What are parts of speech?

Parts of speech are the building blocks of language.

They help you work out what’s being described, including:

  • who or what is doing an action
  • what they did
  • when they did it
  • under what conditions they did it
  • if there was anyone or anything else there and
  • how it was done.
What are parts of speech?

For example, Last night, Helena ate the left-overs quickly.

We know that someone did something (Helena). We also know what she did. She ate something. We also know when she did it (last night) and how she did it (quickly).

Linguists give each of these elements different names and assign them different functions in a sentence. These functions are called the parts of speech.

Why are parts of speech important?

When you know what the word is doing in a sentence, you can work out if the sentence works or needs some tinkering.

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

Even if you’re not sure what they are, you’ll have heard of the parts of speech called nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs.

Where things get tricky is that 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.’

How does knowing what the parts of speech are help me write better?

If you’re a native English speaker, you probably won’t even think about them. There’s no ‘parts of speech test’ you have to pass to get on in everyday life.

However, if you find yourself puzzling over a troublesome sentence, and can’t work out why it sounds wrong, knowing a bit about parts of speech can help. Simply take a moment to look at all the words in the sentence and see if any of them are not behaving the way you think they should. It might just be that what you thought was an adjective is, in this sentence, being a verb.

Once you know that, you could either fix it, if you have time and know how, or re-write the sentence leaving that word out. I nearly always suggest people re-write troublesome sentences as it’s quick and easy. No grammar knowledge needed. Problem solved!

For a handy cheat sheet on this, click here.

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