The 8 parts of speech—do you know them?

When asked this question by her fourth-grade daughter, the author blanked on three of them. She offers a refresher—with examples from a maritime author (yes, you read that correctly).


There’s no easy way to admit this.

Last week my fourth-grader asked me to name the eight parts of speech, and I could come up with only five. I remembered nouns, verbs, pronouns, adjectives, and adverbs, but I drew a complete blank on the other three: prepositions, conjunctions, and interjections.

Of course, I know all of these parts of speech and can identify each one when I see them, but naming all eight parts had me stumped.

As professional writers and editors, we sometimes focus so much on diction, sentence structure, and clear writing that we forget the very basics of our craft. Here’s a refresher:

Nouns

Common nouns refer to a person, place, or thing.

Examples: writer, library, book.

Proper nouns refer to a specific person, place, or thing. Proper nouns are capitalized.

Examples: Patrick O’Brian, London, the Thames.

Pronouns

Pronouns take the place of a noun.

Examples: my, me, she, he, his, her.

Verbs

Verbs are action words. They show action or state of being and indicate the time of that action or state, past, present, or future.

Example (from the Patrick O’Brian novel “H.M.S. Surprise“): “Stephen looked sharply round, saw the decanter, smelt to the sloth, and cried, ‘Jack, you have debauched my sloth.”

Adjectives

Adjectives describe or modify nouns. They specify size, appearance, number, etc.

Example (from Patrick O’Brian’s “The Golden Ocean“): “Don’t you know that in the Navy you must always choose the lesser of two weevils?”

Adverbs

Adverbs describe verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs. They specify how, when, where, and how much.

Example (from O’Brian’s “The Mauritius Commander“): “For very strangely his officers looked upon Jack Aubrey as a moral figure, in spite of all proofs of the contrary…”

Prepositions

Prepositions show how a noun or pronoun is related to another word in a sentence (into, behind, around, over).

Example (from O’Brian’s “Master and Commander“): “However, she continued to acknowledge the compliments of her audience with a radiant smile, looking very well in pale blue satin and a great double rope of pearls—pearls from the Santa Brigida.”

Conjunctions

Conjunctions join words, phrases, or clauses (and, but, or, nor).

Example (again, from “Master and Commander”): “For a moment Jack felt the strongest inclination to snatch up his little gilt chair and beat the white-faced man down with it…”

Interjections

Interjections are exclamations and are usually indicated by the use of the exclamation mark (oh, well, wow, cheers, hooray).

Example (from O’Brian’s “Testimonies“): “Oh! It has always seemed to me that books are the supreme decorations of a room.”

So, PR Daily readers, did you remember the eight parts of speech?

Laura Hale Brockway, ELS, is a medical writer and editor from Austin, Texas. She is also the author of the writing/editing/random thoughts blog, impertinentremarks.com.

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