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Category Archives: Pedant’s Page

THE NINE PARTS OF SPEECH for those who want to parse.

This has been written in response to a request for some information on the parts of speech. As a number of my students who, at the tertiary level of study, are just starting out on their journey of discovery of the language that is their birthright, I’m making this simple.





Three little words we often see,

Determiners, like a, an and the.

A Noun’s the name of anything,

A school or garden, hoop or string.

An Adjective tells the kind of noun,

Like great, small, pretty, white or brown.

Instead of nouns the Pronouns stand –

His head, her face, my arm, your hand.

Verbs tells of something being done,

To read, write, count, sing, jump or run.

How things are done the Adverbs tell,

Like slowly, quickly, ill or well.

A Preposition stands before

a noun, as in a room, or through the door.

Conjunctions join the nouns together,

Like boy or girl, wind and weather.

The Interjection shows surprise,

Like Oh! How charming! Ah! How wise!

The whole are called “Nine Parts of Speech”,

Which reading, writing and speaking teach.

This poem is the equivalent to a 19thC teaching aid by that well-known author, Anonymous.

Is this useful? Yes and No. When parsing a sentence it’s very useful, and there, I suspect, it ends. Why? Because the function a word performs in the sentence will determine the rules that must then be applied.

What looks like a verb, sounds like a verb, even smells like a verb can be functioning within a sentence as a noun. For example, ‘swimming is good exercise’. Swimming, a verb, a participle in fact, is functioning in this sentence as a noun. (Such things are called gerunds). Or, what about ‘I had a swimming lesson today’. Swimming is now functioning as an adjective.

With the differing function, mood, or whatever, the rules can change, and you need to know the rules before you go ahead and shatter them to smithereens. This is the ultimate goal; to know the rules so they can be broken without muddying the communication waters.

In the English language if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, smells a l’orange – it just might turn out to be a goose!

For the record, determiners are now known as articles. ‘A’ and ‘an’ are indefinite articles, and ‘the’ is a definite article.

The ‘interjection’ is deemed to have no grammatical function what so ever! What they do, however, is important to the creative process.  For example;

            ‘Oh! Look at that.’

            ‘Wow! Look at that.’

            ‘Shit! Look at that.’

            ‘Oh Fuck! Look at that.’

The interjections that start each of these sentences give a clear idea of the emotional state of the speaker. From a grammatical perspective they may have no function, from the creative, you can’t live without them.

There are some books that I think are essential on a library shelf.  For some reason that is known only to the powers that be, I can’t bring myself to throw away my copy of Fowler’s English Usage even though it is over 40 years old; was useless as tits on a bull when I had it as a university textbook 40 years ago, and is written in language best described as inaccessible.

The book I use all the time is a 2003 edition of COLLINS GOOD WRITING GUIDE by Graham King. I insist this book is the textbook for my students. I have kept the estate of the late Mr King ticking over in royalties. They may have changed the name of the book but I know it’s still available. Graham King is the clue. He fell off the perch over a decade ago. It’s a shame. I would have liked the opportunity to thank him for such an excellent resource, which is also a sheer delight to read. Harper Collins are the publishers.

My next post will be on participles, and I haven’t forgotten your request Katie about the ins and outs, and I’m afraid at the moment it’s out, of the Oxford comma.

GOOD v WELL – the struggle continues

My daughter has the shits, good and proper.

This, of course, isn’t the first, nor will it be the last time this event ever happens.

Her current part-time job is working in a tertiary institution where, for the first time in her life, she is not a student. What is getting her knickers in a right tangle? Reasonably well-educated high school students are unable to properly use ‘good’ and ‘well.’

She has observed, with amused encouragement, my rookie-like attempts at creating a blog while still not knowing what the hell I’m doing; and has proceeded to issue me with a specific set of, if not exactly instructions, certainly suggestions. It would mean my life not to obey.

The first order of business was to set up a page for the grammarian, the pedant that lurks in those of us who like to play with language.  The second suggestion was that my first post examine when to use ‘good’ and when to use ‘well’; this being the cause of her current case of conniptions.

Why she thinks anyone would want to read a pedant’s page is beyond me but here goes.

GOOD is an ADJECTIVE. An adjective’s job is to modify NOUNS. GOOD is only ever an adjective. God, I hope you know what a noun is! It is the concrete stuff we see, hear, touch, taste and feel. Dogs, cats, birds, tables, chairs, air, earth, wind, and fire, girls and boys, etc., are common concrete nouns. There also exists abstract nouns; stuff like fear, democracy, philosophy, shame, etc.  When you shove ‘good’ in front of a noun you get a good girl, a good boy, a good dog, the adjective helps tell us what kind of girl, what kind of boy, what kind of dog…etc.

WELL is an ADVERB. An adverb’s job is to modify VERBS. Verbs are the action words, for example, to: run, jump, skip, hop, fly, talk, race, sing, feel…etc. Adverbs tell us ‘how’, ‘where’, ‘when’, ‘why’ or ‘to what degree’ we are running, singing, jumping, talking…etc.

You cannot confuse the two.

GOOD = adjective. WELL = adverb.

The horse ran good last week; the football team played good tonight; the Australians fielded good.   AAAAGH!

We’ve all heard examples such as these with increasing monotony. The worst proponents of the new dumbed-down English are, of course, sporting ‘journalists/commentators’, especially television and radio commentators who played the game that is the subject of their commentary, and usually played the game very well, but they certainly didn’t pay attention during English lessons. It would add at least twenty IQ points to their score if they could correct just this one error of their using ‘good’ for everything, and ‘well’ never at all.

Being honest for a minute, we all commit this error regularly.  ‘How are you?’ is usually answered with ‘I’m good’ instead of ‘I’m well’, the latter being the grammatically correct usage. ‘I am good’ really means ‘I am a good person’, not ‘I am feeling well’.

The correct use of these words is predicated on one’s ability to identify nouns and verbs. Of course, therein lies the rub.  There are two or three, four or five (?) generations of Australians who wouldn’t be able to differentiate between a noun and a verb if their life depended upon it.

At some point each of us must make a choice. The first is to be prisoners in a communication prison of our own making. In that prison we will never be master; we will never be in control. The lack of language skills will forever limit our ability to say what we want to say, and how we want to say it. And it is all because of our ignorance of what language is, and how it works. This lack of language skills will mean that we will only ever be, at best, a mediocre communicator.

The other choice is to be master of the birthright that is our language. It becomes our plaything. Like play dough, language can then be fashioned, molded and sculpted in any way we desire. Experiment with language; construct, deconstruct and reconstruct – that is what language wants us to do. Break the rules; by all means, break the rules. However, to break them, first we have to know what they are, and how they work; otherwise the outcome will be communication lacking in clarity.

I hope this helps.

I noticed that M/soft WORD doesn’t seem to recognize the interrobang.

What kind of super genius do you really think you are Gates?! Get with the times!

Best wishes


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