Grammar 101: Parts of Speech are not Set in Stone

Why parts of speech matter

In my business writing workshops, I’m often asked why anyone would want to remember which part of speech is which.

The answer to this question is simple: when you know what the word is doing in a sentence, you can work out if the sentence works or needs some tinkering.

Imagine your car has a steering problem. No matter where you point the wheel, the car goes to the left.

Knowing the name of the bit in your car that controls the steering (the steering wheel) can help you when you get the car up on the hoist.

The same is true with writing. Knowing what each word is doing in a sentence can help you work out how to why a sentence might sound clunky or just ‘not right.’

Parts of speech are not set in stone

We all know there are nouns and pronouns, adjectives and adverbs.

But parts of speech are not set in stone. Some English words are versatile and can play a range of roles in a sentence.

For example ’round’ can be an adjective, a noun, a verb, a preposition and an adverb.

‘Round’ can be:

  • a noun in: ‘I’ll buy the first round.’
  • a verb in: ‘Claudia braked to round the corner.’
  • an adjective in: ‘Mars is a round planet.’
  • an adverb in: ‘Jasmin peeked round the corner.’
  • and a preposition in: ‘Casper has a blanket round him.’

So, when you next find yourself puzzling over a troublesome sentence, take a moment to look at all the words and see if any of them are behaving unusually. It might just be that what you thought was an adjective is, in this sentence, being a verb.

For a handy cheat sheet on this, click here.

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