Parts of speech are the building blocks of language. How we put them together creates countless opportunities for communication. English has eight parts of speech. Here they are, in a nutshell:
Nouns are words that name a person, place, thing, or idea. They may be common nouns (not naming anything in particular: street, town, boy, and bike) or proper nouns (name a particular or specific thing and generally capitalized: Main Street, Boise, Larry, and Porche).
Verbs are the action words in a sentence. Verbs identify what a noun does or the noun’s state of being. Verbs may be changed to past tense (for action that has already taken place), present tense (for action happening currently), or future tense (for action that will be forthcoming). Some verb examples are: said, shook, yelled, ran, swim, is, drove, will help, and smells.
Adjectives are words that modify or describe nouns or sometimes verbs. Adjectives are important in writing because they provide description and details for the reader to better understand or envision the content of the text. Adjectives give sensory details of how something looks, tastes, smells, feels, sounds like, or can describe the quantity of nouns (many, some, a thousand). Some examples of adjectives are: yellow, blue, warm, itchy, puffy, quiet, silver, short, furry, and loud.
Adverbs modify, describe, or give more information about verbs. As verbs are action words or states of being, adverbs explain how those actions are done and often end in -ly. Examples are quickly, swiftly, lazily, longingly, and sleepily.
Pronouns replace nouns and allow writers to not sound so repetitive by using someone or something’s name over and over again. Instead, substituting a pronoun, sentences can be more varied. For example, instead of “Sarah’s mom gave Sarah permission to wear Sarah’s grandma’s locket, provided Sarah take good care of the locket.” The sentence could substitute some pronouns and be easier to follow and less repetitive: “Sarah’s mom gave her permission to wear her grandma’s locket, provided she take good care of it.” It is important to make sure that pronoun usage is clear, however. In the sample sentence above, it may be confusing to the reader whose locket Sarah borrowed as the her could be referring to Sarah or to Sarah’s mom.
Conjunctions are joining words. They link together words, phrases, or clauses so that writers can join ideas together in elevated, sophisticated ways and not have to use a series of short, choppy sentences. There are three types of conjunctions: coordinating, correlative, and subordinating.
Coordinating Conjunctions— The easiest way to remember the seven most common coordinating conjunctions is to use the acronym FANBOYS. It stands for For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, and So, which are the seven most common conjunctions.
Correlative Conjunctions— Correlative conjunctions are conjunction pairs that work together to create balanced sentences. They include either/or, neither/nor, not only/but (also), both/and, whether/or. To be used effectively and correctly, both conjunction words must be present in the sentence. For example, “Not only did Marcus score the winning shot at the buzzer, but he was named MVP of the tournament.” “Mrs. Brown discovered that both Tracy and Margaret chose to do their state project on Hawaii.”
Subordinating Conjunctions— These conjunctions serve a very specific purpose: they join independent and dependent clauses together and create a sense of relationship between the ideas presented in the sentence. It might be a cause/effect type of relationship, a contrast or comparison, or a sense of order. Examples of subordinating conjunctions include: after, although, because, before, even if,if/then, now that, once, provided that, since, though, unless, until, and whereas. This is not a complete list of subordinating conjunctions.
Interjections “interject” emotion or feeling into a sentence. Often interjections are exclamations and come at the beginning of a sentence. “Oh dear! The cake is burning!” or “Ouch! I stubbed my toe!” Interjections may also cause the reader to pause, in the case of “Oh, wow, that painting is really something!” Part of the reason for this pause is that interjections are usually followed by some kind of punctuation mark, usually an exclamation point or a comma, although periods and sometimes question marks can also be used. “Ahhh, that cold glass of water is refreshing.” “Huh? Could you please repeat that statement?”
A preposition shows the relationship (often spatial) between two or more things in a sentence. Think of prepositions as things a fox can do with a box; it can go over, under, around, through, above, below, etc.
For more information about any of these parts of speech, please look through our English Basics: Parts of Speech Study Guide.
The term sentence structure refers to the rules regarding how to put together phrases and clauses to form complete sentences. For more in-depth explanations and examples of sentence structure and sentence parts, please see our English Basics Sentence Structure Study Guide.
A sentence is considered complete if it contains a subject, a verb, and expresses a complete thought. Beyond those simple components, sentence parts may be added to create longer, more complex sentences, but regardless of length, a sentence is only considered complete if it contains those three requirements. The subject identifies who or what the sentence is about and is usually a noun or pronoun. The verb, which is sometimes called the predicate, tells what action the subject took or what its state of being is. All of the words associated with the subject are considered part of the complete subject, and all of the words associated with the verb are considered part of the complete predicate of a sentence. When asked to identify simple subject or simple predicate it is just the noun or verb, without any of the modifiers, descriptions, or additional information.
Sentence Fragment— A sentence fragment (sometimes called an incomplete sentence) occurs when one or more of the required components of a complete sentence is missing. This means that the group of words is missing either a subject, a verb, or it fails to express a complete thought. Sentence fragments cannot be identified simply by length, and one must be careful in testing a sentence for completion, as the subject may sometimes be implied if it has been explicitly named in a previous sentence.
Run-on Sentence— A run-on sentence can often leave a reader out of breath. Run-on sentences occur when there are too many independent clauses joined together without proper punctuation. The writer is trying to cram too many ideas into a sentence instead of giving each idea or topic its own sentence to sort of “stretch out” in. As with sentence fragments, you can’t always judge a sentence by its length; just because a sentence is long, does not make it a run-on sentence if the ideas have been properly joined to one another.
Sometimes, a writer tries to avoid run-on sentences by adding in a comma, meaning to join the independent clauses together with a punctuation mark of some sort. The problem is that a comma is not strong enough to join two big, strong independent clauses together on its own, so it creates a comma splice. To avoid comma splices, an author needs to add a comma and some kind of coordinating conjunction to join the clauses together. Or the author may skip the comma and insert a semicolon instead.
Parallelism is created when all of the verbs in a sentence are conjugated in the same way. Parallelism creates a sense of balance and equity in a sentence.
The term modifiers refers to adjectives and adverbs (including adjective and adverb phrases) that provide more information about ideas presented in a sentence. Modifiers are great tools for helping a reader gain a visual picture of what an author is trying to explain. However, if they’re not put in the right place, modifiers can make a sentence very confusing. Here are two modifier issues to look out for.
Dangling or Misplaced Modifiers— Modifiers work best when they are placed right next to the word or phrase they are modifying. If they end up too far away from the word being modified, then it can be confusing to figure out what they are referring to.
Split Infinitives— An infinitive verb is a verb form that includes the word to and the simple form of a verb. When another word interrupts the infinitive verb, inserting itself between the to and the verb, it is called a split infinitive. These are generally frowned upon and should be rewritten so that there is no interruption within the infinitive. The modifiers used to describe the infinitive verb should come before or after it.
When we use the word agreement with regard to sentences, it usually refers to one of the three common issues listed below.
Subject-Verb Agreement— This type of agreement refers to the relationship between the subject(s) in a sentence and the respective verb(s). If a sentence contains a singular subject, the verb needs to be singular, too. If it is a plural subject, the verb should be the correct plural form.
Pronoun-Antecedent Agreement— This type of agreement refers to the relationship between pronouns and the antecedent (named noun) that they replace. If an antecedent is singular, so too must the pronoun be. If it is plural, then the pronoun must be a plural pronoun. Gender is also an important consideration when selecting the correct pronoun to use.
Consistent Verb Tense— Verb tense refers to the time period during which a verb takes place. Verbs may be past, present, or future. They may be perfect or continuous. But regardless of the verb tense in a particular sentence, the important thing is to make sure that the correct form and tense of the verb is selected based on the number of people doing the verb and the time period in which the verb was done, is being done, or will be done at some point.
Clauses and Phrases
Clauses and phrases are the building blocks to sentence structure. All sentences are made up or phrases and/or clauses, but knowing how to put them together correctly is important. There are rules for how to join phrases and clauses, depending on their type.
Independent Clause— An independent clause is a group of words that can be independent, meaning it can stand on its own as a complete sentence because it has a subject, a verb, and expresses a complete thought. While they are able to stand as their own sentence, independent clauses can also be linked to other clauses or phrases to form more complex sentences.
Dependent Clause— A dependent clause, also called a subordinate clause, cannot stand on its own and must be linked to an independent clause to be included in a sentence. A dependent clause will contain a subject and a verb, but it does not express a complete thought, rendering it unable to stand as a complete sentence by itself. Sentence fragments or incomplete sentences are usually the result of being dependent clauses.
Phrase— A phrase is a group of words that may contain a noun and a verb, but does not have a noun doing the verb. Phrases make up clauses or can be added to clauses to form complete sentences.
When every sentence in a text has the same structure and pattern, reading can become boring. Being able to mix up sentence types and use a variety of sentence styles helps keep the reader engaged. There are four main sentence types that will allow for variety in writing.
Simple— A simple sentence is the most basic sentence form. It is made up of one independent clause and that’s it. Although simple, simple sentences are not necessarily short, depending on the length of the clause.
Compound— A compound sentence is a step up from a simple sentence. It contains more than one independent clause, linked together with coordinating conjunctions and commas or with semicolons.
Complex— Complex sentences contain one independent clause and one or more dependent clauses.
Compound-Complex— The most diverse sentence type, a compound-complex sentence contains multiple independent clauses and at least one dependent clause.
For examples of each of these sentence types, please visit the bottom of page 2 of this source under “Commas Based on Sentence Structure.” It is part of our English Basics Punctuation Study Guide. (And yes, we know this is a punctuation study guide, but there really are some good examples there!)
Active vs. Passive
An author’s writing can have one of two voices: active voice or passive voice. Active voice sentences deliver more power and are generally easier for the reader to understand so should be used in most circumstances. Passive voice sentences can sometimes sound more “poetic” but that’s really because they are unnecessarily wordy and, when used, run the risk of confusing the reader.
Active Voice— In active voice sentences, the subject of the sentence actively performs the verb in the sentence. This doesn’t mean that they are doing the verb currently. Active voice can take place using past tense verbs. What it means is that at whatever point in time the action was done, it was done directly by the subject of the sentence.
Passive Voice— In passive voice sentences, the subject doesn’t actively do the verb, but passively receives the action of the verb. Because of this, it can become confusing to determine who did what to whom or for whom when the sentence is written in passive voice.
For more information and examples of what passive and active voice sentences look like, please visit page 1 of our English Basics Sentence Structure Study Guide.
Strong spelling skills are an important tool in writing and communicating. Although we have come to rely on our automated spell-check programs to alert us to misspelled words (or to just auto-correct them for us!), it is a valuable skill to be able to spell, or at least identify when something doesn’t appear to be spelled correctly, and then to take the time to look it up in a reliable source to ensure the proper spelling and therefore the proper word is being used.
As a paraprofessional, you may also step into the role of reading support teacher, so understanding basic spelling conventions, spelling exceptions, and the rules for making words plural, for example, are important to helping students access words in a text.
A student’s phonemic awareness can help them sound out unfamiliar words and learn how to spell them correctly. Identifying spelling patterns in words can help students chunk out words and improve the spelling in their own writing. The more they practice spelling, in a variety of ways, the better spellers they will become. Learning rhymes and songs about words help students apply the rules and exceptions to the rules in their writing. Mnemonic devices can also help students remember the spelling of trickier words or ones that are exceptions to the rules.
To review basic reading components that can also help with spelling, please visit page 3 and look for “Word Analysis Skills” in our ParaPro Reading Study Guide.