English Grammar 101: The 8 Parts of Speech
Learning English is an exciting challenge people all over the world take on every day. Students and professionals are eager to gain proficiency in a language that could open doors to new opportunities. However, becoming truly fluent in English requires mastering the grammatical rules. For most people, tackling the grammar of any language takes a little extra focus.
Like all languages, English comes with its unique rules, and both native speakers and English language learners must spend some time understanding to refine their speaking, listening, reading, and writing skills. For English students of all levels, it’s a good idea to include grammar lessons as you practice all four skills. Before diving into complex grammar points, it’s important to review a few basics.
Last Updated June 2020
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Constructing Sentences in English
First, let’s take a look at the parts of a sentence. Most complete sentences in the English language have a subject and a predicate. How do you identify each? The subject is the noun — a person, place, or thing. The predicate is the verb — the action, or what the subject is doing. We will discuss both nouns and verbs in more detail later.
Let’s take a look at a few sample sentences. Can you identify the subject and predicate?
- Mary runs.
“Mary” is the subject. “Runs” is the predicate.
The third part of a sentence is the object, a noun that receives an action. An object is receiving the action of the verb. However, it is not always essential to include an object in every sentence.
- Mary runs in the park.
In the above sentence, “the park” is the object.
Now that we’ve reviewed the basic parts of a sentence in English, let’s dive in and examine the eight parts of speech and the purpose of each of these parts. As you study English grammar and begin to construct more complex sentences in speech and in writing, you’ll find that having a clear understanding of the different types of words can help you improve your conversational English.
You’ll also notice that in English, you can break these categories down even further. That said, this is English Grammar 101; therefore, we’re going to stick to the basics. If you are looking to deepen your understanding of grammar, Udemy has plenty of courses available for those students who particularly enjoy grammar and would like to take their knowledge to the next level.
The 8 Parts of Speech
In our daily lives, we are surrounded by nouns: people, places, and things. Nouns are usually the first types of words children learn. When learning English, students new to the language are often very eager to translate the names of people, places, and things from their native language into English.
Let’s look at a few sentences — note that all of the nouns in the sentences have been bolded:
- The boy walks to school with his friends.
- My teacher taught us popular expressions in English.
- We are flying to Paris on Tuesday.
Students should also be aware of noun subcategories: countable and uncountable nouns.
Countable nouns are nouns that we can actually count one by one, item by item. You can pluralize these nouns by adding an “s” to the end of the word, such as kid/kids, student/students, house/houses, bird/birds.
Uncountable nouns cannot be separated into individual items that you can count out one by one, such as traffic, music, and electricity. Liquids are uncountable nouns, such as water, milk, and soda. We cannot split a liquid into separate pieces. A plural “s” usually cannot be added to the end of an uncountable noun. For example, we would not say “traffics” or “musics.”
To summarize, some basic rules of thumb to remember with nouns is that these are the words that you can express in singular and plural forms (boy, boys) and can be made possessive (the teacher’s desk). While this doesn’t apply to all nouns, it’s a great place to start.
Also, remember that proper nouns, a subclass of nouns, are always capitalized. For instance: Hong Kong, Mr. Johnson, or Oxford University. It is very important to remember to capitalize when appropriate in writing, especially academic and professional writing. Therefore, it is always very important as you work to improve your English writing skills to take a little extra time to proofread your text before handing in a paper to a professor or sending a document to your supervisor or colleagues.
Pronouns are also among the first words taught to beginning-level English students. Students learn to share important information about themselves and their families using pronouns:
Here is a list of all English pronouns. They are divided into three essential categories: first, second, and third person. All of the pronouns below are used to express information about yourself, another person, or a group of people.
- First Person:
- Second Person (singular and plural):
- you/y’all/you all
- Third Person:
- First Person Plural:
- Third Person Plural:
Here are some sample sentences to review:
- My name is David.
- I am from Japan.
- My sister’s name is Maria. She lives in Brazil.
- We are from Germany.
- Our mother lives in Thailand.
- They will join us for lunch later.
- Their house is on the beach.
- Will you wait for them at the train station?
Determiners are placed in front of nouns to help a reader or listener clarify and/or quantify nouns. Determiners also help to express what possesses a person or place. Unlike in other languages such as French, in English, nouns are not gendered. Instead, the most common determiner used is the word “the.”
There are several different types of determiners in English, such as:
- articles: a/an/the
- possessive determiners: my/his/her/its
- quantifying determiners: many/some/few/every
- interrogative determiners: what/which/whose
- cardinal and ordinal numbers: one/first/1st
Let’s look at a few of the ways determiners are used.
- I would like to take a trip on Friday.
- Mario needs a new laptop.
- She went to the store on the corner and bought a book.
- There were many kids at the park.
- I ate two pieces of cake.
- What time is the show?
- Every student will need to take the test.
- His parents wrote him a letter.
Adjectives are used to modify a noun and are particularly useful when describing, identifying, or quantifying an object, person, or place.
Here are a few common examples:
- He is wearing a dark gray suit with a blue tie.
- It is a beautiful day. The sky is bright blue.
- They are a very charming couple. Both of them are very pleasant and friendly.
Adjectives are particularly useful when telling or writing a story. Adjectives come in handy when we’re asked to provide specific details about a person, thing, or event. For example, someone may ask you a few questions about a vacation you recently took, such as “How was the weather? How was the food? Tell me about your hotel.”
Your responses will probably include many adjectives: The weather was lovely. It was always sunny and warm. The food was delicious — very flavorful and spicy! Our hotel was luxurious.
Verbs are commonly known as “action words” and are also among the first useful words in English students will learn. Let’s take a look at a few examples:
- I am 30 years old.
- Let’s play a card game.
- We are going to the movies later.
- The cat scratched the furniture.
- We will eat dinner at 7 p.m.
We must consider tense when using verbs. Are we referring to an action in the past, present, or future? The answer will determine what form the verb we want to use should take.
- Present: We eat dinner every day at 5 p.m.
- Past: I played the piano when I was a child.
- Future: I will move to London next year.
In the above examples, “will” is used to help determine the future tense of the verb “move,” while the addition of “-ed” to the verb “play” makes the present form “play” past tense.
Understanding verbs and how to use different tenses will improve your English fluency. Studying verbs, in particular tenses in English, will help you communicate clearly. Interested in learning more? Check out this blog on verb tenses.
A regular adverb serves one purpose: they modify verbs, adjectives, clauses, and phrases. You can think of it as a kind of hybrid between a verb and an adjective. Unlike an adjective, the adverb can be placed anywhere in a sentence. Adverbs typically (but not always) end with the suffix “-ly” and can answer the questions “where, when, how, and how much?” Let’s take a look:
- Please hold the steering wheel firmly while driving.
- I am waiting impatiently for the phone call.
- Truthfully, I’d prefer to have breakfast before we leave.
In the above sentences, we see how the adverb works as a modifier. In the first, “firmly” modifies the verb “hold.” In the second, “impatiently” modifies the verb “waiting,” and in the last sentence, “Truthfully” modifies the entire phrase. You can also see from these examples how an adverb can be placed anywhere in a sentence and how it does not change even as the tense changes.
Of course, there are a few “unofficial” grammar rules regarding the use of adverbs. For instance, some consider it bad form to end a sentence with an adverb. There are also multiple instances in which an adverb can also serve as a conjunction, a speech part that we’ll explore further below in this tutorial.
A preposition is a word in a sentence that usually precedes a noun or a pronoun and is used to illustrate the noun’s or pronoun’s relationship to another word in the sentence. The actual word “preposition” came from the idea of a word being “positioned before,” or preceding, another word. Prepositions are linking words; they introduce the object of the preposition in a word or phrase. Here’s a list of some of the most common prepositions in English:
- above, about, across, after, around, at
- before, below, beneath, between, by
- down, during
- following, for, from
- in, inside, into
- of, off, on, over
- to, toward
- under, unlike, until, up
There are three subcategories of prepositions: time, place, and movement.
Prepositions of time:
- We will eat breakfast at 9 a.m.
- My appointment is next Thursday.
Prepositions of place:
- She lives behind the bookstore.
- It’s raining outside. Let’s watch a movie.
Prepositions of movement:
- Please move away from the busy street corner.
- Let’s walk around the building.
Looking for more information about prepositions? Check out this list of prepositions and read more about how you can use them to improve your fluency.
Conjunctions are like super prepositions. Instead of linking just words, they can link entire phrases, clauses, or sentences. They also fall into three main categories: coordinating, subordinating, and correlative conjunctions. Let’s review all three types:
These types of conjunctions are used to link two independent clauses. In other words, if you remove the conjunction, the two clauses that it links can stand on their own as complete sentences. Here are some coordinating conjunctions: and, nor, but, or, so, yet. Let’s take a look at how we can use them in sentences.
- I will have the salmon for dinner, and he will have the lamb.
- We can visit Rome or Berlin.
- He had some free time to watch TV but decided to finish his work instead.
Subordinating conjunctions are used to link an independent clause to a clause that cannot stand on its own. These are called dependent clauses because they require an independent clause to make sense in the context of the sentence. Here’s a list of some common subordinating conjunctions: after, although, if, because, since, as.
- If we want to travel abroad this winter, we will first need to earn extra money in the autumn.
- I like visiting New York in the fall because the weather is beautiful.
- She will drop by our house after she goes to the doctor.
You will recognize correlative conjunctions as a set of two words that are rarely used independently of one another. They serve to illustrate cause and effect or to make a general correlation between two clauses.
Unlike coordinating and subordinating conjunctions, correlative conjunctions include pairs such as either/or, both/and, not/but, not only/but also, whether/or, rather/than.
- Either I will go to graduate school, or I will find a new job.
- We didn’t know whether to call her or send a text message.
- He’d rather play soccer with his friends than go sailing with his parents.
What about interjections?
There is one final part of speech that English language learners will often hear or read as they learn and practice English. Interjections are the little pieces of language that add emotion to speech or writing. They usually end with an exclamation point, leaving them grammatically unrelated to the rest of the sentence, or you can incorporate them into a larger sentence, usually at the beginning or end of a phrase.
As you study English, you wonder where exactly interjections fit when it comes to discussing grammar. Let’s take a look at a few examples:
- “Ugh! I don’t like that terrible restaurant.”
- “Wow! That was a great rollercoaster ride.”
- “We didn’t win the award this year. Oh well.”
- “Oh no, we’re going to be late to the concert.”
Take some time to review these basic grammar points as you take courses and continue developing your English skills. Learning the rules of English grammar may seem tedious at first, but gaining a firm understanding of the rules will only help you build your confidence as you begin using English and avoid common grammar mistakes. And if you find there are some grammar points you’d like to review, Udemy offers courses for English students at all levels.
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