What Is Grammar? – Exercises & Overview

In this lesson, we’ll look at the grammatical structure of the English language. What are the basic parts of speech that make up the building blocks of sentences? Keep reading, and you’ll see!

What Is Grammar?

Grammar is the breaking down of the building blocks, or parts of speech, in language, and the use of those pieces to form complete sentences. In this lesson, we will identify the eight primary parts of speech, look at their functions, and practice using them.

Nouns

Nouns are people, places, things or ideas, and are the most fundamental part of speech in the English language. If you are naming a specific person, place, thing, or idea, it is called a proper noun and is capitalized.

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Nouns answer the questions ‘what?’ and ‘who?’ in a sentence. See if you can identify the nouns in the following sentence: Two trains raced down the tracks near Broadway Avenue. If you identified the words ‘trains,’ ‘tracks,’ and ‘Broadway Avenue’ as the nouns in the sentence, you are correct!

Nouns also serve as the subject in a sentence. The subject is the person, place, thing, or idea that the whole sentence is about.

Verbs

Verbs are the actions in a sentence. They tell what the subject does. In order to have a complete sentence, we must have both a subject and a verb in the sentence, and it needs to form a complete thought. Words like ‘fly’, ‘laugh’, ‘believe’, ‘run’, ‘think’, ‘soar’, ‘forgive’, ‘compete’, and ‘magnify’ are all verbs.

There are two types of verbs: action verbs (like the ones listed above) and linking verbs. Linking verbs include ‘am’, ‘is’, ‘are’, ‘was’, ‘were’, ‘be’, ‘being’, ‘been’, ‘becomes’, ‘seems’, and sometimes words like ‘appears’, ‘sounds’, ‘feels’, ‘looks’, ‘smells’, and ‘tastes’, along with a few others. When a word ‘links’ the subject to a noun that renames the subject or to an adjective that describes the subject, it is a linking verb.

Here is an example: My dog is Spot. The word ‘Spot’ renames ‘dog.’ Or, I could say, ‘My dog is hungry.’ The word ‘hungry’ describes ‘dog.’ In these sentences, ‘is’ is the linking verb.

Try to identify the verbs in the following sentences:

  • Mary ate the delicious pizza. (If you said ‘ate,’ you are correct.)
  • Jack seems tired today. (‘Seems’ is a linking verb.)

Pronouns

Pronouns are words that take the place of nouns. Pronouns help us avoid having to awkwardly keep repeating a person’s name throughout consecutive sentences. These are common pronouns: ‘I’, ‘me’, ‘he’, ‘him’, ‘she’, ‘her’, ‘it’, ‘they’, ‘we’, ‘our’, ‘ours’, etc. Here is an example of how odd sentences would sound without pronouns.

‘Mrs. Jones is my favorite teacher. Mrs. Jones only gives quizzes on Thursdays after Mrs. Jones has thoroughly prepared Mrs. Jones’ students for the quiz.’

Pronouns make all of the difference. Here is the same sentence using pronouns.

‘Mrs. Jones only gives quizzes on Thursdays after she has thoroughly prepared her students for the quiz.’ Much better!

Identify the pronouns in the following sentence:

  • ‘I forgot whether or not I had invited her.’ (There are three!)

Adjectives

Adjectives are words that describe nouns. They answer many questions, including size, number, color, and quantity. Our writing would be very boring if it wasn’t for adjectives. For instance, instead of saying, ‘The ducks crossed the road,’ we could say, ‘Sixteen yellow baby ducks crossed the dusty road.’ Adjectives literally add color to our sentences.

Identify the adjectives in this sentence:

  • ‘Sixteen trained seals balanced rainbow balls on their poised noses.’ (The answers? Sixteen, trained, rainbow, poised)

Adverbs

Just as adjectives modify, or describe nouns, adverbs modify, or give us more information about verbs. In a way, adverbs ‘add’ to verbs. Adverbs answer the following questions: How? When? Where? and Why? Adverbs can be used as single words or as whole phrases, just as adjectives can.

Take the sentence, ‘Susan ate five strawberries.’ Let’s try adding a ‘how’, a ‘when’, a ‘where,’ and then a ‘why.’ Of course not every sentence needs every type of adverb, but this is for demonstration purposes only.

  • Susan slowly ate five strawberries. (how)
  • Last night, Susan slowly ate five strawberries. (when)
  • Last night, Susan slowly ate five strawberries at the church picnic. (where)
  • Last night, Susan slowly ate five strawberries at the church picnic because they looked so delicious. (why)

Try building the following sentence for yourself. Add your own ‘how, when, where, and why.’

‘Sam sang a song.’ (And go from there!)

Prepositions

Prepositions are very important for connecting words and phrases together in sentences. There are over fifty prepositions to chose from, but here are just a few: ‘after’, ‘against’, ‘among’, ‘above’, ‘around’, ‘beneath’, ‘below’, and on it goes! One way to identify a preposition is to think about a mountain. For instance, you might say, ‘on the mountain,’ ‘under the mountain,’ ‘after the mountain,’ ‘into the mountain,’ or something along those lines. Prepositions provide necessary details to sentences.

Conjunctions

Conjunctions join words, phrases and sentences together. ‘And’, ‘but’, ‘or’, ‘so’, ‘for’, ‘nor’, and ‘yet’ are the conjunctions we use. For instance, we might say, ‘Joe and I ate ice cream.’ The conjunction ‘and’ connects the compound subject ‘Joe’ and ‘I.’ If two sentences are joined with a conjunction, a comma is generally placed before the conjunction that joins them. Here is an example: ‘Sammy yelled across the room, and Bodie answered her.’ The two sentences are joined with the conjunction ‘and’. Try joining these two separate sentences into one with a conjunction. ‘Tim was very unhappy. The lizard ate his pet frog.’ (Hint: Try the conjunction ‘for.’)

Interjections

Our eighth and final part of speech is the interjection. The interjection is an exclamation. It is speech that expresses strong emotion and sometimes interrupts the flow of a sentence. Interjections often stand alone. They really aren’t a part of any other structure of the sentence. The following are a few examples of interjections.

  • Help! I lost my contact lens! (‘Help’ would serve as an interjection.)
  • No, you may not go to the party. (‘No’ is the interjection.)
  • Wow! There really are zombies! (‘Wow’ is the interjection.)

Now it’s your turn to finish this sentence: ‘Yes….’

Conclusion

The eight parts of speech are the building blocks of grammar in the English language. Once you understand their roles, it’s time to put them together and form some outstanding sentences of your own.

Learning Outcomes

When this lesson is finished, you can:

  • Describe what grammar is
  • Define the eight parts of speech
  • Explain how the parts of speech fit together to create complete sentences
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