men.

2. Many of the creatures have unusual, evocative names, for example, Frodo or Galadriel or Gollum.

3. Over the course of the trilogy, the characters cross mountains and rivers, dead marshes, and strangely alive forests.

4. Proud heroes brandish glittering swords and magic rings, while the evil Sauron wields a paralyzing fear.

5. It is a story of courage, strength, and friendship tested by the forces of greed, betrayal, and despair.


Pronouns come in several varieties, summarized in Figure 20.2. Personal pronouns can be used in the place of nouns (like an actor's body double), usually to avoid repetition. For example, in the following sentence, the proper noun Ivan is repeated so often that it sounds bad:

   As Ivan walked into Ivan's kitchen, Ivan noticed that Ivan had left
   Ivan's books on the table.

The sentence is so bogged down with Ivans that we can't even focus on what Ivan has been doing. By substituting appropriate pronouns for Ivan, we can produce a sentence that sounds better and makes its point more clearly:

   As Ivan walked into his kitchen, he noticed that he had left his
   books on the table.

The use of the pronouns allows the reader to focus on the other words in the sentence and more easily understand what's happening.

Personal pronouns have three different forms or cases, depending on how they are used in a particular sentence (see also Chapter 26): the subjective (I, we, you, he, she, it, they), the objective (me, us, him, her, them), and the possessive (my, our, your, his, her, its, their).

Relative pronouns "relate" or refer to a noun or pronoun earlier in the same sentence. Relative pronouns include who, whom, whose, which, what, and that. Let's look at our friend Ivan again:

   Ivan is a student who prefers to study late at night.

Here the relative pronoun who refers to the noun student and begins the relative clause who prefers to study late at night. In fact, who is the subject of the clause, which, like other clauses, contains a subject and a verb. Like other subordinate or dependent clauses, a relative clause must be attached to a complete sentence or independent clause; it cannot stand alone (see also Chapter 22). Look at the next example:

   We saw the baker whose recipe for creme brulee had won first prize.

Here the relative pronoun whose refers to baker and begins the relative clause whose recipe for creme brulee had won first prize.

Interrogative pronouns, such as who, what, and which, are used to ask questions, such as Who is planning to enter the chili competition? The demonstrative pronouns--this, these, that, and those--direct the reader's attention to particular people or things. For example, That is the best recipe for ratatouille.

Indefinite pronouns, the largest group, do not refer to a specific person, place, or thing. Often, they suggest an amount. The indefinite pronouns include all, many, most, some, few, none, one, each, anyone, everybody, and nothing. Look at the following examples:

   Many of the most delicious dishes on the table were made with

   The lecturer saw that nobody was listening.

Exercise 20.2 | Identifying Pronouns

Identify the pronouns in each sentence below. Which pronoun, if any, is the subject?

1. One of the story lines in the movie Crash follows a police officer named Ryan and his partner.

2. Officer Ryan, who is stressed by his father's illness, has a hostile encounter with a woman named Christine and her husband.

3. The scene in which Ryan searches her is one of the most uncomfortable in the film.

4. Both of the officers are affected by it, and they dissolve their partnership.

5. Each has a subsequent scene that reverses the audience's assessment of his character.


Like the subject (a role most often played by a noun or pronoun), the verb is also an essential ingredient in the sentence. The verb tells what the subject of the sentence is doing, or connects the subject with some more information later in the sentence. Verbs that tell what the subject is doing are called action verbs. A strong, precise action verb can pull the reader right into the sentence.

   The chef whisked the eggs for the Greek omelet.

We can almost hear the action in the sentence, and research shows that our brains may feel the action in the same part of the brain we'd use if we were whisking the eggs ourselves (see Chapter 2).

Exercise 20.3 | Identifying Action Verbs

Identify the action verbs in the following sentences.

1. The professional chef lightly seared the veal shoulder in the skillet.

2. Cordelia slices onions more carefully after she cut her hand last week.

3. Before he put the baking sheet in the oven, Ivan dusted the cookie dough with chopped nuts and powdered sugar.

4. The student read a chapter in the math textbook and wrote the answers to the problems on a sheet of notebook paper.

5. For each of his classes, Javier makes a set of flashcards.

Another kind of verb is the linking verb, which connects the subject of a sentence to some additional information later in the sentence. Look at the following example:

The eggs are ready to be served.

Here the eggs are connected to the information ready to be served by the linking verb are. Common linking verbs include is, are, was, were, appear, feel, and seem.

Exercise 20.4 | Identifying Linking Verbs

Identify the linking verbs in the following sentences.

1. This chef is quite knowledgeable about veal.

2. Cordelia was the first student to visit the new restaurant.

3. Fresh out of the oven, the cookies seemed perfect.

4. The students were excited about their next unit in Product Knowledge.

5. Javier's brightly colored flashcards appear to be very useful to him.

A third kind of verb is the helping verb, a word (or words) added to the main verb to form a verb phrase. A phrase is a group of words that acts like a single word. For example, in the sentence "Fernanda has decided to major in baking and pastry arts," the word has is a helping verb, decided is the main verb, and the verb phrase is has decided. Helping verbs are often used to show the tense or time of the action (see Chapter 25), as in the following sample sentences:

Sample Sentence                 Helping    Verb Tense

The chef is whisking            is         present progressive
  the eggs.
Yesterday the chef was          was        past progressive
  whisking the eggs.
The chef had whisked eggs       had        past perfect
  many times before.
Perhaps the chef will whisk     will       future
  eggs again tomorrow.

Helping verbs are also used to form the passive voice, in which the subject of the sentence receives the action of the verb rather than performs it (see also Chapter 25), as in the following sample sentences:

Voice       Verb     Sample Sentence   Explanation

Active      dusted   The baker         The subject
                     dusted the        (baker) is
                     cookie dough      performing the
                     with chopped      action of
                     nuts and          dusting.
                     powdered sugar.

Passive     was      The cookie        The subject
            dusted   dough was         (dough) is
                     dusted with       receiving the
                     chopped nuts      action of
                     and powdered      dusting.

Helping verbs always come before the main verb in the sentence, though they may sometimes be separated by other words, as in the question "Did the baker dust the cookie dough with powdered sugar?" Here the verb phrase did dust is split by the subject the baker. Did is the helping verb. Most of the common helping verbs (Figure 20.3) are used only as verbs (with the exceptions of being, can, will, and might, which may also be used as nouns). Sometimes a verb phrase will contain more than one helping verb, as in the following examples:

   should have studied
   will be driving
   must have been grilled

Figure 20.3 Common Helping Verbs


Exercise 20.5 | Identifying Helping Verbs

Identify the helping verbs in the following sentences.

1. The terrier has stolen one of Harry's shoes again.

2. He had eaten the other one the day before.

3. Harry should have put his shoes away in the closet.

4. That dog will be stealing shoes every day unless Harry learns to put them away.

5. Harry's shoes must have been almost completely destroyed by now.

Notice the word almost in sentence 5. Almost is an adverb, a word that describes or "modifies" a verb, adjective, or another adverb. Technically, adverbs are not part of the verb. One possible exception is the adverb not, which is so much a part of the meaning of the verb that in some languages it becomes part of the verb itself.

Exercise 20.6 | Identifying Verb Phrases

Identify the verb phrases in the following sentences.

1. Geraldo has been invited to play in a special post-season baseball tournament.

2. His family members could not contain their excitement.

3. Geraldo was chosen because of his excellent fielding skills.

4. He had fielded many difficult ground balls during the regular season.

5. The team will be practicing almost every day.


We've now covered two of the essential ingredients of the sentence, the subject (noun or pronoun) and the verb. While nouns and action verbs tend to be recognized fairly easily, linking and helping verbs seem to fade into the background. They are often small words like is that don't appear to carry a particular meaning, certainly not the clear and dramatic meaning of action verbs like cut or burn. It is therefore important to memorize these common verbs and watch out for them as you read a sentence. Otherwise, you may not be able to distinguish between a correct sentence and a fragment.

This inability to distinguish between two similar structures is the type of danger faced by the protagonists in Terminator 2. In this film, Arnold Schwarzenegger is a highly functioning robot, the model T100, and he is trying to protect John Connor from another robot, the newer model T1000, called a "terminator" because its sole purpose is to terminate or kill. Now the T1000 is a more sophisticated mechanism and can camouflage itself by becoming part of an inanimate object, or hoodwink its adversaries by assuming a specific human identity. Remember the scene at the mental hospital where John Connor's mother is imprisoned. A mild-looking security guard locks the outside doors and walks back down the corridor. The floor of this corridor is tiled in large black and white squares, a floor we've seen in many buildings. Black and white. Simple, ordinary. These tiles are like words, in fact--black type on a white page. Simple, ordinary. But not every word in a sentence is the same.

Think back to the film. The security guard continues his stroll down the corridor, and the camera scrolls down his uniformed leg to the floor. And suddenly--with a frisson of strings--the outline of a face swells up from the tiles. It is the T1000--still covered in black and white squares, but rising up swift and silent, forming an exact replica of the guard, who has been getting himself a cup of coffee from a vending machine, completely oblivious of the danger behind him. Suddenly he wheels around and confronts, open-mouthed, his own self. There is a pause; then the T1000 slowly extends its arm toward the face of its human twin. As the arm begins to lengthen, it turns into a sword and finally skewers the hapless guard through the eyeball! Had he noticed the subtle differences in the black and white tiles, he might have been able to avoid this fate.

Similarly, in a sentence, there are some words that are different, words like linking verbs that are so ordinary yet so central to the structure of the sentence that they ought to stand out from the other words just like the face of the T1000 emerges from the tiles. In particular, the words is, are, has, have, was, were, does, and do are common, ordinary, and crucial. It's useful to memorize them.


Prepositions are words that show the position of one noun (or pronoun) in relation to another, and they are most often found at the beginning of prepositional phrases. A prepositional phrase begins with a preposition and ends with a noun or pronoun, which is called the object of the preposition.

   As Ivan walked into his kitchen, he dropped his books on the table.

In this example, kitchen is the object of the preposition into, while table is the object of the preposition on. Prepositional phrases may also contain adjectives and/or adverbs, such as really and messy in the phrase on the really messy table. Prepositional phrases may have two or more objects (for example, between Samuel and Veronica), and the prepositions themselves may consist of more than one word, such as according to or in addition to.

Prepositional phrases often answer the question Where? Where is the knife? In the drawer. Where are you going? To the walk-in. They may also answer the question When? When did you do your homework? After class. Not every preposition fits into those two groups, however. The prepositions with, of, for, and to do not answer the questions where or when, but they are created in the same way; that is, they begin with a preposition and end with a noun or pronoun, the object of the preposition.

   with my friends
   of the peaches
   for the recipe
   to the store

Prepositional phrases are helpful to our study of sentence structure because the subject and verb are never found within them. Thus the many nouns and pronouns in prepositional phrases can be eliminated from our search for the subject of the sentence. This rule is most useful when the simple subject of the sentence is an indefinite pronoun, like one, but the sentence contains distracting juicy nouns like peaches.

   One of the peaches is ripe.

In this example, One is the subject of the sentence, while peaches is the object of the preposition. If we recognize that peaches is part of the prepositional phrase, we may find it easier to identify the tiny pronoun one as the subject. If we thought peaches was the subject, we might incorrectly write the plural verb are. (See Chapter 24 for more on subject-verb agreement.)

Familiarize yourself with the list of prepositions in Figure 20.4. Of is perhaps the most useful preposition to know in order to avoid problems with identifying the subject of a sentence: The simple subject of the sentence is not going to follow the preposition of. Note that some words used as prepositions can also be used as other parts of speech, for example, for (coordinating conjunction) and until (subordinating conjunction).

Figure 20.4 Common Prepositions


Exercise 20.7 | Recognizing Prepositional Phrases

Copy the following sentences on a separate sheet of paper and place brackets [ ] around the prepositional phrases. If you can, identify the subject as well.

1. Like Terminator 2, the story of The Hunger Games features a courageous heroine with a young child.

2. At home in District 12, Katniss protects her little sister, Prim, while in the arena she cares for Rue of District 11.

3. One of the most powerful scenes in the story involves Rue and an armful of flowers.

4. Another of the participants in the Games is Peeta, the baker's son.

5. With his instinct for making himself liked, he is very helpful to Katniss.


Although we noted at the beginning of this chapter that there are eight parts of speech, we have only covered four here: noun, pronoun, verb, and preposition. Conjunctions will be discussed at length in Chapter 23, and adjectives and adverbs in Chapter 27. The eighth part of speech is the interjection, something that is thrown into the middle. Interjections add emotion or emphasis, and are often followed by an exclamation point. Look at the following examples:

   Wow! That is a great chardonnay!

   Hey, watch what you're doing!

   Ouch, I didn't realize the pan was hot.

Interjections are not part of the structure of a sentence or connected to any other words. We tend to avoid them in academic writing, unless they're part of a direct quote, as in the following example:

   The customer exclaimed, "Wow, what a great chardonnay!"

Now that we've reviewed the basic ingredients of a sentence, the parts of speech, let's look in the next chapter at how they work together.



A noun names a person, place, thing, or idea. A common noun indicates a general category, while a proper noun names a specific item, such as the French Laundry. Nouns can be used as subjects of a sentence and as objects of a preposition.


Pronouns are words that can be used in the place of nouns, usually to avoid repetition, or to identify a general category (everyone) or an amount (all, one). See the table of pronouns earlier in this chapter (Figure 20.2).


Every sentence must contain a verb. Action verbs tell what the subject of the sentence is doing. Linking verbs connect the subject of a sentence to some additional information and include is, are, was, and were. Helping verbs are added to the main verb to form a verb phrase. Common helping verbs are listed earlier in this chapter (Figure 20.3).


Prepositions describe the relationship between nouns through a prepositional phrase, a group of words that starts with a preposition and ends with a noun or pronoun. Examples include in the kitchen, on the table, after breakfast, with confectioner's sugar.


DIRECTIONS: In each of the following sentences, identify the underlined word as a noun, pronoun, verb, or preposition.

Example: verb Television doctors are extremely popular.

-- 1. In the 1960s, two very popular television doctors were Ben Casey and Dr. Kildare.

-- 2. Young and handsome, they had a devoted female audience.

-- 3. Some years later, Dr. Marcus Welby brought a fatherly appeal to his bedside manner.

-- 4. In the 1990s, the medical drama enjoyed a renewed popularity with the smash hit ER.

-- 5. Unlike the medical dramas of the 1960s that focused on a single doctor, ER featured an ensemble cast.

-- 6. Among the most popular members of ER's medical staff was the smooth and confident Doug Ross, who was played by George Clooney.

-- 7. The role eventually launched Clooney into an extremely successful career on the big screen.

-- 8. Another favorite was the young medical student Carter.

-- 9. During the first episode of the series, both he and the audience were fascinated and intimidated by the fast-paced drama of the emergency room.

-- 10. Part of the fascination was with Carter's supervisor, the handsome, dedicated, and hypercritical Dr. Benton.

Figure 20.2 Table of Pronouns

Pronoun Type    Examples

Personal        I, you, he, she, it
                we, you, they

Possessive      my, mine, your, yours, his, her, hers, its
                our, ours, your, yours, their, theirs

Relative        who, whom, whose, which, that

Interrogative   what, which, who, whom, whose

Demonstrative   this, these, that, those

Indefinite      each, either, neither
                one, someone, anyone, no one, everyone
                something, anything, nothing, everything
                somebody, anybody, nobody, everybody
                both, few, several, many all, any,
                more, most, some, none
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Title Annotation:UNIT 3: PRESENTATION
Author:Cadbury, Vivian C.
Publication:A Taste for Writing, Composition for Culinarians
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2015
Previous Article:Chapter 19: An introduction to research II--using and citing your sources.
Next Article:Chapter 21: Understanding sentence basics.

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