Parts of speech

Parts of Speech


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You’re probably quite familiar with the “grammar police”—those people who find it necessary to correct any grammar mistake you make. You, in fact, may be a member of the “grammar police” squad yourself, but if you’re not, you probably get a little tired of the corrections. After all, this person understood what you were saying. Why is it necessary to correct?

Usually, members of the “grammar police” squad aren’t necessary. When we speak in informal conversations, as long as we are being understood, the particulars of correctness aren’t really an issue.

However, there are times when correctness is really important, and when you write for an academic audience or a professional audience, correctness is a pretty big deal. The fact is that people judge us based on our writing, and correctness is a part of that. With that in mind, the following pages, which cover grammar and proper usage of the major parts of speech, will be helpful.

The menu list on the left is here for your reference. You may decide to read through this content, start to finish, but if not, and you just need to check on a few points that give you trouble, the information is just a click away.



Name Tagnoun is a person, place, object, idea, or event. “The word noun, in fact, comes from nomen, the Latin word for name” (Kolln, 1994, p. 276). Nouns are the first words you learned as a child, and you probably have a really strong sense of what a noun is. After all, how could we possibly talk about anything if we’re unable to give it a name?

So you may be wondering why in the world we have to complicate something as simple as nouns by discussing so many different types of nouns. The answer is that it’s important to learn about the different types of nouns as you work to ensure proper structures and agreements in your sentences.




Proper Nouns

proper noun refers to a specific person, place, organization, etc. Proper nouns are capitalized because they are specific nouns.

Some examples of proper nouns are StevenApple (the company), New York, and the Seattle Seahawks.


Common Nouns

common noun refers to a general group or class of people, places, objects, etc. One way to identify a common noun is called the “the” test.  If you can use the noun with the article the (or another article like or an) in front of it, the word is likely a common noun.

Some examples are the gamethe movie, and the ghost.

Of course, it’s important to remember that the “the” test does not work all the time. It’s just a good guideline.

Some exceptions to the “the” test would be with proper nouns (discussed on the previous page) like the Dallas Cowboys and the Boston Red Sox. Even though they would pass the “the” test, they are proper nouns, not common nouns.



Collective Nouns

Nouns can get a little tricky when it comes to a discussion of collective nouns. Collective nouns are nouns such as familyteam, and majority. The tricky part comes when we have to make a decision about whether these nouns are singular or plural because we have to choose verbs that will agree with these nouns.

And, now, here’s the really tricky part: There are no hard and fast rules. The verb you choose to agree with the collective noun actually depends upon how you want your readers to perceive the noun. Is it a single unit or a group of individuals? Even then, it depends upon context. Take the collective noun family, for example.

The family have all gone their separate ways since Grandma died.

Here, because each member went his or her separate way, you would see the collective noun family as a group of individuals; therefore, you would use a plural verb instead of a singular verb.

But let’s look at another example.

The whole family is coming to my house for Thanksgiving this year. I had better learn to cook a turkey.

Here, the family is seen as a single unit, so you would need a singular verb to agree with the collective noun.

In her book, Rhetorical Grammar, Martha Kolln (1991) says “[collective nouns] can be treated as either singular or plural, depending on context and meaning” (p. 47). So, it really does depend on the situation.

You may be wondering how this information is helpful. The key is to think about how you might perceive the collective noun and then, of course, to consider how it’s used in the sentence.

And, after all, there are only about 200 collective nouns in the English language, so you really only have to worry about 200 of these. Okay, that’s a lot. But this is a great example of how, very often, there are no hard and fast rules for grammar.


Verbal Nouns

A verbal noun is a type of noun that is derived from a verb. It looks like a verb but actually functions in a sentence like a noun. Here are some examples:

Running from zombies is hard work.Jogging is a good exercise that will help you prepare, but you have to do it every day.

We had a meeting to compare our zombie action plans.

Verbal nouns and something called gerunds (a form of a verb or verb phrase that functions as a noun phrase and subject in a sentence) are very similar. In fact, the first two examples above are examples of verbal nouns that are also gerunds. But, a verbal noun can be more than a gerund. In the last example, the word meeting, is functioning like a noun but isn’t a noun phrase that’s the subject of a sentence.

It can certainly get a little confusing, and even the grammar experts disagree sometimes about the differences between verbal nouns and gerunds.

The key thing for you to remember is that, when we are talking about nouns, verbs can sometimes function in your sentences like nouns.


Compound Nouns

A compound noun is a noun made up of two or more words. Sometimes, compound nouns are hyphenated, but there are plenty of examples of compound nouns that are not hyphenated. There are also compound nouns that are written as one word. Here are some examples:

waste-paper basket
full moon

Some compound nouns that used to be hyphenated are no longer hyphenated, and some compound nouns that used to be two words became one word. The “rules” change based upon common usage.

Paper-clip is now just paperclip.

And healthcare is now generally considered just one word, but some people still say it should be two words, health care.

“Rules” of correctness change constantly, and rules related to compound nouns change rather quickly. If you’re in doubt about how to write a compound noun, be sure to check a good online dictionary.




A picture of pronouns written on tags and pinned to a corkboard.

Pronouns are actually just another type of noun, but because they’re such an important noun type and so commonly used, they’re usually classified as a separate part of speech. A pronoun is a noun that takes the place of a noun or groups of nouns, and because pronouns are “standing in” for nouns, you have to be sure that the pronoun you choose to “stand in” agrees in number, person, and gender.

The menu on the left will take you to the different pronoun types, and there are quite a few: personal, definite, indefinite, singular, plural, possessive, relative, demonstrative, reflexive, subjective, and objective. That’s a long list, right?

The pronouns discussed in the following pages will probably not cause any trouble for native speakers, but you may find it interesting to realize how complicated this all is and, yet, how easily most of us can usually use pronouns without a problem. Still, issues with pronoun agreement (making the pronouns agree with the nouns they define) and pronoun reference (making sure it is clear what noun a pronoun is replacing) often appear in the writing of beginning writers. If you have ever had a pronoun issue marked on one of your essays, you are in the right place!



Personal Pronouns

Personal pronouns are pronouns that take the place of common and proper nouns and refer to people and things. Essentially, they “stand in” for people and things when you want to make sure you are not repeating yourself by having to rename people and things all the time. Let’s look at an example.

My brother is staying up late to watch a “Walking Dead” marathon. He is going to have nightmares!

In this example, the author doesn’t have to repeat my brother, thanks to the personal pronoun he.

Personal pronouns can be singular and plural, and there are first, second, and third person personal pronouns.

Personal (Definite) Pronouns

Singular Plural
First Person  I, me  we, us
Second Person  you  you
Third Person  she, her, he, him, it  they, them


Definite & Indefinite Pronouns

What is the difference between definite and indefinite pronouns? A definite pronoun would be a pronoun that refers to something specific, so a personal pronoun would also be a definite pronoun.

Indefinite pronouns do not refer to anything specific, so words like someone and everybody are indefinite pronouns. Indefinite pronouns can also be singular or plural.

While any pronoun that refers to a specific person or thing would be a definite pronoun, it can be helpful to refer to a list of indefinite pronouns if you need to use pronouns that refer to people or things in general and do not refer to anyone or anything specific. The list below can help.

Indefinite Pronouns

Singular anybody, anyone, anything, each, either, everybody, everyone, everything, neither, nobody, no one, nothing, one, somebody, someone, something
Plural both, few, many, several
Singular or Plural all, any, most, none, some



Singular & Plural Pronouns

Singular pronouns are simply pronouns that refer to singular nouns. But it can get a little tricky when you think about the fact that singular pronouns can be personal pronouns, which, as you have learned, refer to a person or thing. They will also be definite or indefinite, which means they can refer to someone or something specific (definite) or not (indefinite).

So words like he and she are singular, personal, definite pronouns, and words like anybody and anyone are singular, indefinite pronouns.

Plural pronouns are simply pronouns that refer to plural nouns. But, like singular pronouns, plural pronouns can also be personal and definite or indefinite, and they refer to plural nouns or groups of nouns.

For example, words like they and we are plural, personal, definite pronouns, and words like many and both are plural, indefinite pronouns.

TIP! Don’t worry if you feel a little confused about the fact that singular and plural pronouns can also be personal pronouns. They are definite or indefinite as well. However, most likely, you won’t find yourself in situations where you have to label pronoun types. What you do need to know is that, when you choose a singular or plural pronoun, you have to make sure it agrees with the noun you’re replacing. So, if you’re replacing a singular noun, be sure to use a singular pronoun.

Possessive Pronouns

A woman reading a book

Possessive pronouns are pronouns that show ownership. Some possessive pronouns can be used before nouns and function as adjectives (words that describe nouns). Examples would be pronouns like myher, or his because you would say things like my booksher computer, andhis zombie plan.

Other possessive pronouns stand alone. These are pronouns like mineyourshers, and his. An example would be That book is hers.

Relative & Demonstrative Pronouns

Relative pronouns relate subordinate clauses (clauses that cannot stand alone) to the rest of a sentence. Words like thatwhichwho, and whomare examples of relative pronouns.

Demonstrative pronouns stand in for a thing or things, and we choose these words based on how close these things are to us. For things that are nearby, we use the pronouns this and these. For things that are far away, we use the pronouns that and those.


Reflexive Pronouns

Baskets full of string beansReflexive pronouns end in self or selves, and they’re used when a pronoun is both the subject and the object of a sentence.

She is going to can all of those beans for her zombie storage room herself.I am going to treat myself to a little vacation from all of this worry about a zombie apocalypse and spend the day playing Halo on my Xbox.

Reflexive pronouns can also be used to show emphasis in a sentence, as illustrated in this example:

I myself had to go through all of those web pages to find the one that would be the most helpful for our escape plan.

Subjective & Objective Pronouns

Subjective and objective pronouns are simply pronouns that occur in either the subject or the object of the sentence. Subjective pronouns tell us who or what the sentence is about. Objective pronouns receive the action in the sentence.

There are some pronouns that are always subjective and others that are always objective.

Singular Plural
Subjective I, you, he, she, it we, you, they
Objective me, you, her, him, it us, you, them

Sometimes, determining which pronoun we should use in a sentence can be a little confusing, especially when it comes to I and me. You might want to write:

My mother bought my brother and I new clothes for the first day of school, even though we insisted we did not want to go.  X

The pronoun I in this sentence is actually incorrect because it appears in the object of the sentence. The sentence should read something like this:

My mother bought my brother and me new clothes for the first day of school, even though we insisted we did not want to go.

The trick is to take out the other person in the sentence to see if you would use I or me. For example:

“My mother bought I new clothes for school.”  X
“My mother bought me new clothes for school.”

Pronoun Agreement & Reference

Issues with pronoun agreement and pronoun references are common struggles for many beginning writers, but these problems are easy to correct once you realize the issue and just pay close attention to the pronouns you’re using in your writing.

Pronoun agreement errors occur when the pronoun you are using to “stand in” for a noun does not agree with that noun in number, place, or gender.

For example, using the singular pronoun she to stand in for a group of girls would not agree in number. Errors like this aren’t usually an issue for most writers, but there is a pronoun agreement error that seems to give a lot of people trouble.

common pronoun agreement error occurs when a writer uses a singular noun like student to represent students in general. Then, later, the writer may use they as a pronoun to replace studentbecause the writer meant students in general.

For example, you may see something like this:

If a student really thinks about how much they are paying for college, they are likely to be more focused in class. X

You have to be careful and be exact with your writing because this certainly creates an issue with pronoun agreement. You have options on how you can correct this error. You can change they to he or she or she or he, but most style guides recommend avoiding this construction. Instead, the best option would be to change the sentence, so it reads, If students really think . . .

Pronoun reference errors can also be problems for beginning writers because it’s so easy to get in a hurry when you write and forget that you need to think about how clear your writing will be for your audience.

common pronoun reference error occurs when students write about several different people or things and then use a pronoun later like she or it, but the audience has no idea what she or it refers to.

Here is a simple example to give you an idea about what a pronoun reference error looks like:

My mother and my aunt told me I should consider going to college, and she was right. X

Here, the audience wouldn’t be sure which person the writer is referring to. Is it the mother or the aunt?

You want to be careful with your writing and make sure you’re clear and correct with your pronouns. Most of the time, slowing yourself down and working on some careful editing will reveal problems like these which can be easily corrected.

Tips from the Professor

Most beginning writers have a pretty good sense of correct pronoun usage, but a good editing strategy will help you make sure you have not missed any issues with pronoun agreement or pronoun reference.

One strategy is to edit your writing one time, just looking at pronouns, in addition to other editing passes. If you have had trouble with pronouns in the past, you should circle all of your pronouns and ask yourself questions about their purpose and what they refer to.

In this video, the Grammar Professor will review common issues writers have with pronouns.



A train traveling fast. The background is blurred.Verbs are the parts of speech that show action or indicate a state of being. We put them with nouns, and we create complete sentences. Like nouns, verbs are foundational in our vocabulary, and we learned verbs as children shortly after we learned nouns. The following pages will help you learn more about verbs, as there really is a lot to consider when it comes to verbs, such as making our subjects and verbs agree, using active versus passive voice, and keeping our verbs in the same tenses.

Auxiliary Verbs

Auxiliary verbs are sometimes called the helping verbs because they work with the main verb in a sentence and “help it out”. Together, the auxiliary verb and the main verb form a unit. Here are some examples of sentences containing auxiliary verbs:

Steven is leaving and taking his football with him. How are we going to play now?Her favorite team has finished at the top of the conference, so she is going to buy a team jersey. I hope she buys me one, too.

Common Auxiliary Verbs




Linking Verbs

A bigfoot crossing signLinking verbs join or “link” the subject of a sentence with the rest of the sentence. They make a statement by linking things, as opposed to showing any kind of action.

Common linking verbs are any of the to be verbs: amisarewaswerebebeen, and being. However, become and seem are also common, and other verbs have the potential to be linking verbs. It really depends upon the sentence. Here is an example of a common linking verb used in a sentence:

My environmental biology class is interesting because our teacher thinks Bigfoot might exist.

Here are some examples of how other verbs can become linking verbs:

That house looks haunted.Those old shoes smell funny.

Because linking verbs and auxiliary verbs are often the same words, you may wonder how you can tell the difference between a linking verb and an auxiliary verb. The key is that linking verbs join the subject and the predicate of a sentence, and in some ways, allow the predicate to rename the subject; auxiliary verbs will be used with other verbs.


Action Verbs

bobsled traveling fastAction verbs are the verbs you can probably identify as verbs quickly and easily. These are the words that show action, words like jumprun, and eat.

There are two main classes of action verbs: transitive and intransitive, and there aren’t separate lists for each class. Action verbs can be both transitive and intransitive because it all depends on the structure of the sentence.

A transitive verb expresses action toward a person or thing named in the sentence. An intransitive verb expresses action without making any reference to an object.

Transitive:The college freshman ate Ramen noodles.


The college freshman complained loudly.



Sophia speaks French.


She speaks fluently.


Verbs can be in the present tense, present progressive tense, past tense, past progressive, present perfect, or past perfect. According to Martha Kolln, author of Rhetorical Grammar, there are two grammatical features of verbs that are especially useful: tense and agency, which will be discussed later in the pages on passive voice.

It’s important to understand tense because you want to be consistent with your verb tenses in your writing. It’s a common mistake to shift tenses without realizing it. This discussion of tenses can increase your “tense awareness,” which will lead to fewer errors.

Let’s take the verb to eat as an example and see how it looks in the different tenses with the subject I.

Tense Example
present tense (present point in time) I eat dinner.
present progressive (present action of limited duration) I am eating dinner.
past tense (specific point in the past) I ate dinner yesterday.
past progressive (past action of limited duration) was eating.
present perfect (completed action from a point in the past ending at or near present) I have eaten dinner.
past perfect (past action completed before another action also in the past) I had just eaten dinner when the phone rang.

When it comes to verb tenses, it’s important to be consistent and to be aware of any shifts. If you shift, there needs to be a reason for the shift. Also, APA will often require past tense in your essays, while MLA requires present tense, even if the words have been written in the past. For example, to set up a quote in APA, you might write something like this:

Smith (2009) wrote, “This verb stuff is really confusing” (p. 10).

In MLA, you would set up the same quote with a present tense verb, like this:

Smith writes, “This verb stuff is really confusing” (10).

Subject-Verb Agreement

“The basic rule of sentence agreement is simple: A subject must agree with its verb in number. Number means singular or plural.” (Rozakis, 2003, p. 62) The subject may be either singular or plural, and the verb selection should match the subject. The task sounds simple, but it’s not always easy to make the subject and verb match without some thought. Subject-verb agreement errors are common errors many beginning writers make, and they are highly-stigmatized errors, which means people will judge you for them.

Here are some tips to help you avoid subject-verb agreement errors.

  1. When the subject of a sentence is composed of two or more nouns or pronouns connected by and, use a plural verb.
Suzy and her friend are missing the best movie ever!
  1. When the subject of a sentence is composed of two or more nouns or pronouns connected by or, use a singular verb.
The pen or the pencil is in the drawer, my purse, my book bag, or perhaps, my pencil pouch.
  1. Do not be confused by a phrase that comes between your subject and your verb.
Russell Wilson, as well as the rest of the Seattle Seahawks, is ready for the game against the Green Bay Packers.
  1. Collective nouns can be tricky. Sometimes, they take a singular verb, and sometimes they take a plural verb. It depends upon how they are being used. Be sure to refer to the Collective Nouns page for more information and examples.
  1. Fractions can be especially tricky, but the rule is that fractions should be treated as singular or plural, depending upon the noun they are referring to.

Two-thirds of the zombies in “The Walking Dead” move slowly. The rest can apparently sprint.Two-thirds of your cake was eaten before you got home.

Active Versus Passive Verbs

A woman reading a book in a library.As mentioned earlier, grammarian Martha Kolln mentions agency as one of the most important aspects of verb you should know about. Agency involves understanding the relationship between the subject and the verb in a sentence and whether or not the subject is the agent in the sentence.

Take a moment to read the following two sentences.

Amy grabbed the zombie survival guide.The zombie survival guide was grabbed by Amy.

Can you see how these sentences are different?

In the first sentence, the verb grabbed is active because its subject, Amy is the doer or agent. Amy did the grabbing.

In the second sentence, was grabbed is passive because it describes an action done to its subject, guide. The doer of the action, Amy, is now the object of the preposition by.

We want to use active verbs whenever possible as they allow us to express ourselves clearly, succinctly, and strongly. Active verbs imply that we’re confident with what we’re saying; we believe in our words. Looking back at the two sentences, we can see that the first one uses fewer words and makes no mistake as to who did the action. The latter sentence is wordy and does not directly address Amy.

TIP! A little strategy you can use to test to see if you’re using passive voice is to see if you can add by zombies after the verb. If you can, then you likely have passive voice and may want to restructure your sentence. In the example above, you could certainly say, was grabbed by zombies, so you know this is passive voice.

Purposeful Passive Voice

A broken clear vaseThere are occasions when we might want to use passive verbs, such as when we don’t want to mention the doer, the result of the action is more important than the doer, or the doer is unknown. Let’s take the following scenario and apply it to all three reasons for using a passive verb.

Tom and Mark, two brothers, are preparing their home for the zombie apocalypse. Tom is throwing canned goods across the room to Mark, who is stacking them on a shelf. They continue to throw canned goods across the room, despite knowing that it’s against their mother’s wishes. Tom throws a can of creamy corn to Mark and accidentally hits a vase. The vase breaks into pieces. Their mother asks what happened.

The responses could go as follows:

Tom threw the creamy corn and broke the vase.The vase was broken when the creamy corn was thrown at it.

The first sentence uses the active verbs threw and broke. It simply tells what happened and squarely blames Tom. The second sentence uses the passive verbs was brokenand was thrown. It doesn’t mention who threw the can of corn, keeping the doer unknown. Also, it might be reasonable to believe that Tom thinks letting his mother know that the vase is broken is more important than identifying who broke the vase.

Of course, in the grand scheme of things, what is a vase in the face of a zombie apocalypse, but you get the idea!

TIP! There are some situations when passive voice can be useful, so it’s not the case that passive voice is “wrong.” It’s just that, in most college-level essays, your professors will want you to use active voice because it makes for lively, more engaging writing. A good way to spot passive voice is to look for to be verbs. You will want to limit those as well.




A woman watching a scary movie on a laptop.An adjective modifies (describes / distinguishes) nouns and pronouns.  In other words, adjectives change nouns or pronouns in some way. So movie is a noun, and a scary moviehas been changed by the adjective scary.

It’s important to remember, too, adjectives, as in the case of a scary movie, give you a way to inject your point of view into your writing. You might also describe a loveable book, a beautiful dress, or an ominous sky. There’s a certain amount of subjectivity, of course, in all of these words, so you’ll want to work to keep your audience in mind when choosing your adjectives and do your best to make sure your adjectives (or descriptors) are specific, concrete, and will make sense to both you and your audience.


Order of Adjectives

Adjectives need to be placed in a particular order. What information do you post first?  If you’re a native English speaker, you can probably figure out the order without any thought.  That’s because you understand English grammar—even if it’s only because you know what “sounds” right.  And, if you’re a non-native English speaker, you’ve probably been schooled in the order.

Below, you’ll find an image illustrating the royal order of adjectives. Again, native English speakers follow the order—but we don’t always know WHY.  Think about it.  Why would we automatically write four gorgeous, long-stemmed, red, silk roses rather than four silk, long stemmed, gorgeous, red roses?  What drives the order in our description?  The first example leads us down a logical path; the second example doesn’t let us know which details are most important.

The Royal Order of Adjectives

Determiner Observation Physical Description Origin Material Qualifier Noun
Size Shape Age Color
a beautiful old Italian touring car
an expensive antique silver mirror
four gorgeous stemmed red silk roses
her short black hair
our big old English sheepdog
those square wooden hat boxes
that dilapidated little hunting cabin
 several giant young American basketball players
some delicious Chinese food

Adapted from Adjectives. (n.d.) Capital Community College Foundation. Retrieved from

There are some rules, though.  Here is the specific order for English language adjectives—intensifier, quality, size, age, color.  Look at the two sentences again.

Four gorgeous provides the intensifier and quality; long-stemmed provides the size; red, provides the color; and silk provides an additional detail.  Now look at the order of the adjectives in one of your own sentences and see if it makes sense to you.



Types of Adjectives

A wizard in a fantasy world

Comparatives and superlatives are types of adjectives, but one (comparatives) provides a relative distinction while the other (superlatives) signifies the most extreme.

Comparative adjectives often end in er, and superlative adjectives often end in est.

Comparative: My World of Warcraft mage is tougher than your character.


My World of Warcraft mage is the toughest character ever.

There are also some adjectives that are irregular when you turn them into the comparative and superlative, and some, usually adjectives with two syllables, require that you simply add more or most in front of them.

The following examples are of some regular and some irregular adjectives.

more careful
more awesome
most careful
most awesome


An aisle of canned food in a grocery storeAdverbs are words that modify or describe a verbadjective, or another adverb. Just as an adjective changes a noun, an adverb changes a verb, adjective, or adverb. Adverbs are easily identified because they often end in ly, but this is certainly not always the case.

Descriptions make our writing rich and specific, so we shouldn’t be afraid of using adjectives and adverbs in our sentences.

Look at these three sentences:

Jonwalked to the store to get canned goods for his zombie stash.Jon walked to the large store to get canned goods for his zombie stash.

Jon walked urgently to the massively large store to get canned goods for his zombie stash.

As you can see, the last sentence is the most descriptive and informative. The use of adverbs and adjectives helps our writing come alive.


Order of Adverbs

Adverbs most commonly describe how, but below is a more comprehensive list of the most common types of adverbs.

Type of Adverb Example
Adverbs of manner (or how) Christine sang the song atrociously. No more karaoke for her!
Adverbs of time Michelle did her homework yesterday, but she did the wrong assignment.
Adverbs of place I met my friend at the coffee shop, and that’s where we saw the first signs of the outbreak.
Adverbs of degree It’s too quiet in here.
Adverbs of frequency Michael Jordan rarely misses a free throw, but Shaq frequently does.
Adverbs of purpose I clean the litter box every day to keep the house from smelling.

And like adjectives, adverbs have a “royal order.” While you may already have an innate sense of this order, it can be helpful to review the rules.

The Royal Order of Adverbs

Verb Manner Place Frequency Time Purpose
Beth swims enthusiastically in the pool every evening before dusk to keep in shape.
Dad walks impatiently into town every morning before work to get a newspaper.
Joe naps in his room every afternoon after lunch.

Adapted from Adverbs. (n.d.) Capital Community College Foundation. Retrieved from



Four turkeysPerhaps you had to memorize every preposition (there are well over 100) when you were in junior high school, but have you ever thought about the importance of these “little” words? Prepositions are little words with a big purpose: they show relationships of time, place, and space.

We might call them “glue” words because they bring other words together in ways that create meaning. Look at something you’ve read recently and take out the prepositions. Here is an example of a sentence written with and without prepositions:

As soon as I closed the door, the turkeys that had been waiting at the wood line ran to eat the corn I had just put out for the squirrels.
As soon I closed the door, the turkeys that had been waiting the wood line ran eat the corn I had just put out the squirrels.  X

They may be generally small in letters, but prepositions are important words that give great meaning for time and place relationships among actions, objects, and ideas. It’s important to distinguish if you are throwing a ball to someone or at someone. Did you want your sandwich with or without onions? Do you need that zombie fort built at the end of summer or before the end of summer?

Even though they are small words, prepositions can be difficult—particularly for someone learning English—because their use isn’t always logical. As an example, most mid-Westerners speak of standing in line, but many on the East coast speak of standing on line. It would be a lot of fun and quite enlightening to write some sentences using some of the prepositions on the following page and then comparing those sentences with a friend from a different part of the country.


Common Prepositions

Although you no longer have to memorize the preposition list, it can be helpful to review the list of some of the most common prepositions and think about the meaning for each one.

Of course, it’s important to remember that many of these words can also be different parts of speech. English is fun, right?

Common Prepositions


Preposition Tips

As you work to make good decisions about your preposition choices, you should consider the following preposition tips:

  1. It’s actually acceptable to end a sentence with a preposition. Contemporary scholars and writing style guides acknowledge the acceptability of ending a sentence with a preposition (Casagrande, 2006). It’s natural and conversational to write short sentences that end with prepositions.
Did you find what you were looking for?

However, you should be aware that some professors prefer that you don’t end a sentence with a preposition. See how correctness is relative?

  1. You should avoid unnecessary prepositions because using prepositions unnecessarily can make your writing wordy and even confusing.

I am not [for] sure I have the answer.Frank apparently fell off [of] his horse while doing a stunt for a YouTube video.

  1. The difference between beside and besides can be confusing. Beside means next to. Besides means in addition to.
  1. The difference between between and among can also be confusing. You should use between when referring to two people or things, and you should use among when referring to more than two people or things.


Well, if you thought prepositions were “little” words, wait until we consider the part of speech called articles. Articles are similar to adjectives in that they modify nouns, but unlike adjectives, they don’t really describe a noun; they just identify a noun.

Articles are the smallest of the small but still serve an important function. We have three articles in the English language: aan and the.

The is the definite article, which means it refers to a specific noun in a group.

A or an is the indefinite article, which means it refers to any member of a group. You would use the indefinite article when you aren’t trying to distinguish a particular noun.

Whether you use a or an depends on the noun that follows it. In general, you would use a if the noun begins with a consonant and an if the noun begins with a vowel.

a gamean opportunity

Then, as always in English grammar, there are a few tricky exceptions. If a noun begins with h, you should think about the sound it makes.

an houra horse

And if a noun starts with a vowel, but it makes a y sound, you should use a instead of an.

universitya user

an umbrella




If words are the building blocks for our writing, then good transitions are the cement that holds them together. To make these transitions in our writing we need to turn to conjunctions. A conjunction is a word or words used to show the connection between ideas.


Coordinating Conjunctions

Coordinating conjunctions coordinate or join two equal parts. They are particularly important because, when used with a comma, they can actually connect complete sentences.

Of course, they don’t always have to connect complete sentences. Coordinating conjunctions can also connect smaller, equal parts of a sentence.

The key to using coordinating conjunctions is to think about what they are coordinating. This will help you make decisions about which one to use and how to punctuate.

First, however, we should look at the list of coordinating conjunctions. There are only seven, and you may have heard of them as the FANBOYS.


If you are using a coordinating conjunction to connect two complete sentences, you must also use a comma.

I knew that phrase from the debate would be a meme, but I am surprised at how quickly it happened.

If you aren’t connecting two complete sentences and are just connecting smaller, equal parts of a sentence, you should not use a comma.

I knew that phrase from the debate would be a meme but am surprised at how quickly it happened.

You will notice there is no comma because we no longer have two complete sentences (or independent clauses)—one before and after the coordinating conjunction. In the second sentence, the conjunction is simply coordinating a compound predicate.

Coordinating conjunctions can also coordinate smaller words and phrases. The idea is that they coordinate equal parts:

apples and oranges
running for office or staying home to relax
werewolves and vampires
small but powerful

Subordinating Conjunctions

A full moon on a misty night.Subordinating conjunctions connect parts that aren’t equal. In fact, you can tell by their name that they make a phrase subordinate to the main phrase or clause.

Common subordinating conjunctions are afteralthoughbecausebeforeeventhoughsincethough, and when.

Key to using subordinating conjunctions correctly is to remember that a subordinating conjunction sets off a phrase, so there should always be words with it.

When a subordinating conjunction appears at the beginning of a sentence, the subordinating phrase is always set off with a comma. When a subordinating conjunction appears at the end of a sentence, the subordinating phrase is not usually set off with commas.

The exceptions (and there are always exceptions, right?) are when you use words like although or even though at the end of a sentence. Because these set-off phrases show contrast, they still get a comma, even when they are used at the end of the sentence.

Examples:Although I tried, I could not outrun the werewolf.

I could not outrun the werewolf, although I tried.

Because my alarm clock did not go off, I missed the full moon and will now have to wait until next month to go out and play.

I missed the full moon and will now have to wait until next month to go out and play because my alarm clock did not go off

You will notice the comma with the although phrase, no matter where it appears in the sentence, but the because phrase follows the standard “rule.”

It’s also important to note that although cannot stand alone like a conjunctive adverb, which will be discussed on the next page.

Although, I tried to outrun the werewolf. X

The above example is a common, incorrect usage of although and actually makes a sentence fragment, which is a serious grammatical error.


Conjunctive Adverbs

The conjunctions that are not exactly conjunctions are conjunctive adverbs. “Conjunctive adverbs are used to connect other words. Therefore, conjunctive adverbs act like conjunctions even though they are not technically considered to be conjunctions…. Conjunctive adverbs are also called transitions because they link ideas.” (Rozarkis, 1997, p. 55)

Conjunctive adverbs are words like howevermoreovertherefore, and furthermore.

They provide important transitions between ideas and are commonly used to help create a nice, flowing work. Often, you’ll see a conjunctive adverb used after a semicolon to start a new independent clause, as illustrated in this example:

I have several back-up zombie plans in place; however, I am sure my first plan is the best plan.

However, it’s also important to note that you don’t have to use a conjunctive adverb every time you use a semicolon, and you don’t have to use a semicolon to use a conjunctive adverb. Conjunctive adverbs work well after periods, too.





“Interjections are short exclamations like Oh!Um or Ah! They have no real grammatical value but we use them quite often, usually more in speaking than in writing”  (Interjections, 2001, para. 1).

While interjections are very short, they communicate a great deal because they are typically used to express emotion. “While any word that shows strong feelings can be an interjection, look for the usual suspects: Wow!, Zap!, Pop!, and the rest of the family” (Rozakis, 1997, p. 59).

“Ouch! That hurts!” I said to the vampire.Woops! Did I forget to include you in the zombie plan?

Because interjections communicate strong emotions, they should not be over-used.  “With interjections, a little goes a long way. Use these marks of punctuation as you would hot pepper or hysterics, because they are strong and edgy” (Rozakis, 1997, p. 59).





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