The parts of speech: The last 4
Welcome back! We hope that you've had a chance to absorb last week's information on nouns, pronouns, adjectives, and verbs. Without further ado, let's launch into adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, and interjections.
Don't forget to check out the fun quizzes at the end of this post. They are actually fun! And there are no grades (we promise).
An adverb is a modifier with multiple functions. While adjectives modify only nouns and pronouns, adverbs can modify verbs, participles, adjectives, other adverbs, and even entire clauses or sentences. Generally, the role of adverbs is to answer questions like how, when, where, why, and to what degree. Adverbs also indicate affirmation, negation, condition, and comparison (--er, --est forms).
Perhaps the most well-known type of adverb is the one ending in --ly, often used to modify adjectives and verbs. However, some adjectives also take an --ly ending (such as leisurely, friendly), while a number of adverbs don’t end in --ly (such as fast, low, far, well). It’s important to know that some “non-ly” adverbs may also serve as adjectives without changing their form, depending on the sentence.
For example, in “Harry owns a fast broom,” fast is an adjective modifying broom. In “Harry flies his broom fast,” the same modifier in the same form serves as an adverb modifying the verb flies.
Partly because adverbs play so many roles, writers have more freedom of movement with adverbs than with adjectives. Often, adverbs can go almost anywhere in a sentence, whereas adjectives must come before nouns.
TIP: Avoid misplacing your adverbial modifiers. In this sentence — “The newest professor at Hogwarts only has five years of experience teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts” — the adverb “only” is misplaced. Do you know why? Do you see where it should be placed?
(If after some thought you can't figure this out, you'll find the solution1 at the bottom of this page.)
A preposition introduces a phrase and creates a logical link to a noun or pronoun, which becomes the object of that preposition. Almost all sentences contain prepositional phrases. Don't be intimidated by the fact there are over 100 prepositions in English! Overall, their common role is to answer basic questions like where, when, how, how much, why, or what.
TIP: This PDF handout from CUNY's Writing Center helps clarify which logical relationships are conveyed by certain prepositions.
Prepositions usually precede nouns or pronouns — as in “around the clock” or “beyond the gates” — but prepositions can also come at the ends of clauses or sentences.
It’s not wrong to end a clause or sentence with a preposition. Most of us would rather say — “It’s hard to imagine the challenges Harry was dealing with” rather than — “It’s hard to imagine the challenges with which Harry was dealing,” which sounds stiff and unnatural. In formal circumstances, though, you may wish to avoid ending sentences with prepositions. To avoid sounding unnatural, simply restructure or reword the sentence.
Prepositions often take compound forms. Some consist of two prepositions such as “apart from” or “instead of.” A very common structure is the phrasal verb, consisting of a verb + preposition, such as “take over” or “look up.” A form of idiom, these two or three-word prepositional phrases are particular to English usage or convention. Like other idioms, they can’t be directly translated into another language, and they are not subject to the same sorts of structural rules that govern verb tenses, for example.
TIP: For EAL writers, gaining control over idioms is challenging and time-consuming. Learning common idioms requires frequent reading, conversation, and writing practice. Toward this end, EAL writers may find it helpful to learn idioms not as individual words, but as collocations--chunks of words that go together and "sound right." This site is very helpful: Collocations (English Club)
A conjunction is a connecting word that creates a logical link between two words, phrases, or clauses, or that introduces a clause. Conjunctions signal specific relationships among ideas. When used effectively, conjunctions play a major role in coherence (a smooth “flow”) and clarity.
Here are the four main types of conjunctions and their general functions:
- Coordinating conjunctions: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so. There are only seven of these, which you can easily remember as FANBOYS.
- Use the conjunctions and, but, for, yet to join words, phrases, or clauses that have equal importance or weight, or similar grammatical structures.
TIP: Don’t use “and” as an all-purpose connective. “And” has a specific role of showing that two elements are of equal weight, so it should not be used when another conjunction would give a more precise logical signal (such as contrast or cause-and-effect). Using “and” indiscriminately is a type of error known as faulty coordination.
- Use any of the FANBOYS to join two independent clauses (that is, units that could stand on their own as complete sentences) regardless of whether they have similar grammatical structures. PUNCTUATION NOTE: whenever you join two independent clauses with a coordinating conjunction, you must put a COMMA before the conjunction.
Remember the "myths" post? It isn't wrong to begin a complete sentence with and, but, so! But for academic writing, these conjunctions may seem too informal--so the issue is really TONE, not grammar. For a more appropriate tone, try using conjunctive adverbs: as well, also, however, thus, etc. Academic writing often uses conjunctive adverbs.
- Subordinating conjunctions: such as because, if, although, though, since, until, while (among others). There are about two dozen principal subordinating conjunctions signaling different kinds of logical relationships.
Use a subordinating conjunction to introduce a dependent (subordinate) clause that links to an independent clause. The subordinating conjunction creates a logical link between the dependent and independent clauses.
For example, in “Harry missed dinner at the Great Hall because he was fighting trolls in the Forbidden Forest” the subordinating conjunction “because” creates a cause-and-effect relationship between “he was fighting trolls …” and the clause before it. The clause introduced by the subordinating conjunction is therefore dependent on the other clause; it can’t stand alone.
In casual speech, we often use dependent clauses as complete sentences, especially when we answer questions.
For example: Why wasn’t Harry at dinner tonight? Because he was fighting trolls in the Forbidden Forest. But in formal writing situations, a dependent clause punctuated as a complete sentence is a sentence fragment, which is usually considered an error. As a rule, avoid sentence fragments in formal writing.
TIP: It’s never incorrect to start a sentence with “because” or indeed, with any other subordinating conjunction. Just be sure you don’t punctuate a dependent clause as if it were a complete sentence.
- Correlative conjunctions come in pairs. They enable you to write sentences containing forcefully balanced elements that help emphasize important points. These are the principle ones: either ... or, neither ... nor, whether ... or, both ... and, not ... but, not only ... but also.
- Conjunctive adverbs are the workhorses of academic writing. They introduce and join independent clauses while at the same time signalling logical relationships among clauses. The more common conjunctive adverbs include therefore, thus, accordingly, however, indeed, consequently, among others. As adverbs, they modify entire clauses.
Click here for an explanation of the logical relationships conveyed by conjunctive adverbs.
PUNCTUATION NOTE: If you begin an independent clause with a conjunctive adverb, you must use a comma after the adverb, as in “Consequently, Hermione stayed up all night doing research.” If you join two independent clauses with a conjunctive adverb, you must use a semicolon before the adverb and a comma after, as in “Harry needed an answer right away; consequently, Hermione stayed up all night doing research.”
Click here for further details about and examples of conjunctions.
An interjection is a word or phrase expressing emotion. Interjections are not normally used in academic or professional writing. But in text messages or emails to family or friends, you might use interjections like well, thanks, sure, hey, or what? In novels, stories, or plays you'll likely see quite a few interjections: gosh, good heavens, my lord, ouch! and (ahem) some others not printable here. ;)
Finally, just so you know, not all grammar books or grammar resources break parts of speech down into eight. Some don’t count interjections because they’re not often used in nonfiction writing, while others may include the article (a/an/the) as a ninth part, even though it is technically a type of adjective.
And, even though we've called these posts the "Parts of Speech," of course you will use these types of words in your writing, and not just in your speaking!
Messenger, De Bruyn, Brown, Montagnes, Messenger, W. E., Brown, Judy, & Montagnes, Ramona. (2017). The Canadian writer's handbook. (Second essentials ed.). Don Mills, Ontario: Oxford UP.
Ruvinksy, M. (2009). Practical grammar: A Canadian writer's resource, Second Edition. Oxford & New York: Oxford UP.
"Puzzle piece punctuation," Horia Varlan on Flickr
1 Answer to misplaced modifier problem -- "Only" is meant to limit the number of years, so it should come before “five years,” not “has":
Correct: "The newest professor at Hogwarts has only five years of experience teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts”