Start here if you aren't sure about the basic elements of grammar: the different types of words and how they function, as well as the different ways in which you can put words together.
- a person, place, or thing. Can be
the subject or object of a sentence. Ex: cat, horse, mother, Denmark
- a word that replaces or
stands for ("pro" = for) a noun. Ex: he, she, it
- an action word. Ex: sit, laugh,
- a word that describes or
modifies a noun. Answers the questions "how many," "what kind," etc. Ex:
happy, suicidal, red, dangerous
- a word that describes or modifies a
verb. Ex: carefully, quickly, wisely. Also sometimes modifies an
adjective. ("She was very tall." 'Very' is an adverb modifying 'tall,'
which in turn is an adjective modifying 'she'.) Adverbs usually, but not
always, end in "-ly". (However, not every word ending in "ly" is an
adverb: "friendly," for example, is an adjective.)
- (literally "pre-position") a
word that indicates the relationship of a noun (or noun phrase) to another
word. Examples of prepositions are to, at, with, for, against, across. (Ending a sentence with a preposition)
- an expression (can be a
single word, but usually more) which contains a single thought but is not
necessarily a complete sentence. Words make up phrases; phrases make up
sentences. By some definitions, a phrase cannot contain a verb.
- PREPOSITIONAL PHRASE
- A phrase
beginning with a preposition. Heh, heh. You could have figured that out,
I am sitting in the bushes.
|"I am sitting" is a complete sentence unto itself; it contains a
subject ("I") and a verb ("am sitting"). The phrase "in the bushes" is a
prepositional phrase ("in" being the preposition) that expands upon the
- the basic unit of writing. A
sentence should have a subject and a predicate. The subject is the noun to
which the sentence's verb refers; the predicate is the verb plus whatever
other parts modify or elaborate on it. Example:
My mother sings.
|"My" is a possessive pronoun;
"mother" is the subject (noun); "sings" is the verb.
There are several types of sentences. The major ones are:
- The majority of
sentences are declarative. A declarative sentence makes a statement. This
sentence is declarative, as are the previous two.
- An interrogatory sentence
asks a question. Do you understand that? Which of these sentences is an
- An imperative sentence gives a
command. Ex: "Shut up and kiss me." Note that an imperative sentence does
not require a subject; the pronoun "you" is implied.
- RUN-ON SENTENCE
- A sentence that is too
long and should be broken into two or more sentences. One sentence should
present one basic concept; if it presents more than that, it may be a
run-on. A large number of "and"s, "but"s, and similar joining words is one
warning sign of a run-on.
- SENTENCE FRAGMENT
- A phrase that is
acting like a sentence but is incomplete. Examples:
My favorite color.
|This is not a sentence because
it contains no verb. |
Walking very slowly.
|This is not a sentence because
it contains no noun. |
On the table.
|This is not a sentence because it
contains neither a verb nor a subject.
Sentence fragments are acceptable as answers to direct questions:
"Where is my sword?" "In the bushes."
- PASSIVE vs. ACTIVE VERBS
- A verb
is active when the subject performs the verb. A verb is passive when the
subject is the recipient of the verb. In general, passive verb
construction is considered "wimpy" or nonspecific.
Xena was watched by the villagers.
|Xena is the subject of the sentence, but the verb is "watch" and Xena
is not doing the watching; therefore the verb is passive and "the
villagers" is the object. This construction is not ideal.
The villagers watched Xena.
|Now the villagers are the subject, Xena is the direct object, and the
verb is active. This is better than the previous example.
- To conjugate a verb is to
state the form the verb takes for each person. For example, to conjugate
the verb "to have" (in the present tense) you say "I have, you have,
he/she/it has, we have, y'all have, they have."
- I assume we all know what past,
present and future are. Most verbs take different forms depending on
tense. For example, "I eat" is present, "I ate" is past and "I will eat"
In addition, every verb has a past participle (p.p.). Use a form of "to
have" plus the p.p. to indicate nonspecific past events.
Example: The p.p. of "to eat" is "eaten." For a specific event, use "ate":
"Yesterday I ate an apple for lunch." For something that happened in the
past at an unspecified time, or over a period of time, use "have" plus the
p.p.: "I have eaten many apples in my lifetime." For double-past (talking
about something that happened before something else in the past) use "had"
plus the p.p.: "Yesterday Xena offered me an apple for dinner, but I had
eaten one for lunch, so I had an orange instead."
Most (but certainly not all!) past participles end in -en, e.g. eaten,
- DIRECT vs. INDIRECT OBJECT
- An object is a
noun that is the recipient of the verb in the sentence. It's easier to
demonstrate than to explain:
Xena grabbed her sword.
Xena is the subject, because she performs the verb. "Grabbed" is the verb;
"her" is a possessive pronoun; the sword is the direct object because the
grabbing is performed upon it.
Xena put her sword on the table.
Xena is the subject; "put" is the verb; the sword is the direct object;
the table is the indirect object.
- Tells whom the speaker (or writer) is
speaking (or writing) about. The majority of stories are written in the
third person singular: "Xena woke up. She was hungry, so she started a
fire and made pancakes."
Some stories (notably "If on a winter's night a traveler" by Italo
Calvino; also all those "Choose Your Adventure" books we loved when we
were kids) are written in the second person: "You look around and see Xena
approaching. You reach for your sword."
A good number of stories ("Catcher in the Rye," all the Sherlock Holmes
novels, etc.) is written in first person: "I woke up to find Xena had
abandoned me again. 'Gabrielle,' I said to myself, 'this is the last
The plurals are: first person "we/us," second person "you" (or "y'all"),
third person "they/them."
- Irrelevant in English; declension is
the noun analog to conjugation. In many other languages (e.g. Latin),
nouns take different forms depending on how they function in sentences.
(See What English Doesn't Do.)
- To parse a sentence means to take it
apart and identify each element in the sentence. In my mom's day,
diagramming sentences (literally drawing a diagram that shows how each
word and clause functions in the sentence) was a standard part of
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Joan the English Chick
Last updated 15 June 2001