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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.

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